Manchopper in….Castleton (Rochdale Town FC)

rochdale townWidnes_Football_Club_logo

Result: Rochdale Town 1-3 Widnes (North West Counties League Division 1)

Venue: Mayfield Sports Centre (Saturday 23rd April 2016, 3pm)

Att: 17

As you may have read over my various social media outlets, this blog is going to become something of a budgeted venture for the foreseeable future, largely due to my income being severely reduced in the meantime. As such, when Rochdale Town’s offer of £5 in plus pie and drink thrown in for good measure, it seemed a perfect excuse to begin and explore just how I would survive doing the blog in this way after such a long while.

So, I set off for Manchester during the late morning and after a fairly brisk walk through Manchester to Victoria Station, I boarded my train over to Castleton, the home town of Rochdale Town FC, formerly the much better named Castleton Gabriels. Anyway, personal preferences aside I began my short ride over to just short of Rochdale only to realise that I was on an earlier train than I’d planned and now had an extra half hour to waste away in Castleton. Brilliant.

After a 15 minute ride or so, the train pulled into Castleton and I headed for the first pub I spied, not that it was difficult or a skilful thing to do as it was right in front of me. Yes, the Midland Beer Company was to be my first stop. I headed in and found what I considered a bit of a gem and with the Man City-Stoke game on the TV too, settled in with an Estrella to watch. Mindful of what this blog is becoming, it became my sole stop-off point pre-game.

Castleton

Castleton

The Midland

The Midland

Inside the Midland Beer Company

Inside the Midland Beer Company

So, after making my pint last the full 90 minutes(!), it was eventually time to head out of the Midland without any real happenings of any note and head down the road alongside towards the Mayfield Sports Centre, the home of Town and some Rugby sides too. After getting very slightly lost, I found my bearings and was soon at the entrance to the ground, confirmed by a large sign confirming this!

Heading to the turnstile, which is just lacking the turnstile, I handed over my £5 entry and on realising there were no programmes on hand, headed inside. About 5 minutes later, a Town official appeared and declared that “the programmes have arrived”. As such, out traipsed the majority of the 17 hardy souls who made the trip to Castleton for today’s tie vs Widnes to grab a piece of the action for a measly £1.

The Mayfield Sports Centre is within a largely rugby dominated complex, but is a little ramshackle ground which has it’s own charms to it. It’s main stand is in need of the bit of renovation it’s getting and the other small seating stand opposite is a little unkempt too. The right hand end, as you enter, features a covered standing area and you have to cross the grass to get to it from the far side. The opposite end features an open raised terrace, which leads round past a caravan (yes, a caravan) and back to the Main Stand.

Arriving at Mayfield Sports Centre

Arriving at Mayfield Sports Centre

Approaching the turnstile (minus the turnstile!)

Approaching the turnstile (minus the turnstile!)

Heading in

Heading in

As I mentioned above, it was Widnes who’d provide the opposition for Town today and, from what I can recollect in my memory bank, it was to be the first time I’d seen them play so a bit of a non-interesting side note for anyone else who isn’t me. Anyway, after a further 15 minutes, the teams re-entered the field for the usual pre-match niceties and we were all set to go in this North West Counties Division 1 tie. But first, a bit about the story of Rochdale Town FC…

History Lesson:

Rochdale Town FC was founded in 1924 as St.Gabriel’s FC and played in the Rochdale Sunday League, but players had to be church-going Catholics. Strictly. This was the case until the 1960’s, when this requirement was lifted to help out the, now struggling, club. It had the desired effect, with the club becoming more successful and gaining honours while playing in the Rochdale Alliance.

In 1979, the club moved to its current home, then known as Butterworth Park and made improvements both on the field and off it before, in 1985, making the switch to Saturday football in the shape of the Manchester League. In their second season, the club won the Division 1 and promotion, as well as lifting the Murray Shield. After a spell in the Manchester League’s Premier Division, the club moved to the North West Counties in 1990 and dropped the “Saint” prefix from their name.

Caravan

Caravan

Main Stand

Main Stand

In the meantime, the club became Castleton Gabriels but the club began to suffer financially during the ’90’s and early 2000’s. As the ground fell into gradual disrepair, Gabriels were relegated on account of ground grading but the stadium was purchased off the club by the current landlords, Rochdale Mayfield RLFC who began refurbishing Butterworth Park. After almost being expelled from the league, a short spell groundsharing at the now defunct Oldham Town, (latterly Boro), Gabriels returned to the newly named Castleton Sports Centre in late 2005, though this didn’t help the club on the field particularly with them ending the ’05-’06 season on one point (after points deduction).

At the end of the 2007-’08 season, the decision was taken (disappointingly in most quarters outside of the club as far as my travels have shown (we want Gabriels!)) to change the club name to Rochdale Town FC and to, hopefully, gain more support from the larger town next door. What this has done, though, is create links with Rochdale AFC and sees Town wear Dale’s old kits. Last season saw Town finish in 13th place in Division 1.

Line ups

Line-ups

The game got underway and, to be honest, lacked the cutting edge from either side. Both battled gamely but, ultimately, created little throughout the whole first half. But there was one flash point which would largely turn the game in favour of the visitors.

About 15 minutes in, the ball was played through to the Widnes striker who outpaced the defence and ‘keeper, forcing the latter to bring him down when through on goal. By the laws and all that, it’s a red but it really tends to ruin the game as a spectacle and I was hoping the scarlet card would remain in the ref’s pocket. Sadly, it did not and after a defender was forced to go between the sticks, he could do nothing to prevent Luke Edwards’ spot-kick giving Widnes the lead.

As I alluded to earlier, that was pretty much the only action during the first half, though there was some good battling/handbags being exchanged on the field throughout with Widnes’ #9 particularly liking to stay down after a couple of 50/50’s and their #7 having a humorous exchange with a supporter over who fouled who when he wasn’t too happy with a challenge. But, half-time arrived with the score still at 0-1 and to the tea bar it was, via a wrong turn into the director’s lounge bit.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Widnes' opener flying in

Widnes’ opener flying in

After being helped out/figuring out simultaneously where I’d gone wrong (which wasn’t tricky to figure out), I found my way to the queue for the tea bar, where I redeemed my pie (Meat and Potato) and a cup of tea. These were much needed as the wind was bloody bracing. Unfotunately, the half-time came and went and we were all forced back out into the elements for the second half. It had to be better right?

Experience tells me that in this league, second halves are always more open than firsts and, thankfully, this proved no different. I set off for a second lap of the ground, but instead got talking to the dad of Widnes’ #4 (another George on our day). I’m sure I picked up his name too, but I can’t for the life of me remember it sorry, but it was great to have the chat.

Whilst standing above the home dugout on a slightly raised area, we saw Rochdale’s 10 men unsurprisingly go level, with a clear double trip by two separate players at the same time giving an easy decision for the ref. Though, having seen some of the decisions, it was still debatable if he’d get it right. Still, Town’s Carl Fitton stepped up and converted comfortably to give the 10 men all the momentum going into the last 15.

The momentum, though, lasted all of 20 seconds as, from the kick-off, the ball was played out to the left and Edwards floated the ball over the stranded stand-in ‘keeper (who’d done mighty well all game bar this moment) and into the bottom corner. 1-2 then.

1-1

1-1

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Widnes went on to be the better side for the last 10, adding a further goal to their tally via James Ryan, who rounded the ‘keeper neatly before slotting in. 1-3, game over and despite the niggly nature of the game all the players still got on with handshakes and everything at the end. What they thought of the ref though is, I imagine, unpublishable! Quote one Town player “We’re being shafted by shit officials!” or something close to that!

Game over, it was back to Castleton station, dodging the occasional drops of rain before hopping on the train back to Man Vic where I was to meet Paul of “(occasional)pitcsidepints”. Paul, who’d been sampling the debatable delights of Bacup, had floated the idea of watching the majority of the United-Everton semi-final somewhere in Manchester. Problem was, all the bars were rammed, with the highlight being in the Old Nag’s Head pub with one fan doing a strange, gyrating, throw-in action at the screen. No idea what his feelings were, or what he wanted, but he was doing it with some gusto!

Eventually, we gave best and headed into the Britons Protection pub close to Oxford Road. No football in here though, that is until Paul whipped his phone out with the live coverage on! Perfect! Despite some crafty looks along the lines of “How dare you bring football into our establishment” from a couple next to us, Tony Martial’s late winner saw me pierce the silence once again, before we reckoned we should leave and head towards the station a bit more and avoid a banning order…

After a quick stop off in the nearby Temple, it was off to the station to catch our respective trains back home. Overall, a good day out despite the weather not being too kind, but credit (and thanks) to Rochdale for putting on the offer and hopefully the next one gets better publicity and attracts more than, well, that. They deserve it.

DSC02269

RATINGS:

Game: 5- Pretty poor, not helped by a rugby-affected surface.

Ground: 6- Bit ramshackle, but going through some upgrades. Nice caravan.

Fans: 4- There was a couple. A couple. a few Dale fans too it seemed.

Programme: 5- OK, worth a pound and pen-pic dominant.

Food: 7- Pie was decent enough and can’t complain really can I?!

Value For Money: 7- All round decent day for the money. No real complaints to be had.

 

 

Manchopper in….Rochdale

Rochdale_AFC_logoFleetwood Town FC

Result: Rochdale 0-2 Fleetwood Town (SkyBet Football League 1)

Venue: Spotland (Sunday 29th December 2014, 3.00pm)

Att: 3,123

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.

Approaching the gates

Approaching the gates

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.

History Lesson:

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.

Main Stand

Main Stand

Willbutts Lane Stand.

Willbutts Lane Stand.

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.

Pearl Street Stand

Pearl Street Stand

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.

Spotland Sunset

Spotland Sunset

Match Action

Match Action

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.

The Villain, Ian Henderson

The Villain, Ian Henderson

Cod Army enjoying their win

Cod Army enjoying their win

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.

Me, the Edgar's Gift Pairing and Peter Vincenti.

Me, the Edgar’s Gift Pairing Neil & David and Peter Vincenti.

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

RATINGS:

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.