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Addicted to Rochdale (Part 8) - Diary of the 2010/11 season
Written by middale on Wednesday, 9th Apr 2014 07:00

This part covers Dale's away defeats at Sheffield Wednesday and Peterborough before the snow kicked in, then a positive start to 2011 with the 3-2 home win against Tranmere.

Monday 15th November 2010

So Sheffield Wednesday v Rochdale has been and gone. I said to Jake before kick off it would finish 2-0 to Sheffield Wednesday and sure enough it did. On one level it was an enjoyable day out in a big stadium but losing ultimately made it a deflating experience. That’s 6 defeats out of 7 now. Time for a re-think methinks.

The manner of the defeat rankled too. What’s happening Mr Hill? Whatever happened to “no fear, home and away”? Right now the preferred Dale formation seems to be a cautious 4-5-1 which guarantees plenty of possession but offers very little prospect of chances being created or goals. The hapless Joe Thompson (traditionally with some justification the target of the Rochdale boo-boys) fluffed the only clear cut chance and the Dale natives were getting restless at the sight of holding midfielders Brian Barry Murphy and Jason Kennedy tapping the ball sideways and backwards in the game’s death throes, giving every impression that we are merely meek-minded minnows happy to accept our place in the pecking order with a damage limiting 2-0 defeat at Hillsborough.

Earlier in the day the journey to Sheffield became a curiously protracted affair. Following some mid-morning stress battling through the white vans and funeral paced buses that clog up suburban Birmingham traffic, I finally managed to drop Becky off at her dance class in leafy Edgbaston a mere 15 minutes late. Half an hour later we were unexpectedly hit with a series of game-changing “A38 North closed at A6 Derby” flashing signs.

So a Plan B was hastily concocted. This consisted of parking up at Derby station (and paying heavily for the dubious priviledge), buying a Derbyshire Wayfarer rail ticket (which generously extended as far as Sheffield in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire), jumping on a train to Sheffield jam-packed with students, then getting an onward tram to Hillsborough (which is so far north of the centre of Sheffield it’s probably nearer to Barnsley). Still, in the end we had plenty of time to spare and were in the ground soon after 2.00.

On the return tram, just outside Hillsborough the driver had to quickly slam on the breaks and an old guy stumbled to half fall on top of us. Jake was momentarily spooked, having spent much of the day quizzing me on the grizzly details of the Hillsborough Disaster, especially when I told him we were sitting in the infamous Leppings Lane away end where the tragedy unfolded. I was at Sheffield University when it happened and lived in the same Sorby Hall of Residence as Joe McCarthy, one of the 95 Liverpool fans who died.

Lyd’s away with Becky for a long weekend down in London until Tuesday so me and Jake have heavily overindulged in football. No doubt this is a premonition of what life will be like if Lyd ever leaves me. Sunday consisted of his morning game as an 11.30 starter, followed by Everton v Arsenal as the 14.00 main course and Chelsea v Sunderland for 16.00 dessert. Not quite sated, we also took in evening snippets of Barcelona v Villareal and Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid. As you do. Variety is after all the spice of life. Sunderland’s surprise 3-0 win at Chelsea was pretty entertaining, provoking Jake to announce with hyperbole that Sky would be proud of, that this was “the most exciting TV game he’s ever watched”. And this involving a team managed by the ultra defensive Steve Bruce! The world is officially going mad.

Saturday 27th November 2010

Going to a match today on our wedding anniversary was officially out of the question. Me and Lyd have now clocked up 11 years now, that’s staying power for you. To celebrate, we decided on an afternoon trip to the cinema to watch a film called “The American”. It was at best a slow burner, which predictably failed to hold my undivided attention, especially as we were in the cinema at bloody 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. I managed about 3 surreptitious, undetected checks on the Rochdale v Oldham score but didn’t feel it was socially acceptable to risk any more.

The film was most memorable for some lingering shots of the remote, mountainous Abruzzo region in Italy. Unfortunately, yet again this inevitably reminded me of football again, or more specifically “The Miracle of Castel di Sangro”, probably my favourite ever football book. Ironically given the film I’ve been watching, it’s written by an American, Joe McGinness, who was not even a football fan, but heard about the incredible ascent of minnows Castel di Sangro up eight divisions over 15 years all the way to Italy’s Serie B. As a feat this was probably equivalent to Dale ever making it to the Premier League. He decided to follow them for a whole season, and fraternised with the players and coaches to give a compelling insight into their season in Serie B where they miraculously survived. Unlike my copy of the book, which was nicked out of my holiday luggage a few years later on a Ryanair flight to Ancona.

Wednesday 1st December 2010

Last night’s pub quiz with Nick and two other friends was a chastening experience. My contribution to our total of 34 out of 60 was about 4 points, including some blatant cheating on one musical round. Oh well, at least I knew “The Boy Who Murdered Love” by Diana Vickers when no-one else did. As Nick said, there are indeed some serious geeks out there who are fully clued up on who has carked it in 2010, the name of the first dog in space, best selling films of the year and other assorted trivia.

However, revelation of the night undoubtedly came from Ian, one of our group. He’s off on a trip to Spain this weekend where he’s taking in 4 matches in 3 days at Sevilla, Real Betis, Recreativo Huelva and Valencia. All on the cheap as well with every flight under 30 quid. Jealousy doesn’t begin to cover my reaction as I’ve only been to 2 Spanish games at Malaga and Tenerife. Give the lad a medal. That’s what’s at stake with my lack of future income, the possibility of doing anything like this. In contrast, I’m just hoping for a thaw out so that Peterborough v Rochdale is on tomorrow night.

Sunday 12th December 2010

Well the thaw duly came so Peterborough v Rochdale took place. Perhaps it would have been better if it hadn’t as it finished 2-1 to the Posh. Actually that’s a low score at London Road, probably equivalent to a goalless draw anywhere else. It was a peculiar game with Dale starting and finishing strong but being comprehensively outplayed at most points in-between. Still, lots of good attacking football justified going. Matt Done was lightning quick, drawing grudging praise from the Posh fans. I can now say I saw Jean Louis Akpa-Akpro score in the flesh (albeit with a strong suspicion of handball), and I’m not expecting a repeat performance. For Posh, the usual suspects of Craig Mickael-Smith, George Boyd and Aaron McLean were excellent, together with Lee Tomlin and some man-mountain French centre back who even outmuscled the mighty Chris O’Grady at most opportunities.

With unemployment looming, I was in full on economy mode of trying to get in cheap. Deciding in advance that 25 quid for the away seats was too steep, I loitered around the home seats on the off chance of getting a reduction, then even enquired at the turnstile if they did a rate for the unemployed. When they declined, I loitered around the home terraces and eventually bought someone’s free complementary home ticket for 15 quid. Not really a great decision, as this subjected me to 90 minutes accompanied by thousands of teenagers and sporadic racist chanting, in support of the English Defence League, whose march in Peterborough was the reason for the match being switched to the Friday night.

Thursday 16th December 2010

Tonight I was listening to a TalkSport discussion in the wake of the sacking of Sam Allardyce from Blackburn Rovers. The angle they were exploring was the theme of managers starting to be judged for their style of football rather than just their results. About time too. This is a topic dear to my heart, so on a whim I decided to ring in to applaud the Blackburn board, slate Birmingham’s ingrained negativity and laud Rochdale’s positivity under Keith Hill. I got through straight away and they told me they’d ring me back and put me on live in about 5 minutes. Being both a natural introvert and an inexperienced phone-in contributor (my one and only previous appearance being a local Birmingham radio station), I was pretty nervous when the phone duly rang 5 minutes later:

“Hello, can I help you”, I answered, in my best semi-formal work voice.

“Ooh that’s very formal for answering the phone at home”, laughed my sister in law, Lucy.

“Oh sorry, it’s just that I was expecting an important call, so can we finish this now” I said, feeling acutely embarrassed.

The “important” call back from TalkSport never came. No doubt mentioning Rochdale to the researcher was the fatal error, and I was instantly dismissed as a lower league weirdo. Fair enough really, guilty as charged. Anyway, the discussion would have nowhere to go as the presenters would have barely heard of Sir Keith.

Friday 17th December 2010

This is officially the “day of the underdog” – a concept I was blissfully unaware of until reading about it on a BBC sports blog. Appropriately, tomorrow’s Rochdale v Bournemouth has already been called off. I was going to go; well I’d marked it as “definitely going” on the family calendar in the kitchen for whatever that is worth. Evidently not a lot, as Lyd tells me that she “rues the day I married someone who likes football and cricket.” I can’t understand why she hasn’t embraced the concept of staying up half the night to watch the Ashes. Surely it’s the perfect antitode to this irritating cold snap? Baffling.

Saturday 18th December 2010

The snow arrived with avengeance today and has rendered all dilemmas about which Dale home games to attend over the festive period totally redundant. Right now there’s 6 inches of the stuff on the ground in Birmingham, probably double that in Rochdale and it must be odds of 66-1 against Dale playing another home game until mid-January at the earliest.

My afternoon was spent trudging 2 miles through the thick snow to collect Jake’s Christmas present. What a surprise, it’s football related, a Play Station 3. Does he deserve yet another electronic device to feed his computer football addiction? No, but not for the first time, pester power has won the day.

Monday 20th December 2010

So this is the start of my final week at work. The deep joy is accompanied by even deeper snow. I’m attempting to work from home whilst looking after the children but the lack of an internet connection is a bit of a problem. No doubt Lyd will come home and fix it in 10 seconds flat, rather annoying that I’m clueless on such technological matters.

Saturday 1st January 2011

It’s 01.44 in the morning and I can’t sleep. So what will the New Year bring? Firstly, thank God the snow has cleared off, so barring any late weather interventions a trip to Spotland beckons tomorrow to watch Dale v Tranmere. It seems like donkeys years ago I was last there, so my anticipation levels are ridiculously high. History suggests that means that mediocre fayre awaits. No hang on, sod that, stick to the New Year’s Resolution to be more positive.

Secondly, more football decisions and dilemmas lurk just around the corner. Dale are away at Oldham on the 3rd January, I’d love to go but it’s all ticket so I’ll have to decide tomorrow, and the sub-zero weather is predicted to return. Expect that kills it pretty dead, in which case I have half an eye on Eastwood Town v Boston United instead. Then moving on to the weekend, we are now heading to London for the weekend for a niece’s birthday party. Pretty handy really, as Dale are away at Dagenham & Redbridge. However, the mighty Dag & Red have exceptionally annoying sky-high away admission prices; 15 bloody quid for all juniors regardless of age, meaning if I attend with Jake and Ben it will set me back 52 quid. I argued the toss with them about this last season and vowed not to return.

So what to do? Applying my own principles I will definitely not be forking out 52 quid. I have the option to masquerade with the home fans on the terraces for around 30 quid. I’d have no problem with this but Jake would hate it. From nowhere stage left emerges another option, Eastbourne Borough v Mansfield. OK it’s not exactly London, but it’s cheaper of course and one of only 4 Conference grounds I haven’t done. A quick look at rail prices last night revealed a dead good £8.60 return from London to Pevensey. If that still exists I’m going to be very tempted.

There is a certain irony and déjà vu to this particular dilemma. Two seasons ago in January 2009, Dale were also playing Dag & Red away whilst the Stags were again away in deepest Sussex at the mighty Lewes. I was on the train with Jake and Becky to London (as you are with 8 and 3 year olds) and still hadn’t decided. Playing cynically on Jake’s slight fear of overcrowding on the underground, I went for the romantic Lewes option. Well, that’s what passes for romance for me anyway, as I knew Lewes would be one season wonders in the Conference as they were out of their depth and deep in financial trouble, so it seemed like a one off opportunity to see their Dripping Pan ground, much praised by Kerry Miller in the semi-biblical “The Non-League Football Grounds of England”. The game itself wasn’t up to much, a 1-0 win for Mansfield, but it was still a memorable day with Nick and various others pretty incredulous that I’d managed to drag my 3 year old daughter on a 380 mile round trip to watch a Conference fixture.

03:20 and I’ve booked it. To bed now. I’ll brooch the subject sometime soon. It’ll require a pretty early start next Saturday to be on the 12.47 from Victoria – that could be a big ask but we shall see.

Sunday 2nd January 2011

I was absolutely correct to be positive. Rochdale v Tranmere was excellent, an incident packed game finishing 3-2 win to Dale and featuring two penalties, one sending off, and two goals for Sir Gary Jones including one sublime team goal to secure a 2-1 lead just before half time. Crisp, cross-field passing worked the space. Scott Wiseman lifted the ball delicately over a defender then crossed for Gary Jones to slide the ball into the empty net. This moment of perfection had me glowing and smiling for a full 15 minutes during the interval in a state of footballing nirvana. I was there, in my place at Spotland, sharing the moment with Jake, and supremely content having just witnessed something special. Football may frequently frustrate, but these are the rare and beautiful moments that make it all worthwhile.

The satisfaction is multiplied as the Tranmere fans were archetypal Harry Enfield style “calm down, calm down” over-excitable Scousers. They deliriously celebrated their two equalisers by scooping up piles of snow by the side of the pitch and showering their very own route one heroes. Firm but fair Dale tackles throughout the game also had at least 50 of them prancing down the away Wilbutts Lane stand to pitch level, baying at the referee for a red card or the immediate return of capital punishment. Jake amusingly compared them to the zombies in the “I Am Legend” film he’s just seen on television.

Speaking of legends, Gary Jones is now without question a fully fledged one of the Dale variety. I’m not usually a big fan of combative, battling midfielders (it’s effete wingers for me nearly every time) but I’ve got to make an exception for this guy. He’s been driving Dale on for over 12 years now with total commitment, and non-stop energy, drive and determination. He carried many a pre-Hillcroft mediocre or poor Dale team on his back. Now he is getting his glorious reward, and this is turning into an incredible swansong season at the age of 33. He recently went two years without a goal, now he has double figures in his first ever season in League One. Unbelievable. The match programme appropriately features his 15 career best goals.

Back somewhere in personal reality, in my new unemployed state I’m recording my full expenditure for posterity. This latest trip to Dale included a few indulgences such as 42 quid in the club shop, broken down as purple “” replica away tops for me and Jake – reduced in the sale to a bargain 15 quid each, plus a couple of programmes for 3 quid each and a disappointing calendar at 6 quid. Chuck in at least 40 quid on petrol and food and I’ve done over 80 quid even for a match covered by my season ticket. Can I justify this? Oh, Yes.

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