Result: Rochdale 2-3 Fleetwood Town (EFL League One)
Venue: Spotland (Thursday 26th December 2019, 3pm)
A surprisingly mild Boxing Day this one but, hang on, what’s this? Oh, it’s raining. Again. Shocker. Despite the weather’s best efforts, once again I would not be diverted from my “Plan A”, quite unlike Ferrari’s F1 team. Yes, just like at Middlewich a week-or-so earlier, the place I’d looked at doing for some time beat the weather, although this one was somewhat more of a definite than the Cheshire League venue, that’s for sure. Spotland it would be for yet another game, but this time a tour of Dale’s watering holes would finally be included. So, let’s get on with the show.
A fairly late set off to catch a bus at just after ten in the morning began the day, after which a couple of trams delivered me to a drizzly Rochdale Town Centre. After a bit of a plan out of a walking tour to take in the church and town hall, I arrived at my first stop, the Flying Horse, just opposite. Inside, I was surprised by the large amount of real ale on offer and felt somewhat obliged to sample one. My choice ended up being an American Pale Ale named Vocation Bread & Butter, from the Hebden Bridge brewery, and I was more than happy with my selection. Lovely stuff, at £3.70.
With the wet weather beginning to fall a little heavier, it was lucky that my next choice was just opposite, although the large whitewashed “Post Office” building did confuse me somewhat, as it wasn’t the kind of spot I was expecting the Medicine Tap to be located in. Nevertheless, here it was and even better was the Blue Moon (£4.80) on tap inside. That was certainly my medicine! Watching the rain fall through the doorway, I supped away before, upon finishing up, headed just around the corner and away from the recently uncovered River Roch to the Roebuck, one of the more strangely located pubs I’ve come across recently at least. Set back down a small alleyway between a row of shops, the pub seems to be going through some improvements to its exterior – covered as it is with a multitude of scaffolding. Inside was nice enough and cheap too, but with the smooth comes the rough. Sam Smith’s pub. Ah.
Rochdale is a town at the foot of the South Pennine hills and one that stands upon the River Roch and it is, unsurprisingly, the administrative centre for the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale. Historically a part of Lancashire, its recorded history dates back to the Domesday Book, when it was mentioned under the name of Recedham Manor, its name likely derived from the Old English “reced” (‘hall’ and ham ‘homestead’, although as ‘Reced’ is not present in any other Anglo-Saxon titled settlement, this part probably is Celtic in origin – named after the kingdom of Rheged – probably meaning “Great’ or ‘opposite to’ wood”. the ancient parish of Rochdale was a division of the hundred of Salford which, at the time, was one of the largest ecclesiastical parishes in England. Over time, the name became Rachedale before taking on its current name.
The Roman road linking Manchester (Mamucium) and York (Eboracum) ran close by, whilst the Danes regularly took on the Saxons of the area, with the castle at nearby Castleton likely one of the forts destroyed by the Viking raiders. During the times of the Normans and their Domesday Book, the area was held by a nobleman named Gamel, before Henry II awarded it to Roger de Lacy in 1212 who retained it as part of the Honour of Clitheroe, prior to it passing to the Duke of Lancaster through marriage and later, duly, to the Crown by the mid-14th century. By 1251, Rochdale itself had grown in importance enough as to be allowed a market charter and after John Byron bought the manor for his family, it was later sold by the poet Lord Byron, in 1823, to the Deardens who hold the title. Whilst not strictly having a manor house, the “Orchard” would later become the de facto house, though this was demolished in 1922.
Having been a centre of woollen cloth from the times of Henry VIII, the Industrial Revolution saw Rochdale boom, with water mills replaced by steam and coal-powered ones, and the Rochdale Canal being constructed to allow for the ease of transport of much of the town’s exports of cotton, due to the improvements in technology and growth in importance of the spinning and weaving. It duly became a world-leader in this regard, becoming one of the world’s first industrialised towns in the process with silk makers and dyers and bleachers all growing up around the textile industries. These all led to the economy growing too, which led to Rochdale becoming a borough in its own right. However, the 20th century saw the importance of spinning etc. fall into rapid decline, along with Rochdale’s importance. Rochdale also became the home to the Co-operative movement during the mid-1800’s, whilst the railways from this town (introduced from 1839) steadily grew in size to offer links to both Manchester and Leeds and on further afield, whilst the Metrolink added to these and bus services in 2014.
The town has many alumni in the writing and arts fields, as well as media, with numerous novelists, poets, musicians, and presenters coming from Rochdale. These number the likes of Lancashire dialect poet Edwin Waugh, one of the first war photographers Roger Fenton, singer Gracie Fields, Good Charlotte drummer Dean Butterworth and broadcasters Mark Chapman, the Kershaws and John Peel – the latter having lived in the town for a time. Actors Bill Oddie, Anna Friel and Colin Baker also hail from the town, whilst politicians such as John Bright (one of the first Quakers to sit in the Commons), the Methodist Unitarian leader Rev. Joseph Cooke, the posthumously disgraced Cyril Smith and, more recently, Sajid Javid come from here, and footballing-wise, Craig Dawson, Donald Love and Earl Barrett have also called Dale home.
With the anti-tech weirdo’s pockets laced via a £2.80 Taddy Lager, I continued on through the pedestrianised town centre and to the White Lion, located at the far end of it. A pint of San Miguel (£3.60) later and I was heading initially to the nearby Reede Inn, but I soon reckoned I’d be better served ticking off the Baum instead and catching the bus from just around the corner. This proved a good choice once again and after a swift Amstel (£3.80) with time before said carriage running short, I quickly crossed the road towards the college, arriving at the stop just as the bus appeared. For once it was all working out!
A short ride later, I was disembarking right outside the entrance to Spotland and after a couple of exterior pics, I headed indoors to their adjoining Radcliffe Bars, where you can walk freely between the two, if you get a bit bored of your surroundings. With a good half-hour until kick off (paying on the turnstile was the way of the day, so I played it cautiously) I thought it rude not to pay a bit back for the hospitality, a Desperados (£3~) doing the trick. Before long, it was time to head back out and to the turnstiles, where u was soon relieved of £20, and then swiftly a few more quid for a steak and kidney pie (if I remember correctly). Having already sorted the programme shortly after debussing, I could head straight into the terrace for the game, with the players minutes away from taking to the field.
Spotland is a ground which I think is vastly underrated when it comes to one with character. It still maintains its traditional floodlights and all the stands are a little different to each other and offer good views of the pitch. The terrace runs the width of the pitch behind the near goal, whilst the Main Stand – which houses all the usual facilities – runs the vast majority of the length of the field, as does the all-seater stand opposite, which usually houses the away fans. Indeed, the travelling Cod Army were placed here today. The far end is designated as the “Family Stand” and is again an all-seater affair, though is a bit more “Kop-like” in appearance, to my eyes at least. That’s Spotland in short order and this is the tale of the Dale….
Rochdale Association Football Club dates to in 1896 when they joined the Lancashire Combination for a season, prior to a three-year spell in the Lancashire League. After leaving for a year, they returned and continued to play there for the next two seasons until the league closed down, with Rochdale not reappearing until 1907 – their official founding date. However, their return to the field wasn’t until 1908, Dale joining the Lancashire Combination’s Division 2, from where they were promoted to the Division One in 1910. They won the title in both 1911 and 1912, before moving into the Central League after their second triumph, where they’d remain for the last couple of pre-war seasons. It would later go on to hold the distinction of playing the most seasons in the Football League, without dropping out of it, nor reaching either of the top two divisions, in any form.
Post-World War One, Rochdale became a founding member of the Football League’s Division Three North in 1921, having unsuccessfully applied to join the League ranks immediately after the end of the war. After winning their first league game against Accrington Stanley 6-3, the club would have to re-apply to remain in the League, having finished bottom. Better times would soon come along though, as Rochdale finished as Division Three North runners-up in each of 1924 and 1927, but wouldn’t manage to leave the division until World War II – when football again closed down during hostilities. After the war, the club returned to the Third Division North, and remained there through its switch to a national division for 1958-’59 – the season they would finish bottom and be relegated to Division 4. Back in the bottom division, Dale would remain here until 1969, though did become the first bottom division major cup finalist in their 1962 League Cup defeat to Norwich City when a third-placed finish was enough to secure them promotion back to Division 3 and they would spend the next five campaigns there prior to again finishing bottom.
Once again in Division 4, the club embarked on their infamous 36-year unbroken stay in the Football League’s bottom tier, encompassing the founding of the Premier League in 1992 and the re-designation of the divisions therein, although this could have been ended in fairly short-order as, after finishing bottom of the League in 1978, Rochdale were successful in their application to remain there, with second-bottom Southport instead being demoted in favour of Wigan Athletic’s joining. 1980 also saw a bottom-placed finish for Dale, but again they would stay within the League ranks, but only by the narrowest of margins – just the one vote over Altrincham.
2002, 2008 and 2009 all saw play-off heartbreak for Rochdale, the ’02 and ’09 campaigns both ending in the semi-finals – at the hands of Rushden & Diamonds and Gillingham respectively – whilst the ’08 play-offs finished with defeat at Wembley – the club’s debut there – to Stockport County. Further re-naming in 2004 saw Rochdale in the League 2, where they would stay until 2010, when they finally broke their record-breaking streak with promotion to League One, the third-tier, after again finishing third, just as in 1969. Relegation back to League 2 would be suffered in 2012, although Dale’s wait to escape the bottom division of the Football League was this time somewhat shorter, the club taking just two seasons to return after, again, finishing 3rd. They have since remained in the League One, finishing up last season in 16th position. As an aside, Rochdale have also lifted the Lancashire Cup on three occasions, these being in 1949, 1971 and 2005.
We got going with both sides having a fairly even share of the opening 15 minutes or so, though there was little in the way of chances; Callum Camps going closest early on for the hosts as he fired wide and Jack Sowerby doing similar down the other end. It would be fair to say that it hadn’t been an absolute classic come the half-hour, with only Harrison Biggins’ effort going close to troubling the target, but it was something to point towards Fleetwood’s grip on the game at that point.
Sowerby would again fire off-target as the half drew towards its conclusion, but from the resulting goal-kick, Dale went straight down the other end and won a corner, one that would be delivered by Stephen Dooley. Dooley’s delivery was more than useful, whipped into the centre of goal and it was here that the ball was met by Aaron Wilbraham, climbing highest to power a header beyond Fleetwood ‘keeper Billy Crellin. That would be that for the first half, and as the players headed back into the dressing rooms, I made my way back inside the bars for a catch up on the scores around the country.
The second half was soon ready to go and I returned back onto the terraces, as the Spotland floodlights well and truly began to take hold. Under the lights, Fleetwood began to go for it more and set their intentions out early, as Ched Evans’ rattled the crossbar with a headed effort for Joey Barton’s side. Another Evans header shortly after was kept out by Robert Sanchez, but the ‘keeper was unfortunate that the ball fell at the mercy of Paddy Madden, who duly did the honours to level up the scores. However, parity would last just seven minutes, as Dale retook the lead when Wilbraham latched onto a loose ball on the left-hand side of the box before shooting in at Crellin’s near post to double his and the hosts’ tally.
Wilbraham was now on a hat-trick and he would soon secure his third goal of the afternoon….only it would be his own net that was rippling. Just five minutes after putting Dale back ahead, the forward would be highly unlucky when he, within a scrum of bodies, deflected Kyle Dempsey’s hit and hope beyond the helpless Sanchez for 2-2. We were all set for a last 25 minutes that looked to be building nicely, and despite the visitors arguably having slightly the better of the next ten minutes of play, it was home sub Kwadwo Baah who would be denied from a tight angle, Crellin tipping his stinging shot over. However, this paled in significance to a scary moment involving Rhys Norrington-Davies, who was left largely motionless after an accidental collision with Crellin after beating him to the ball.
After a good seven or eight minutes of stoppage, a glazed-looking Norrington-Davies was carried from the field on a stretcher to applause from all sides of the ground. His facial expression didn’t look too good and you could only hope all was ok with him. Anyway, this left Dale in a dilemma, as they now had to see out the last twenty minutes or so with 10 men, having already made their three substitutions. I do think there’s a case for a “serious injury-enforced” like-for-like sub rule to be brought in when these cases arise, though I suppose it would be hard to police.
As it was, the ten men tried gamely to hold onto their point against a Fleetwood side now feeling as though the cards had all fallen for them, and it was little surprise when, with the 90 almost up, Wes Burns was found in the centre of the area and he made no mistake in coolly slotting past Sanchez for 3-2 and send the Fleetwood fans and bench into raptures. However, Dale weren’t done and Wilbraham forced Crellin into action shortly after the restart, but they never truly looked like getting back on level terms, and indeed it was Town who went closest to netting a coup-de-grace as both Evans and Madden were denied by Sanchez.
Unfortunately, I had to leave a couple of minutes before the end, to ensure I caught the bus from outside which, thankfully, was late too. I didn’t miss much bar a Paddy Madden shot apparently, so it proved the best choice. I arrived back in the centre in quick time, having beaten the usual traffic of course, and hopped off back outside the Medicine Tap, but with my sights set on the Reede I’d missed out earlier. It looked and sounded rocking as I rounded the corner to it, and indeed it was Karaoke night and it was blaring. I opted for a Corona (£2.80) with seating seeming to be at a premium and didn’t spend too long, although the singers I heard whilst in there weren’t bad, to be fair!
Last up to round off the day was the Wetherspoons, a former cinema building by the name of the Regal Moon. A rather grand building, the Regal Moon dominates this part of the town centre and is one of the more impressive in the chain’s portfolio, I’d suggest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have too much time before the tram to enjoy its interior, a bottle of Hooch having to suffice before I returned to the tram stop just outside for the apparent tram back….which didn’t exist. I hope this isn’t becoming a thing after last week’s phantom Crimbo Brymbo bus too. Needlessly over gassy after having to rush the bottle for no reason as it turned out, I didn’t feel all the best at that point, though the tram back into Manchester did allow for a bit of a brief snooze, prior to grabbing a couple of buses to get home without any real issue, a journey which included just beating the Old Trafford rush, following Manchester United’s 4-1 thumping of another United, Newcastle.
So rounded off yet another Spotland trip and it had been the best overall, in both matchday experience and match quality (although Dale fan Ian kindly getting me into the hospitality bit a few years back counts separately!). The game was real fun second half, Spotland continued to grow on me and Rochdale as a town was better than I expected because, if I’m honest, I expected it to be a bit shit. It wasn’t and that was a real bonus nor could the weather put a dampener on things, so no complaints can be made again (I know I say that a lot, but there really is nowhere I’ve been yet to be too negative on. Maybe I need to be less positive! Last Saturday, and indeed last game, of the year is next up, ‘dair’ I say where I will be….
Value For Money: 7