Result: Rochdale 0-2 Fleetwood Town (SkyBet Football League 1)
Venue: Spotland (Sunday 29th December 2014, 3.00pm)
To round off 2014, I had decided to go full circle. 2013 had been rounded off with a trip to Spotland to see Rochdale defeat Bristol Rovers by 2-0, as both sides were destined to depart League 2, though in completely contrasting directions.
This time, I was heading back up to the North Manchester town to see the Dale, now plying their trade in League 1, entertain their fellow promoted side from last term, Fleetwood Town. The latter were to have their day in the sun at Wembley, as they secured promotion via the play-off route thanks to Antoni Sarcevic (previously of Woodley Sports) and his fine strike.
Alas, there was to be no sighting of him today, I was to discover. I set off though, at just after midday, and headed into Manchester for my bus connection. Of course, due to the day it was Sunday services, thus making the timings a little more difficult. But fear not, as a seasoned traveller in the dangerous world of public transport, I was not to be denied.
On the way, I met with Rob McKay, the West Didsbury & Chorlton Match Secretary, who was making his way to the Etihad Stadium. After a chat about all things non-league, especially attendances, we parted ways in St. Peter’s Square, and I headed to Shudehill for my second bus of the day. Soon enough, the 17 bus pulled in and I was off towards Rochdale.
50 minutes or so later, I arrived into the interchange and there I waited for the local service to dump me directly outside Spotland Stadium. After being safely delivered, I headed for the Dale Bar where I was to meet up with Ian Wright. No, not that Ian Wright, but a loyal Dale fan. Ian said he’d keep an eye out for me, so off I headed to the bar and as I was waiting for service a voice next to me called “Manchopper?”. It happened that Ian was stood next to me for a bit and had weighed me up “in portrait” to ensure it was me and probably not to confuse someone massively by calling them a name as above!
With a drink in hand, Ian invited me over to take a seat with him, his wife Lesley and his son Sam. A teamsheet was passed around, which I was kindly allowed to keep and I slotted into the programme I had purchased at the bar. “The Voice of Spotland is a good issue for £3, the standard price for a league programme in general. After a bit of a chat, Ian and his family bid me farewell, for now, but with the offer of meeting up after the game to go in the bar upstairs. The perks of being a groundhopper!
Anyway, the clock was ticking over towards three-o’clock and kick-off was fast approaching. So, I downed the remainder of Kopparberg in my glass and headed back out into the chilly Lancashire afternoon.
After paying £15 for a place on the Sandy Lane Terrace (not at all bad for a League 1 game), I was into Spotland for the second time. I stood within the higher reaches of the covered terrace to get a better view, I figured, and ended up in an almost identical place to where I had stood almost 12 months ago to the day. Co-incidence? Yes, of course. What else were you expecting me to say? That it was a spooky thing that I was drawn back to the spot? Ok, stop now I’m scaring myself….
To take my mind off this, I think this is probably the best time to delve into the annuls of Rochdale’s history.
The current Rochdale A.F.C. was founded in 1907, but there was a previous club (which had no links to the current club) by the same name which ran from 1896-1901. Around this time, the area was predominantly rugby dominated, which meant it took until 1896, and the foundation of the club for an association football club to come into existence, occurring when Rochdale Athletic Club & the Rochdale Athletic Ground Company. they joined the Lancashire Combination.then the Lancashire League, finishing mid-table throughout their existence. The club moved to St.Clement’s, now known as Spotland, from the Athletic Grounds just before their financially induced demise. They folded on 1 January 1901, and 6 years later, the new incarnation of Rochdale A.F.C. came into being.
Nicknamed ‘The Dale’, the club originally plied their trade in the Lancashire Combination, where they recorded two title wins, in 1910-’11 and 1911-’12. Since Dale were accepted into the Football League (FL) in 1921, they have spent an astonishing 77 of its 85 league seasons in the lowest tier, more than any other club. However, they have never been relegated to the Conference, and twice been promoted, in 1969 and 2010. Despite winning no silverware since joining the League, they hold the honour of being one of only two sides from the lowest tier to have competed in the League Cup final, in 1962.
After WWI, the club initially applied to join the newly expanded FL, but were knocked back, until their successful application in 1921, when they were recommended for promotion to the new Third Division North. Their first league fixture was a home tie against Accrington Stanley, which ended in a 6-3 triumph. However, this was arguably the highlight, as the club finished bottom, and had to reapply for membership. In 1923-’24 & 1926-’27 the club finished as Third Division North runners-up, and only picked up further silverware in 1948-’49, in the form of the Lancashire Cup. In 1958, the league was restructured again, which saw the two regional divisional sections combined into the Third and Fourth Divisions, with Rochdale securing a place in the Third Division. However, they were relegated at the end of the season, returning to their usual place in the lower reaches.
They were promoted again in 1969, winning the Lancashire Cup in 1971, before being relegated once again in 1974, and they were not destined to rise the divisions again until 2010, meaning the club played 36 consecutive seasons in the FL’s bottom division, some going as far as to nickname it the ‘Rochdale Division’, due to their stalwartness. This is not helped further by their record of having the lowest average position of any club who have continuously played in the FL. They share the dubious honour (with Hartlepool United) of contesting the most FL seasons without reaching the top two tiers of the League (82 seasons until 2010)).
They finished bottom in ’77-’78, having to reapply for re-election, being successful at the expense of Southport who dropped out. Wigan Athletic replaced them. Again The Dale finished bottom in ’79-’80, but again were re-elected by the narrowest of margins, one vote, over Altrincham. They reached the play-offs in 2001, but lost out to Rushden & Diamonds in the semi-finals.
Following this a period of managerial instability followed, with John Hollins, Paul Simpson, Alan Buckley and Hollins again all given the job but being sacked, all within a 5 year period. Keith Hill was to be appointed, in something of a masterstroke, as he was to become, arguably, Dale’s most successful manager to date. With now Bury manager David Flitcroft as assistant, he led Dale to a 5th-placed finish in 2007-’08, beating Darlington on penalties, before losing to Stockport County 3-2 at Wembley. (Look at those two previous names, and ponder where they are now). 2008-’09 saw Rochdale reach the play-offs again, via a 6th-place finish, but once again were denied in the semi’s (by Gillingham), but it was to be third time lucky in 2009-’10 when Dale beat Northampton Town at Wembley, to end a 41-year wait for promotion.
After suffering relegation back to League 2 in the interim, Keith Hill returned and guided the club back to League 1 last season by attaining automatic promotion via a 3rd place finish.
Back to the present day now and, more specifically, the 108-year-old Spotland itself. The ground was filling up nicely now with the terrace already beginning to have it’s regulars housed within it. From this vantage point you have, to the right, the Main Stand which houses the ticket office, ‘clubhouse’ & corporate areas. To the left is the Willbutts Lane Stand, which houses the away followings, so today was mostly empty, bar a few hundred travelling “Cod Army”. Directly opposite the terrace, is the Pearl Street Stand, behind which you will find the car park. Housed in the rear of the stand are some further amenities & a further bar, on the outside of which is a small plaque recording the opening of said facilities by the legendary Nat Lofthouse. Spotland has a current capacity of 10,249, the vast majority of which can be seated.
The sides entered the field as the strange Dale mascot got to work, and the game was underway, Dale going close almost immediately. However, this was as good as it got for the home fans as Fleetwood bossed the remainder of the half, both in terms of possession and chances. It was of little surprise to anyone in attendance when they struck first, captain Mark Roberts’ header from Stephen Dobbie’s free-kick creeping in at the far post, the centre-back wheeling away to his fans in delight.
On the stroke of half-time it was two as on-loan Blackburn man Josh Morris slid home a low ball in. Morris had deserved that goal after being a constant threat. This goal signalled food time, so I headed for the adjoining food hut where I purchased a Steak pie for £2 (I think). Again, it was a high quality piece of culinary. Sufficiently filled and remaining on the terrace, I awaited the beginning of the second period.
The sky had just turned a shade of pink-orange and the floodlights were taking full effect over the grass below, tended to by the final time by Dale’s groundsman, who was leaving for Qatar, we were informed. Now that’s a culture shock! As expected, Fleetwood maintained their solid defensive shape, without committing forwards too much, meaning Dale were being invited to attack them more and more. This looked to be a mistake when the referee, who had hardly endeared himself to the home fans before, or indeed any time afterwards, awarded a penalty for holding, McLoughlin the offender, Dale captain Lancashire the perceived victim. To be fair to the defender it looked the proverbial six-of-one, but he was booked and Fleetwood’s Chris Maxwell prepared to face the spot-kick taker Ian Henderson, but his kick rattled the underside of the crossbar and was bundled clear.
This seemed to buffet the momentum out of Dale who, despite attacking with more threat than in the first half, never really looked like finding the net and so it was Fleetwood who held out for a much needed win, their first in six matches, no less.
After the final whistle, I headed for the ticket office, the agreed meet up point for the bar, where I met up with Ian once again and was guided to the room. It was surprisingly fuller than I’d imagined, but I battled my way to the bar and with a cider in hand settled in to watch Newcastle v Everton. After seeing Jamie Allen be awarded man of the match, meeting the brilliant Edgar’s Gift pairing Neil & David and their charity’s patron, Dale’s #7, Peter Vincenti, and asking his girlfriend if she enjoyed the perks of being a WAG (involving holding orange juice and bags),I was offered a lift back to Dale town centre with Ian and his family in a taxi. Much appreciated! All superb people.
So, not long after I was heading back towards home with another great day out stored in the memory banks. Football 2014, you’ve been great Here’s to even better football in 2015!
My Rochdale M.o.M.- Jamie Allen
My Fleetwood Town M.o.M.- Stephen Dobbie
Game: 7- Not a bad game overall, number of chances.
Ground: 7- Nice ground, with a modern feel, yet still maintains its character.
Food: 8- Very tasty pie, well worth the money if you’re peckish!
Programme: 0- There you go, Ian! 😉 *8 really.
Fans: 6- Quite subdued, not helped by performance level. Tried a few times to get the side going though.
Value For Money: 8- Cheapest in League 1, average programme, good food for price. £5 travel.