Despite exciting prospect of knocking Everton out of FA Cup today, Oldham captain is more worried about his club staying up, he tells Ian Herbert
At the top of a crumbling, hole-pocked Boundary Park terrace hangs a banner bearing the legend "keep-the-faith.co.uk" and there is a telephone number to call for those visitors to Oldham's ground who are moved to do so. It's a desperate fight to keep on the right side of the line between survival and oblivion here, and garish offers of the most "pietastic" food in all of Lancashire cannot obscure that fact.
This is the landscape which tells you why it was less perverse than it seemed to sack manager Paul Dickov a week after his team had beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round. The 3-1 defeat at Walsall, which plunged the side deeper towards the obscurity of League Two a week later, mattered much more.
The environment, which Everton enter this evening in search of more success in the FA Cup fifth round than the "other lot" managed three weeks ago, explains why the club captain, Dean Furman, did not pay much attention when, at a location 6,500 miles from Oldham on fourth-round day, he got wind of the fact that his team-mates were up to something against Liverpool.
Furman, who was born in Cape Town, has been discovered in the depths of League One by South Africa's manager, Gordon Igesund, and it was in the comparatively surreal environment of the national team's Durban dressing room, halfway through the final and decisive Africa Cup of Nations group-stage game against Morocco, that one of his team-mates told Furman that "your boys have done the business".
Considering that the Bafana Bafana were trailing 1-0 at that time and heading out the tournament, Furman could be forgiven for not asking too many penetrative questions about the game which had started an hour before his own. "I was trying to work out what 'the business' meant," he says, the South African timbre to his accent still distinct, though he was five when the family moved to England. "I didn't know whether it had been a draw. I knew we hadn't lost. It was hard to think about it, but I guess it did give me a little extra push."
It was after the nation's 2-2 draw, before a 45,000 sell-out crowd, had sealed a quarter-final berth for Igesund's rank outsiders, that Furman left the field to discover that Matt Smith, his housemate, had scored the goals to clinch a 3-2 win. "The big man's part capped it all. I called him from my changing room. It was an unbelievable moment," Furman says.
His tournament was over within six days, terminated by South Africa's defeat on penalties to Mali in Durban, but it was a tantalising taste of the life that might have been for Furman, a Chelsea trainee in the cohort which included Michael Mancienne, Scott Sinclair and Ryan Bertrand, a decade back.
Suddenly, every South African talkshow seemed to be dissecting the influence of the unflashy, unflustered operator deep in the national team's midfield. There was also a national conversation about the iconic No 15 jersey Furman (right) was given, popularised by Doctor Khumalo, the South Africa midfielder who tormented visiting defences during the 1996 Cup of Nations. This is the kind of attention a boy dreams about when he's got a trainee contract at Chelsea and John Terry is heading across after first-team training to watch you.
It didn't quite work out like that for Furman, of course. The leagues are littered with those who don't develop the requisite "world class" to graduate at Chelsea, as Furman generously puts it. Jack Cork at Southampton, Liam Bridcutt at Brighton, Shaun Cummings at Reading, Sam Hutchinson on loan at Nottingham Forest and Harry Worley at Oxford United were all part of Furman's Chelsea group, too.
He got a second bite at the big time when Brendan Rodgers, the youth- team coach he adored at Chelsea, and the club's academy manager, Neil Bath, helped him get try-outs at Celtic and Rangers and he opted for Hampden Park, where Paul Le Guen had just arrived. …