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Addicted to Rochdale (Part 17) Diary of the 2010-11 Season
Written by middale on Friday, 23rd Jan 2015 23:33

This is the final part - concluding with Hill's departure to Barnsley. Thanks for reading.

Middale

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Thursday 19th May 2011

It’s deep into Football League play-off week. It took Lyd until the 87th minute of tonight’s Peterborough v MK Dons second leg showdown to flip. “Right I’m going to move out with Becky,” she declares. “All you two ever do is watch football”. Probably a moderately fair overall sentiment but deeply unfair in the context of tonight, so I’m fuming. The game as a 19.45 kick off live on Sky played out following our usual household pattern. Sneak a little bit of the action at the start of the match for 5 minutes or so, then as soon as Lyd enters the room, frantically suggest a switch to something else. Ignore Jake’s protests. Insist that we watch Eastenders, or Waterloo Road, or the Apprentice, or some random house makeover programme, or some heart-string tugging documentary on BBC Four. Anything, simply anything except the purgatory of watching football with someone who hates it with a passion, quietly simmering and ready to boil over at any moment.

As half-time approaches in any TV match I’ll be running a bath for Becky. She’ll play and be out of there 20 minutes later. I’ll then read her a bedtime story. Then I go down and Lyd goes up for a final goodnight. So I can usually start watching any match properly from 21.20, usually somewhere around the 75th minute. So tonight I got all of 12 minutes* watching Peterborough v MK Dons. That’s not a lot in my opinion to justify being on the receiving end of an anti-football tirade and a threat to leave.

*OK, I suppose I should admit that I did sneak off from Becky’s bath to watch another 4 minutes of the match on the tiny upstairs TV at the start of the second half, but Lyd didn’t know that and a grand total of 16 minutes is still well harsh.

So roll on the end of the play-offs and with it the football season, neither me or Lyd can take much more of this. Unfortunately I have a minor soft spot for Accrington (exactly like half of the nation I suspect), and so I’ll be intrigued to see if they can overturn a 2-0 deficit in their home leg against Stevenage tomorrow. Highly unlikely.

So back to more serious job searching. I requested to join an agency specialising in librarianship. They reply of course to my email straight away, and want to telephone interview me properly early next week. Potentially good news I suppose, but I feel a total fraud. The thought of me running any sort of information service is pretty laughable given my current state of mind.

Friday 20th May 2011

The end of the world is nigh, according to predictions. Believers have started saying their goodbyes ahead of tomorrow’s much hyped Judgement Day, when Jesus Christ will return to earth, believers will be raptured to heaven, and all sinners condemned to eternal hell. Will Harold Camping prove to be right I wonder? The countdown begins…

Today’s omens are certainly grim. The Messiah of Dale, Keith Hill, is holding talks with Barnsley about their vacant managerial position. Out of nowhere, events have escalated rapidly. According to their website, Dale have “with great reluctance” allowed an official approach. The bookies are taking no further bets on the outcome. Fans of both Barnsley and Rochdale claim to know that interviews have taken place and the deal is done. Yet as midnight approaches, there’s still no official word. Everyone’s left hanging on a string.

Still, lets stop deluding ourselves. The Dale doomsday scenario is unfolding. On the balance of probability, Hill is clearly bound for Oakwell. He’ll almost certainly want to take Flitcroft and other members of the Dale backroom staff with him, so popular Plan B to persuade Flicker to stay looks like a non-starter. When Hill leaves, he will no doubt be attempting to entice prize disciples Chris O’Grady and Scotty Wiseman across the Pennines to Barnsley with him.

This nightmare scenario provokes so many questions and dilemmas for Dale fans. Should Hill go with our blessing after 4 and a half years of unprecedented success? Yes, probably, but why Barnsley? Are they really so much bigger and better than Dale? They’re perennial Championship strugglers with little obvious potential to progress. And why Barnsley again? They’ve got previous form when it comes to nicking Dale managers, having grabbed Steve Parkin mid-season in 2001 when Dale were top of the table, thus scuppering a great chance of promotion. Who’s going to be interviewing who, anyway? Hill is notoriously bullish and the popular view is that he’ll be calling the shots to see if Barnsley match his personal ambitions.

Sunday 22nd May 2011

Well, strangely enough, the world hasn’t ended. The nearest we got to damnation and pestilence was a billowing fire in Selly Oak this evening, but I suspect that doesn’t count. Or maybe it has but no one noticed. It was probably relegated to second billing on Sky behind their saturation hype and coverage of Survival Sunday.

The two relegated victims on Survival Sunday were Birmingham City and Blackpool. One richly deserving, one desperately unlucky. In my humble opinion, Blues have totally deserved their fate for their negativity, caution and dull brand of football. They’ve had their day in the sun in the Carling Cup, but yet again they have finished lowest goalscorers in the Premier League.

I’ve just fired off an email/letter on this theme to the Birmingham Evening Mail. There’s a few mildly controversial points in it but perhaps they’ll deign to print it anyway.

Right, Birmingham City have been relegated again. Lets face facts. This isn't unlucky, it's richly deserved due to the negative brand of football we play. We have finished as the lowest scorers in the division again. Like we usually do (near or near enough), year in, year out with monotonous regularity.

So please, please can we have a major rethink from everyone involved going forward?

Can Blues fans please stop focusing endlessly on passion, desire, work-rate and battling? The collective obsession with these attributes is the curse of the club. Yes, they have a place in football, but they are only the basics. Forget them, what we need going forward is more creativity, skill, flair, passing and good technical ability. These are not dirty words, they are the qualities Blues have consistently lacked for the last 25 years. They should apply to the whole team, not just one player who is usually given the impossible mission of improving Blues' quality, then castigated when he conveniently fails allowing Blues to revert to their monotonous type.

Can the influential local media please encourage this shift of thinking, instead of pandering to the entrenched, stereotypical views of many Blues fans. Wouldn't it be nice if we heard Tom Ross celebrating ability over work-rate? Or pointing out that a lack of creativity in midfield is always Blues' major problem, not the unfortunate strikers who are always scapegoated for missing the very occasional chances that come their way.

Can the Blues owners please be brave in their decision making. Either insist that McLeish changes his ultra-defensive approach, or if he can't, sack him and appoint someone who can. Blues cannot afford to appoint another cautious manager after the Francis, Bruce and McLeish years, we must move on. We don't need a big name manager either. There are a number of up and coming managers in the lower leagues who are totally committed to playing attacking football, and manage to do so on shoestring budgets. Have a look at Keith Hill at Rochdale for a start, the brand of football they play is vastly superior, as many Blues fans may recall from the Carling Cup clash at the start of the season.

The opportunity is there for Blues to make a fresh start, lets take it.

I must apologise to Dale fans of course for touting Hill for the Birmingham job. It matters not in the wider scheme of things, such is their insular outlook and scouting network, they've probably never heard of him anyway.

Tuesday 25th May 2011

Keith Hill appears to have turned down Barnsley after all, but listening to his carefully worded radio interviews and reading between the lines it sounds like the only stumbling blocks have been his desire to take the entire Dale management structure (and probably the tea lady) with him and the amount of compensation. I suspect we may not have heard the last of it. When this saga finally ends one way or the other, this diary should end with it. I want closure. Dale need closure (but preferably without being raped and pillaged in the process).

In contrast, it looks like I have heard the last of my letter. There’s no sign of it being published in the Evening Mail, despite near saturation analysis of Blues relegation over the last 2 days. Oh well.

Friday 28th May 2011

It’s been 6 weeks now since the epic midweek Rochdale v Southampton match. Jake clearly still holds a grudge with me for not taking him, and today he seized the moment to exact his revenge. He’s got a school trip in a couple of weeks to the AEGON Classic Women’s Tennis Tournament in Birmingham, and they’re after parents as volunteers to accompany the class. I’d like to go but Jake refused point blank to let me tick the box on the form offering my services. I pressed him for a valid reason beyond the obvious one of me being an embarrassing Dad, and with a smirk breaking out across his face, he gleefully informed me:

“It’s payback time for you not taking me to the Rochdale v Southampton game!”

That’s probably a fair enough cop! I think I’m amused and disappointed in equal doses.

Speaking of disappointment, all today’s vibes suggest that Keith Hill has made a predictable U-turn on taking the Barnsley job. He’s allegedly been seen holding talks with the Barnsley chairman in a hotel in Huddersfield. He’s also allegedly been interviewed for the Sheffield United job. God, he’s putting it about a bit. As Neil Kinnock once said when realising the game was up on Labour winning the general election, its now most definitely a case of “That’s it Glenys” regarding any chance of Rochdale holding on to Hill.

As an early morning surprise, on browsing the papers in the local Tesco Express, I found that the Evening Mail have printed my letter today after all. They’ve given it some prominence as well, under the heading “Time for a fresh approach, Blues”. It has to be said that the evening starts peculiarly early in Birmingham, as you can buy the Mail from 7.30 in the morning.

Predictably, they’ve made a number of moderately irritating edits:

1. My mild criticism of local press guru Tom Ross has vanished (probably because he’s local royalty, and it would look out of kilter with the article in the same paper celebrating his 30 years of broadcasting)

2. The suggestion that Blues should target an attack minded manager like Keith Hill has also bitten the dust (presumably on the grounds that no one in the Midlands will have heard of him)

3. My pinpointing of Blues midfield as the problem is nowhere to be seen. (a bit like Blues’ midfield in most matches really)

4. Previous Blues managers Steve Bruce and Trevor Francis don’t get named and shamed for their equally negative tactics.

Sunday 29th May 2011

Yesterday started out quietly, just like any other close season Saturday. A spot of gym in the morning, pottering around playing with the children in the garden, then generally wondering what to do to fill the time before watching the Champions League Final in the evening. Then, thanks to an inspired late decision to be sociable and accept a third-hand offer to join some fellow Dads at the school, I ended up playing my first football game for 4 years and getting pissed in the pub watching Barcelona beat Manchester United.

The football game, on the lush astroturf at Birmingham University, was extremely enjoyable. This was also my perfect surface, suiting my decent touch, movement and finishing, whilst conveniently hiding my complete lack of aerial ability or stomach for the fight when the going gets tough. Just before kick-off I felt a momentary sense of childlike exhilaration, knowing that I was about to play football in near-perfect conditions. One of life’s simple pleasures. Glorious escapism.

Still, there was some pressure was on me from the sidelines. Jake has long been intrigued to get some sense of my footballing standard, and insisted on watching. I did warn him that watching 15 middle aged guys attempt to play football wouldn’t be the most riveting hour of his life, but he was undeterred. So he witnessed my quintessential performance of two halves, where I was ring rusty and chasing shadows in the first half when we had a man less, then increasingly confident and influential in the second half when we had a man more. I scored a couple, missed a few more, found space with ease and sprayed plenty of passes around the pitch. I came off at the end feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Jake was rather less impressed. He told me:

“You played OK, but I saw you give the ball away quite a few times in the first half. Your first touch wasn’t very good.”

Quietly mortified by this harsh critique of my first touch, I chipped back:

“But Jake, it was bloody hard in the first half. We couldn’t get hold of the ball but when we did I thought I did OK. Then in the second half I was knocking it around nicely.”

Jake had the final word:

“I didn’t see much of that. I think you’re overrating your passing ability. You’re just an average finisher really.”

Later that evening in the pub, some of the other Dads were more charitable in their assessment of my performance. One, who got paid £5 a game playing for the mighty Northfield Town, flatteringly kicked off with:

“Did you ever play football at a decent standard? Only Sunday morning? I can’t believe that! I couldn’t get near you to even kick you in that second half! Will you join our Over-35s team? I want to be your agent!”

Some agreement from a few others in the group had me positively glowing. It may have been the beer talking, or the over-politeness typical of men before they get to know each other properly (and then resort to mutual piss-taking), but it felt fabulous, and all the better for being so unexpected. I’d approached this social occasion with my usual trepidation, but as I quickly sank 3 pints and chatted happily away to my new acquaintancies about football, music and the school, I felt unusually content. I played my favourite social trick of using my geographical knowledge to good effect to begin conversations. One Dad was amazed that I knew Grosvenor Vale, which was just round the corner from where he grew up in Ruislip. Another was impressed with my guess that he grew up near Hucknall when he said he was born just north of Nottingham. I fielded various questions on Rochdale and falling out of love with Blues. The joys of alcohol driven male-bonding.

Alas, it didn’t last. Post-Barcelona’s only half-watched Champions League masterclass and a total of 5 pints consumed by 11.30, tiredness kicked in and my conversation kicked out. I made my excuses and left whilst still on a relative high. They were all still going strong. They may still be drinking now, 15 hours later, for all I know. I cannot last the pace. Except in the food stakes, where I eat 2 tiger rolls, 3 slices of pizza, 1 packet of cashew nuts and 1 bowl of cereal before staggering upstairs to bed. All the good work of the gym and the football undone. Who ate all the pies? You fat bastard.

Tuesday 31st May 2011

Tomorrow at midday, Barnsley will be calling a press conference to formally announce the worst kept secret in the football world. They will be appointing Keith Hill as their new manager. Complete with Dave Flitcroft as his new assistant manager. Plus three other new backroom recruits, also from the Rochdale staff. That’s all pretty emphatic. He’s only really going leaving behind Chris Beech and Tony Ellis, who would be the continuity ticket as the new Dale management team.

Dale fans seem to be split 50/50 by this conclusive turn of events. One camp are declaring Hill to be an arrogant “Judas” and a liar who will never be welcomed back at Spotland or forgiven for his U-turn and weasel words over the last 7 days. The other camp steadfastly refuse to have a bad word said against him and continue to praise him to the hilt for being the best Dale manager ever. The argument on the Rochdale Fans Network has been getting absurdly heated, with vitriol seeping from every post fired from the Judas camp, and occasionally pompous self-righteousness emanating from the “Hill is Still The Messiah” camp. Some Barnsley fans have temporarily infiltrated the site to further fan the flames. There is no middle ground. There are far too many men, most probably football addicts like me, with far too much time on their hands.

So, all in all, this is an appropriate end point to my diary. The lapsed historian in me knows that a glorious era at Rochdale has almost certainly now ended. The good times at Spotland have camouflaged the inglorious demise of my career, but so what, us Dale fans will always treasure the memories of what we've just received.

Sunday 11th June 2011

OK, I know I said that was the end, but if Hillcroft can do a late U-turn so can I. This weekend’s momentous football events certainly justify a further entry. Event one is not yet official, but Sky Sports News are reporting that Steve Eyre is about to be appointed as the new Rochdale manager. He’s the head of Manchester City’s youth academy. I’ve never even heard of him. I’ve absolutely no idea if this’ll be a good appointment for Dale or not, but far better some up and coming guy with hunger and the desire to play football the right way rather than some ageing has-been who’s been round the blocks with one minor success and four major blunders on his CV (the likes of Brian Laws).

Event two is 100% real and glorious – Alex McLeish has resigned as manager of Birmingham City! By email apparently – what a braveheart! Better still, he’s immediately being linked with the Aston Villa job! Off you pop, Alex, and please take your tedious brand of negative football with you. On hearing this news at 18.00 tonight, the real and metaphorical clouds simultaneously lifted over the fair city of Birmingham after a day of incessant rain. I’ve been smiling inside ever since. Perhaps this optimism will continue, at least until Blues appoint the next dour Scot to replace him. Billy Davies has worryingly become available on the same day.

Event three was actually announced yesterday, the demise of Rushden & Diamonds FC. They’ve been expelled from the Conference, demoted two divisions with immediate effect, and face a winding-up order later in the week. I feel like Mystic Meg, having seen this one coming a mile off when I went to Nene Park back in October. They’ve gone full circle. It’s most probably the end of a spectacular footballing story. Just like a handful of other footballing minnows like Gretna and Castel di Sangro they have soared high, then come crashing down to earth.

Event four was Jake’s Bournville Warriors team winning an all-day tournament yesterday. Jake made a spectacular return to form after his confidence losing end of season tail-off, culminating in scoring a screamer into the top corner with the last kick of the final to make the score 4-1. Over 100 watching parents and other tournament players were impressed, and Jake was chaired off the pitch by his jubilant team-mates. I was a proud Dad. He’s been buzzing ever since (well at least until this afternoon when he realised that he had homework to complete on the interior design of churches).

Afterwards, he came out with a statement that I found pretty difficult to disagree with:

“Colin, the reason I love football so much is that I’ve never, ever experienced anything better in life that the feeling I get when I score a goal.”

I should really end on Dale though. Good luck to Hillcroft at Barnsley. I’ll follow their progress closely. Out of curiosity, I’m sure I’ll want to see the Tykes in action next season. I’m not bitter that they spent the last week of their Dale tenure analysing Barnsley’s strengths and weaknesses on Pro-Zone. That’s history already. They’ve given glorious meaning to the last four and a half years of my life. They will always be Dale legends.







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