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Addicted to Rochdale (Part 12) Diary of the 2010-11 Season
Written by middale on Sunday, 9th Nov 2014 02:19

Contrasting Dale's dull 0-0 draw away at Walsall with Birmingham City somehow winning the Carling Cup. Plus some Mark Yates bashing.

Thursday 17th February 2011

Yesterday was possibly the second time this year that my actions were a slave to my muse. The thought occurred to me that the ideal place to buy Lyd a birthday present would be Ikea. She loves the place, sorted. Then the next thought quickly occurred to me that if I did that I could also nip in to nearby Walsall FC to buy discounted tickets for the Rochdale game on Saturday week. And then I thought that if I did get these early tickets it might be worth writing about? Is that contrived? And in what order were these thoughts really conceived anyway?

Whatever the truth, I did go to Ikea first. I can honestly say that I never thought I’d see the day when I went to Ikea voluntarily, and alone. My first plan was safe enough, just to dash in, buy a gift token and dash out. So when told that the gift tokens were at the exit, I immediately followed the overhead signs directing me straight there. Big mistake. This leads you on a disorientating scenic route featuring multiple figures of eight, U-turns and hairpin bends to ensure that you take in every last section of this vast monolithic store. Viewed from the air it would undoubtedly look like a drunk staggering around, or maybe a Birmingham City attack, tentatively lurching forwards then retreating backwards at every given opportunity. Finally I made it out though, having made a minor concession to flair by actually purchasing a picture alongside the token. Lets see if it meets Lyd’s taste.

Then I went to the Bescot Stadium second. I got there at about 12.30, and for some reason had visions of the place being a hive of activity, full of locals eagerly snapping up tickets, drinking in some relegation-beating optimism having beaten Dagenham & Redbridge 1-0 at home the previous night. I needn’t have worried. The place was deserted. A pleasant young man half my age sold me a couple of tickets for 20 quid on the front row of their upper tier. So I’ve paid 10 quid less than I would if I’d turned up on the day and headed straight for their claustrophobic away end. Jake will be disappointed but I can’t be doing with a repeat of the Dagenham & Redbridge rip off experience. Besides, I’m two months unemployed now, and I’ve got nothing fresh to say tomorrow at my fortnightly jobseekers allowance interview.

PS Sod that negativity. Tonight’s episode of Waterloo Road was quality, and one exterior shot set in a park featured the three mighty tower blocks of Falinge silhouetted in the distance. Aesthetically beautiful.

Sunday 20th February 2011

Another Saturday passes, another 1-1 draw witnessed. I’d have happily settled for that if it’d have been Rochdale v Southampton at Spotland, but actually it was Cheltenham v Barnet at Whaddon Road. The Dale game was called off early amidst much acrimony on the messageboard, much of which blamed the egg-chasers of Rochdale Hornets for ruining the pitch and leaving it unable to even cope with regulation downpours . The mood of the fans could easily be gauged by threads with titles like “pathetic, tin-pot, embarrassing” and “wouldn’t blame Hill now if he fooks off to the next available job”.

Slightly unrealistic but extremely appealing Plan B would have been to go to Morecambe v Oxford to complete my set of 92 English league grounds again, but it’s a bloody long way so that would only have worked if we were already half way up the M6 before hearing about the Rochdale postponement. The thought briefly crossed my mind to pretend that I hadn’t heard the news and set off anyway, but that was a non-starter really so the delights of Morecambe will have to wait for another day.

The more realistic Plan C was definitely Alfreton Town v Solihull Moors. At midday I’d just about talked Jake around from his initial reaction of “not another poxy small game in the freezing cold”. However, when I rang Alfreton to check, a recorded message confirmed that this game was off as well. What now? Lyd had taken Becky to an afternoon party so we had carte blanche to go somewhere, but where? I fired off a list of options to Jake:

Cheltenham v Barnet? “Naah, that sounds like it’ll be a really boring game.”

Tamworth v AFC Wimbledon? “Naah, Tamworth are really dull and defensive”.

Halesowen v Salisbury? “Naah, way to far down the leagues, who cares?”

Northampton v Aldershot? “Hmmm, sounds a bit dull but I’ll think about it.”

Hereford v Burton? “OK, possibly, there might be goals there as Burton have a leaky defence”.

To be fair this vetoing of fixtures wasn’t all one way. I gave Jake back my reasons for avoiding another three of the just about possible games still available to us now that the clock was approaching 1.30.

Birmingham v Sheffield Wednesday? “Potentially dull, just another routine cup game for Blues, and galling to see fans bragging about getting their Wembley tickets when I won’t be going.”

Crewe v Stevenage? “Borderline too far, and besides we’ve been to Gresty Road once already this season”

Stoke City v Brighton? “Can’t be bothered, it’s far too soon after last season’s rather gratuitous FA Cup hop to Stoke City v York City”.

So when we left the house we were actually going to Hereford v Burton. This turned into Cheltenham only when we were somewhere near Worcester on the M5, and I laid it on a bit thick that time was definitely against us for an undulating trundle through rural Worcestershire and Herefordshire on slowish A-roads.

On arrival at Whaddon Road, I grappled with the task of finding a focal point for us as neutrals at this less than attractive League 2 fixture. Belatedly it occurred to me. We should support Barnet because my Dad does, it’s where he lived for many years in his youth. Jake had been quizzing me on family history on the journey down, and my knowledge of my own family roots is appallingly sketchy. Barnet also need the support as they’re bottom of League 2 and looking like prime relegation candidates. So it would have been great to joint their hardy band of 100 fans behind the goal, but unfortunately that would have set me back £27 quid instead of £20, so we headed off to the ancient home stand with a reasonable view but no legroom instead. We indulged in some minor clandestine supporting of Barnet, which will be good practice for the real thing next week when we’ll be watching Dale in the company of Walsall fans.

After two minutes of the game, two Barnet players had caught Jake’s eye enough to acquire nicknames. A trifle harshly, their combative midfielder Fraser was christened “psycho ginger”. More accurately, their attacking midfielder Deering playing in the hole just behind the two strikers became “the midget”. Jake compared him to the smallest possible 5 foot 2 virtual pro option on his Fifa Playstation.

The midget became the more influential of these two characters as the game progressed. After struggling to get a kick in the first 20 minutes of predictable head tennis amongst the giants, he started to weave occasional magic with the equally vertically challenged speedy forward Marshall as Barnet gained clear ascendancy. They frittered away various clear chances with poor finishing, eventually conceded after an hour but then gained a richly deserved injury time equaliser. By the end of the game, Jake was converted and said that he felt sorry for Barnet, will look out for their future results and hope they avoid relegation. That’s quite a transformation.

By contrast, Cheltenham were very poor and very route one. For both of these cardinal footballing crimes I blame their manager Mark Yates. The same Mark Yates who brings back shocking memories of his time as a teenager when he was part of unquestionably the worst Birmingham City side ever. Languishing in mid-table of the old Third Division under the appalling management of Garry Pendrey, Mr Yates is probably right down there as one of the worst 10 players to have ever played semi-regularly for the first team at Blues.

Most of this list of shame, including Dean Peer, Colin Robinson, Carl Richards and Ronnie Morris would come from the same team in the late 1980s. This was the time when Blues were so skint that they’d be obliged to throw any old youngster or free transfer into the first team, regardless of their being hopelessly out of their depth and lacking any footballing talent. The less than lethal strike force of Robinson and Richards were once memorably praised by the Blues management for their potent attributes of “honesty and pace”. The reality was that their footballing ability was akin to alleged comedy duo Hale and Pace, and they were equally as unfunny to watch.

In fact, the general level of entertainment watching this hapless Birmingham City team was so bad that John, Steve and me used to spend most matches amusing ourselves playing a game of “corners.” This involved placing bets on which of the 4 corners would see the most kicks during the game. This 20 years ahead of its time form of spot betting helped us to pass the time and alleviate the gloom, predictability and boredom levels as Blues slipped to yet another 0-1 or 0-2 home defeat.

But back to Mark Yates. He was allegedly a striker but had no discernable strengths. He was slow, not particularly strong or good in the air and a dreadful finisher on the rare occasions he was presented with a scoring chance. Despite all this he clearly fancied himself, possessing dyed peroxide blonde hair which made him resemble a member of Spandau Ballet from the early 1980s New Romantic era. When Blues finally managed to ship him off to Burnley, I remember reading an amusing piss-take account of his first couple of months, where he was nicknamed “Wash and Go” and allegedly and predictably made considerably more of an impression with the girls in the Burnley nightclubs than he ever did on the pitch at Turf Moor. Ironically, he also ended up as a work colleague of Steve as he drifted into non-league football later in his career.

Post-match, Lyd gave me a grilling on the cost of our afternoon’s entertainment in Cheltenham. My estimate of £35 for the tickets and petrol combined was considered “far too much in our current circumstances”. Ahh, this wasn’t the conversation I wanted to have right now. We’re all off to London from Monday to Thursday this week as its half-term week, and I have half-hopes of getting to either Crawley v Southport or Thurrock v Chelmsford on Tuesday night. Plus I haven’t revealed the full costs of my weekend in Scotland yet. Not sure if I dare ask about Tuesday really, will park this one until Monday…

Sunday 27th February 2011

You could say this has been the ultimate weekend of contrasts. It was shaped entirely by the two football games I cared about featuring Rochdale and Birmingham City. One was dreadful and instantly forgettable, the other vibrant and once-in-a-lifetime memorable.

Act One on Saturday was the desperately dull 0-0 draw between Walsall and Rochdale. In the space of a fortnight, that’s a dramatic descent for Dale from their best performance of the season to their worst. There was no passing, no movement, no attacking threat, just nothing. Compared to their usual high standards, Jones, O’Grady, Done and Adams were all dire. And as for Scotty Wiseman who “plays in defence, is f...ing immense”, who was that doppelganger doing an astoundingly bad impersonation of him today? He looked like he’d never seen a football before in his life.

The game was so soporific that watching the traffic on the M6 was marginally more interesting. The atmosphere in the elevated Walsall home family stand was also so non-existent and unthreatening that we soon forgot to care about where we were and started openly berating Dale’s offensive underachievers. The Walsall fans only roused themselves in the second half to give minor abuse to their own ineffective striker, the bush-haired gnarled old veteran Jason Price. The meagre rations of attacking action were all at the distant M6 end, precisely where we should have been alongside the other Dale fans.

Act Two today was Blues winning the Carling Cup Final, beating Arsenal 2-1. That one straightforward, factual statement buries the enormity of the achievement, as this is effectively the first major honour that Blues have won in their entire 125 year history. Yes they’ve won the League Cup once before in 1963 but this was before anyone took the competition seriously. This was the real deal, and all the sweeter as they overcame the mighty Arsenal who were actually treating the competition seriously for the first time in a few seasons. A true and glorious triumph for the underdog. That’s footballing nirvana in anyone’s book, well certainly in this one anyway.

I don’t think it really crossed my mind that Blues might actually beat Arsenal. Blues may be capable of mixing it with most of the big boys of English football, but Arsenal tend to be the major exception. Player for player they are of course vastly superior technically to Blues, and have already beaten them twice this season including an embarrassingly comfortable 3-0 win a St Andrews. This all pointed to a nailed on victory for Arsenal, probably by a 2-0 margin. You could reasonably have hoped that Blues would give it a bit of a go at some stage in the game rather than just park the proverbial bus defensively. Maybe Blues would grab a late consolation goal, but even this was unlikely enough for me to confidently promise Jake a few sips of beer if it happened.

Oh ye of little faith. Lulling Arsenal into a false sense of security with an ultra-defensive looking 4-5-1 formation with only the lumbering immobile Zigic up front, Blues made a rapid and positive start. The game defining moment looked like it had happened after only 2 minutes, when Lee Bowyer sprung Arsenal’s offside trap, rounded the keeper and was brought down. A clear penalty, Blues to go 1-0 up and Arsenal in turmoil, down to 10 men with their keeper sent off. Except that didn’t actually happen. The linesman stuck his flag up for a ridiculous and utterly wrong offside decision. The 31,000 Blues fans had various better suggestions for where he should stick his flag. Preferably sideways.

Incredibly, Blues still triumphed regardless of this scandalous early injustice. Big Zig nodded them in front, then Van Persie equalised for Arsenal before half-time. The game was then locked at 1-1 for most of the second half, with Ben Foster keeping Blues in the game with some memorable saves. The moment of glory arrived in the 89th minute when Arsenal contrived the mother of all cock-ups between goalkeeper Szczesny and defender Koscielny to gift a tap in winner to Obafemi Martins. Beautifully hilarious and hilariously beautiful.

I watched all this drama unfold in the comfort of my living room with Jake and Tim, my 15 year old cousin. It was interesting to see Tim’s take on events. Although he doesn’t go to much live football he’s mad on Blues, partisan and optimistic in a way that I probably was at a slightly earlier age before cynicism and negativity set in. He amuses me and Jake by thinking that Blues winger Sebastian Larsson is a superhero and world-beater, especially when it comes to taking free kicks. Us pair of cynical realists just reckon he’s pretty functional and average in that quintessentially Birmingham City way.

The Sky coverage in the living room predictably seemed to be pro-Arsenal and focus predominantly on their continued minor trophy drought. To be fair this was liberally interspersed with ex-Blues legend Trevor Francis (outstandingly talented forward in the 70s, then dreary defensive manager in the 90s) tragically insisting that Blues have been dogged by bad luck throughout their history. I thought he was going to go the whole hog and blub and mention the alleged longstanding gypsy curse on Blues at one point. Meanwhile, the radio in the kitchen was tuned to BRMB, the partisan local station, where the commentators were screeching about the bad decisions, then going ballistic and laughing hysterically at Blues’ comedy winner.

Tom Ross (a veteran local broadcaster) and John McCarthy (an ex-Blues winger) on BRMB rightly pointed out that winning was a very special moment for all Blues fans of a certain age, more or less my generation of 40 and 50somethings. We have witnessed all the bad times, stuck with the club from the appalling depths of near bankruptcy and desperate football in the eighties then through the painstakingly slow recovery in the nineties and erratic yo-yoing in the noughties. We’ve lived and shared the club’s ingrained inferiority complex and our perennial place in the pecking order behind local rivals Aston Villa. Some fans have lasted the full course and deserve this moment in the sun. I don’t really, having baled out somewhere on the long journey to switch allegiance to Rochdale of course.

Thankfully, its clear that winning was also a special moment for the Blues players. Although there was a farcical interview with Oberfemi Martins just after the final whistle (what was the point of asking him what winning means to Blues when he’s only been with us for 2 weeks?), it’s still clear that they’ve bonded and revelled in their status as feisty underdogs. Ben Foster has now won the Carling Cup twice, having previously won with Man Utd. He highlighted the stark contrast in the two victories perfectly.

In today’s Observer, he said:

“with Man Utd, it was a case of, jeez we’ve won a cup we should be celebrating, but we were straight on the train home then in for training the next day”

Interviewed after today’s match, Foster commented:

“Apart from the birth of my two kids that’s the best feeling I’ve had in my life”.

Perfect. That’s exactly what you want your players to be saying. A romantic moment to share and briefly transcend the naked commercialism of football. That’s about as near as it gets to giving genuine meaning to football support. These moments are rare enough, coming along once a decade if you’re lucky.

So the weekend closes. Nothing changes, there’s no need to reappraise my support. I’m still a Rochdale fan of course but Blues have won back an important long lost place in my affections. Hopefully it should make me lose my negativity towards them and accept them for what they are. And now to attempt to apply that mantra to the rest of my life.

My job prospects certainly aren’t getting any better. Birmingham is the latest local authority to announce thousands of redundancies. The internet is still down most of the time. On the occasions that it isn’t I effortlessly sidetrack myself with the Rochdale messageboard, where I have now taken the plunge to become an occasional participant after years of passive lurking. It’s quite cliquey of course, but I was moved to praise one fan for his Marukami “Norwegian Wood’ avatar. I told him “South of the Border, West of the Sun” is even better, alongside belatedly thanking him for at least looking for his Birmingham v Rochdale ticket stub. All further evidence of Rochdale’s fine literary tradition I reckon.







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