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Addicted to Rochdale (Part 6) - Diary of the 2010/11 season
Written by middale on Friday, 21st Mar 2014 21:21

This part covers an extremely annoying 2-1 away defeat at Bristol Rovers and some lengthy ramblings on the links between Rushden & Diamonds and Rochdale.

Saturday 9th October 2010

Gloom abounds. Dale have contrived to lose 1-0 at home to the less than mighty Yeovil. At a guess this was most likely the prototype 1-0 Dale home defeat that has ever so mildly blighted the Keith Hill era. It consists of starting brightly, conceding after about 20 minutes to the oppositions first meaningful attack, then huffing and puffing ineffectually for the rest of the game without any obvious sign of a Plan B to change proceedings. Oh well, this over achieving lark was fun while it lasted but this 0 point haul from the last 2 games definitely feels like the beginning of the inevitable slump. Lyd was working until 14.00 which meant that I had no chance of going, so instead I went to Rushden & Diamonds v Mansfield, which was conveniently delayed until a 17.15 kick off due to live coverage on some new and totally obscure satellite channel called Premier Sports.

Rushden & Diamonds FC were one of my passing fads, and looking back on my earlier life with a bit of middle aged distance, definitely the one I least understand. I followed them closely, no forget that I semi-actively supported them for at least 6 years, as they rampaged up the non-league pyramid in the late 1990s, bankrolled by the cash of Doctor Martens supremo Max Griggs. They were the big fish in little ponds gobbling up all the hapless and unambitious minnows of non-league, all very capitalistic. Yet it all seemed romantic and mildly subversive at the time, a real life footballing fairy story to merge two lowly sides from nondescript godforsaken villages in the depths of rural Northamptonshire and see just how far they could go on a journey towards world domination. Metaphorically speaking, I also got off on their local squabbles with their deeply envious neighbours, Kettering Town, who had a few agonising near misses at gaining league status, including once contriving to blow a 15 point Conference lead that they held in March.

I felt like I was viewing history being made. In a miniscule way I was, Rushden & Diamonds made it into the Football League and eventually all the way to the third tier of English football with a ground based in the hamlet of Irthlinghborough, population 6,000. The bubble burst around sometime around 2003 when students stopped buying the merchandise en masse and the Doctor Martens money abruptly ran out. They slipped meekly back out of the league by 2006 (pretty inevitability really having made the decision to sign the legendarily useless giant forward Drewe Broughton, who has the unique record of having been relegated out of the Football League at least six times in his career) and have been stuck in the fifth tier ever since.

This was something like my 27th home game at Rushden but my first for over 5 years. I probably saw them play away from home a similar number of times. Quite incredible. I’ve seen memorable games at Nene Park, including veritable goal feasts like a 4-3 win over Enfield in an FA Trophy semi-final and a 5-5 draw with Farnborough in the Conference. As the club were on the rise, the majority of the matches were lively affairs with decent football played on an exquisite, carpet-like pitch. Hundreds of noisy teenagers behind the goal ensured there was usually a decent atmosphere.

I’m knocking on 44 now. I must have been about 28 through to 34 when I was into Rushden & Diamonds big time. Before Jake came along in 2000 I’d think nothing of going to every midweek match going, and Rushden & Diamonds always seemed to have plenty. So did their even smaller neighbours like Rothwell Town and Raunds. Yes, I was occasionally sad enough to venture that far off the footballing and geographical beaten track, deep into the irrelevant Step 4 depths of Northamptonshire.

Lyd, as always through the years, was grudgingly tolerant. She’s very rarely stopped me from going to a game (for which I am of course extremely grateful) but it’s equally rare for her to pass up the opportunity to indicate her disappointment somewhere near to the point of departure. Sometimes with subtlety, sometimes with bluntness. She once became very suspicious when I said I was off to see Rushden on a Thursday night. Suspecting that I was having an affair, she rang the ground to check that there actually was a game on. Of course there was, a truly unmemorable 1-0 home defeat to Dorchester Town. It had been moved unceremoniously to the Thursday because of a clash with the earth-shatteringly important Dorset and District Challenge Cup.

Looking back, the end of my football supporting affair with Rushden & Diamonds was hastened by a few factors. Firstly, there was the stalling of their previous juggernaut-like progress, and an increasing percentage of duller matches witnessed at Nene Park. The Roger Ashby era when they first broke into the Conference was particularly laboured, and epitomised by unproductive expensive signings of lumpen, immobile centre forwards like Carl Alford (nabbed from arch rivals Kettering) and Colin West (once a league player with West Brom and Sheffield Wednesday but I’m not entirely sure how). Secondly, I embarrassed myself acutely at one match by attempting free entry through the club shop after buying a few programmes. “Oh dear”, the guy behind the counter tut-tutted. Oh dear indeed.

Lastly, but most significantly, when Rushden finally reached the Football League by the early 2000s, they became direct rivals with Rochdale. They met regularly in league clashes over a 4 year period and the outcome always seemed to be a draw, so my dilemma as to who I was really supporting was never fully tested. That all changed abruptly when they were drawn together in the League 2 Play Off final in 2002. The fog in my head suddenly cleared. Behave yourself. You can come out from behind the sofa, the dark days of the Graham Barrow era are officially over. Remember you are a Dale fan. The first leg at Rushden was a fantastic 2-2 draw, and to this day one of the most exciting games I’ve ever seen. Rochdale then choked disastrously in the second leg, quickly blowing a fortuitous 1-0 lead gifted to the diminutive (and in my opinion extremely overrated) Kevin Townson, and deservedly went on to lose 2-1. I was totally disconsolate, and at a stroke I realised I had no further interest in following Rushden & Diamonds.

I digress. Back to today at Nene Park, and watching Rushden grind out a slightly fortunate 1-0 win over Mansfield, everything feels empty. It feels like a club quietly stagnating, a scientific experiment failed with the glory years already a dim and distant memory.

Harsh on the Diamonds? Probably, because the view is still good and the grass is still beautiful and slick, but I can’t see them lasting another 10 years. It cost me and Jake £23 to watch this non-league game. Plus another £3 for a dreadful programme. Plus another £3 for what Jake informs me was a dreadful burger. Are they surprised that the home attendance is under 1,000 at these prices? Football is officially going mad. But wait, there was some unexpected value for money. We were sitting on nice comfortable leather seats on the back row and I was a mere two seats away from the one and only Max Griggs. He’s not officially involved anymore I presume, hence not in the main stand opposite with the directors, but still caring enough to be there with an elderly companion, presumably his father. Top man.

Nick didn’t even bother to attend to cheer on his beloved Stags. Instead he subscribed to the aforementioned obscure new satellite television channel Premier Sports, to watch the game live. Rushden scored an early goal having given ex-Dale loanee Rene Howe (and Dating in the Dark contestant) the freedom of half the pitch to break into at will. I correctly anticipated that it wouldn’t be long until I got the bleep of “message received” on my mobile phone.

“Garbage, get your abacus out” - was Nick’s opening gambit.

“Naah, it’ll only be 2-0”, I replied more pragmatically, as God knows I’ve seen enough games with an early goal scored to know the likely pattern that will follow.

“Where are you sat? I’ll look out for you.” – came the calmer follow-up text.

“On top row, same side as camera so you’re not likely to see me” – I just about finish texting this, but before hitting “send” the next one came pinging in.

“There’s just been a massive close up of you – you old FREAK”.

“Really?” I responded, assuming he was joking.

“Yes, they were talking about an old guy sat on your left. You are in a blue fleece with sleeves rolled up. Bad hair, your bouf needs a trim. Jake also in shot in red top.”

“That old guy is Max Griggs!” I informed him, vaguely incredulous that such an icon of non-league football wasn’t instantly recognisable.

“Make a name for yourself and drop the nut on him”! Nick advised, showing his sensitive side. Nice one Nick, conversation over and time to actually watch some of the game.

In a scene reminiscent of my near-encounter with Mark Hodkinson at Barnsley, I had a clear window of opportunity to talk to Max Griggs at half-time. I blew it as I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say, what a fine journalist in the making I am! Perhaps I should have shown him the above text exchanges, which might have made him laugh. Or I could have told him how I’ve gone full circle in my feelings for Rushden & Diamonds. I did neither and just reflected on what he was likely to be thinking at that moment, gazing out at Nene Park 16 years on from building his club up from nothing. The glory days long gone, but what a glorious story while it lasted.

Anyway, it appears that me and Jake really were captured for posterity and witnessed by at least 70 viewers on Premier Sports. Now I can die a happy man. Before that, maybe I should try and track down the screen shot somehow.

Monday 18th October 2010

Dale’s slump extended to nil points in three games at the weekend. I was there with Jake and his cousin Ben to watch a deeply frustrating 2-1 defeat at bloody Bristol Rovers. The Pirates are an annoyingly average team if ever there was one. Outplayed and outpassed for all of the first half, they were gifted a generous penalty in injury time. The shot apologetically crept over the line by the post despite a firm parry by Josh Lillis. Dale huffed and puffed in the second half until Rovers predictably mustered one meaningful break and scored a richly undeserved second. A late own goal from their irritating, injury feigning, time-wasting Jesus lookalike centre-half from a Nicky Adams cross was no real consolation.

What else is annoying about Brizzle Rovers? £38 quid for the three of us to get in and stand in a corner, that’s what. Or over £40 quid for crap low temporary seats that would look more at home as part of an agriculture show in some godforsaken market town in the middle of nowhere. Probably Diss. What a choice. Either way it’s another tenner each for the children – pathetic and I’m mad enough to pay it.

However, the afternoon was not without its comedy moments. Exhibit one, an angry looking Dale fan carrying a babe in arms no more than one year old. After a questionable decision was given against Dale, he ranted to the baby “That’s typical of the refereeing standards in the lower divisions these days”. Right on cue, the baby started bawling its head off. Perhaps his Dad was expecting a more intellectual response? God only knows. Exhibit two, an extremely dodgy troupe of dancers cavorting around the pitch at half-time as part of some spurious celebration of Bristol’s multi-cultural community. Some of the 50-something white ladies attempting some hybrid gyration vaguely akin to belly and bhangra dancing needed to take a long hard look at themselves. There must have been something in the Bristol air, as an hour earlier when parking the car on the main A38 near the ground I was immediately confronted with a 20-something female goth cyclist who quite literally had her breasts hanging out. Honestly, one didn’t know where to look.

Meanwhile, Jake’s now in the middle of a fully fledged crisis of footballing confidence. His team drew 1-1 in a cup game then lost on penalties, and his body language throughout was folorn. He looked genuinely scared of being tackled by those nasty bigger boys and only touched the ball about 6 times in the full 60 minutes. Some truly Kevin Townson-esque ProZone statistics there. On the way back, when analysing his performance, he came out with a heartfelt cry of: “I blame the FA for making us play on full size pitches. If I lived in Spain, good technical players like me would be appreciated.” This most definitely wasn’t Spain, it was deep in the heart of Aston Villa territory in Erdington, North Birmingham. The neanderthal home parents were doing their bit for the future of British football by raucously saving their biggest praise for their big lads at the back who were gleefully lumping it long at every opportunity. Ye gods, we’re still stuck in the footballing dark ages. Eyes wide shut.







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