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Addicted to Rochdale (Part 14) Diary of the 2010-11 Season
Written by middale on Sunday, 9th Nov 2014 02:46

This part covers Dale's glorious spring upsurge including exciting matches against Charlton, Brighton and Notts County. The trip to Nottingham also featured Dale's full repertoire of dubious songs and some inadvertent WAG spotting.

Saturday 26th March 2011

It may already be time to re-appraise my destination on the last day of the season. Dale have only gone and won again, 2-0 away at Hartlepool yesterday evening. That’s 54 points which absolutely has to guarantee survival, and with ten whole games to go. Absolutely incredible. The play offs aren’t looking completely out of the question as last season’s League Two promotion rivals Bournemouth have been fading in recent weeks. I would like to unequivocally withdraw my previous criticism of Keith Hill. He can spout off about whatever he likes because it’s working, he’s motivating the players. Come to think of it, his spouting off maybe one of the main factors that has prevented him being offered a bigger job yet, so long may it continue. What an achievement.

So lets dwell on that rather than the rest of my life. I’m nearing the end of my third month of unemployment. There’s no prospect of any work in the pipeline. There’s too many daytime distractions preventing me from writing or properly job searching. Like the Cricket World Cup on Sky. Like the sunshine luring me out onto countryside walks. Like stupid arguments with my mother about why she can’t personally deliver a birthday card to Jake when they’re not even around on the day. I am sleepwalking through this crucial phase of my life, every bit as much as Jake did last night, when he bizarrely got up at 03.30 to run himself a bath.

Oh well. There’s Dale v Charlton on Tuesday night to compensate and look forward to. Bring it on, the word on the street (well the messageboard) is that Dale are going to attack more for the rest of the season now that they’ve achieved safety. The shackles are off. It could be “no fear” football again from Dale. Brilliant, the opposition won’t know what’s hit them.

Sunday 27th March 2011

Before the start of Jake’s latest Sunday morning home match in the shadow of Birmingham’s spanking new QE hospital, I wander over to the adjacent pitch to take in some amusing over-35s action. Some of these guys look like they’ll be in dire need of the hospital’s facilities sooner rather than later. What motivates this motley collection of balding fatties to still drag themselves out of bed every weekend? It’s hardly the beautiful game, watching sumo-esque tussles for possession, no holds barred aerial challenges, waddling runs down arid channels and an assortment of hopelessly misplaced and overhit passes, but hats off to them anyway for effort alone. What’s equally remarkable is how serious they all seem to take it, surely they should at least be playing with smiles on their faces? No chance of that, and today the 70-something Private Godfrey lookalike ref was getting roundly lambasted by both teams for his quite understandable failure to keep up with the play. As if they can talk.

After 20 minutes of watching I suddenly noticed that Julian Jarvis, one of my ex-Sunday morning team colleagues was running the line. Predictably, he’d put on at least 3 stone in the last decade since I’d seen him. We exchanged pleasantries and I explained I was only watching before the kick-off in my son’s match. Quick as a flash, he volleyed back:

“So does he take after his Dad then, scores a few but does f- all else?”

Cheeky sod! Still, on reflection that’s probably a fair appraisal of my 5 year Sunday league football career for Acropolis in the mid-90s. Our team was named after Nick’s Dad’s Greek Restaurant (and exclusive shirt sponsors having beaten off stiff competition from Mr Egg’s All Night Cafe). I scored about 80 goals in as many games in the rarified atmosphere of the South Birmingham Sunday League – Divisions D and E, but was rather harshly nicknamed “the invisible man” by my teammates. Scoring and passing was my game. My particularly forte was feeding Kevin Shuter, our far too useful to be playing for us flying machine of a right winger, watching him skin three defenders then getting in the right place to convert one of his unselfish, precision pull backs. I was happy to leave the ugly side of the game like heading and tackling to other team mates who were happy to play like dogs of war.

Midway through this illustrious career, our Stoke City and Route One loving goalkeeper assumed Acropolis managerial duties. He wasted no time in dropping me to try out his lumbering younger brother as centre forward, citing my lack of aerial ability as the main reason. Some 14 years later, I still vividly remember the scene of this personal humiliation as it was the very same pitch where I stood today watching this shambles of an over-35s match. Predictability, I threw all my toys out of my pram and resigned from the team, only returning when he left at the end of the season. I hold no grudges though, as I had a perfectly civil conversation with him in our local Tesco Express last year.

Anyway, Jake lived down to the unflattering family comparison in today’s game. He neatly scored a first-half penalty in a 3-0 win, looked quite pleased with himself and his telling contribution, then did very little else of consequence for the rest of the match. Like father, like son.

Wednesday 30th March 2011

Time to dream. Last night Dale notched up another deeply satisfying 2-0 home win, this time over fallen giants Charlton Athletic. The League One table suggests this was a routine despatch of an inferior team, but lets give this some sort of historical perspective, this was Dale’s first ever league win over Charlton. They’re now only 5 points off Bournemouth in the last play off place with a game in hand, and the two due to meet on the last day of the season. “I’m worried enough now”, summarised a twitchy Bournemouth fan on their messageboard.

For a 15 minute spell towards the end of the first half, Dale played dream-like football. Passes were zipped around with high pace, purpose and accuracy. Marauding attacking full backs (Scotty Wiseman and Robbie Williams) overlapped at will. Intelligent, creative wingers (Nicky Adams and Will Atkinson), floating attacking midfielders (Matt Done), runners and play-makers (Gary Jones and Jason Kennedy) buzzed around the immense Chris O’Grady like an angry swarm of bees. Charlton were certainly stung from all angles, and at times resembled the lumbering collection of zoo animals that their surnames and playing styles suggest that they may actually be, in disguise. Their starting eleven included a raccoon (Therry Racon), a llama (Miguel Llera), a giraffe (Jose Semedo) and a donkey that is definitely due for the knackers’ yard (Christian Dailly).

It goes without saying that the manager of the vanquished fallen giants was contractually obliged to make disparaging, patronising and one-eyed comments about Rochdale. Chris Powell apparently thought that Charlton were “the better team”, that defeat was “cruel” and that his team should be winning at “places like Rochdale.” He’s dead right on the last point as their playing budget must be at least 10 times bigger than Dale’s, but elsewhere, perhaps he should invest in a pair of glasses and start worrying about his future job prospects.

Being out of work has unexpected side benefits. Today it has allowed me to re-live ad nauseum the moment of perfection that was Dale’s first goal. Jason Kennedy’s low shot from 30 yards nestled right in the corner of the goal in front of us. That will be my abiding memory of Jake’s 11th birthday, rather than the counter sporting attraction of the India v Pakistan, watched by billions more than the 2,400 at Spotland. Unfortunately, the constant replaying of the Kennedy goal on Sky Sports News highlighted a disappointing little detail; some Dale players like Will Atkinson didn’t even raise their hands in celebration when the goals went in. Come on lads, we’re all having the best time of our worthless lives, so show that you care.

My recent wish for greater diversity of conversation with Jake was also duly and spectacularly granted last night. High on the potent cocktail of victory adrenalin and coca-cola, the return journey from Spotland featured animated discussions on albinoism, Waterloo Road, the causes and worldwide extent of Aids, and the cultural meaning of birthdays. What’s the problem? Jake’s quite the rounded individual these days. At least as much as me.

Monday 4th April 2011

It’s a trifle strange that I didn’t manage to put pen to paper (or more accurately finger to keyboard) over the weekend, because it was epic. But it was also emotionally draining, which partly explains it. Dale’s 2-2 draw at home to League One leaders Brighton was far and away the best game I’ve seen all season. You couldn’t ask for much more in a game really, end to end action, both sides attacking in numbers and fully committed to winning the match. After a shaky start where they were outplayed for the first 15 minutes, Dale were magnificent. The usual suspects stood out. Super Chris O’Grady may not have scored for 16 games now but he just has to be the best player to ever wear a Rochdale shirt. It’s a total cliché, but I’m totally proud to be a Dale fan at the moment. They’re up to 7th place with 58 points, only five points and one place off Bournemouth in the play-offs zone.

Actually there is one more thing you could have asked for – a decent referee. At 2-2 with 10 minutes to go, Mr David Webb completely bottled one of the most obvious penalty decisions you’ll ever see when Brighton defender Elphick stuck out an arm to handle a Nicky Adams cross. He’d already given two penalties in the game, including a dubious one to Brighton when ex-Dale striker Glenn Murray tumbled over rather easily when Craig Dawson lightly touched his arm. It must say on refereeing courses that it’s illegal to give 3 penalties in the same game. There’s no other logical explanation. Irritatingly, there is no footage of the incident on the BBCs short video coverage of the game. So a little footballing injustice, which could ultimately cost Dale a play-off place, is lost forever. We all meekly move on.

I’d say it’s easily the second worst non-penalty decision I’ve ever seen in my life. It still comes a distant second though to Mr Rob Styles’ unbelievable decision in the Championship match between Birmingham City and Huddersfield Town around 1999. In that infamous game, the nippy Zimbabwean Blues forward Peter Ndlovu weaved through a cluster of defenders before being cynically chopped down at the knee somewhere near the penalty spot. His reward from Mr Styles? A yellow card for diving, which added to an earlier card meant that he was sent off. Several Huddersfield players were seen to be openly laughing.

Earlier in the day, it was looking distinctly unlikely that I’d make it up to Spotland. Lyd woke up on the warpath on various issues, including the state of the house and the considerably greater importance of replacing Jake’s school shoes which have developed enormous holes rather than going to football or getting a haircut. A fractious breakfast ensued. Lyd’s suggestion that she joined us at Rochdale for the day was met with rudeness and derision. When Jake then responded to Lyd’s enquiry about whether he had homework to do at the weekend with a terse “mind your own business”, I lost it with him completely, shouting at him and shaking him momentarily. Anger management issues again. After a threat to report me to social services, a cooling off period kicked in and a mere two hours later we were on our way to Rochdale, chatting away just like it never happened. Ah, the restorative power of football.

Will I get to Notts County v Rochdale tomorrow night? The jury’s very much out. I’ve amateurishly deferred the moment of asking Lyd properly. I did mention it in passing on Sunday but I know it didn’t register with her properly. To be fair, why should it when she has a head full of work related stresses. Going to this one is a little bit borderline, I may be pushing my luck.

In my head, of course I will be there at Meadow Lane and yes I can justify it in all sorts of ways. It’s only 50 miles to Nottingham, so in League One this season there’s only Walsall that’s nearer to our Birmingham home. If Jake comes as well, we should be able to get back by 23.00 which isn’t desperately late in the wider scheme of things as he’s not usually asleep much before then anyway. The price looks pretty reasonable, me and Jake should be able to get in for a combined price of 20 quid provided I can get the unemployed concession rate.

And there’s more. I also have a perfectly good trade off to cite, as in due deference to Becky’s imminent birthday, I will be solemnly pledging that I won’t be going to any match next Saturday. These are unprecedented times for Dale and they absolutely deserve our support as they push for a play-off place. There is an edge to the fixture after Notts County sneaked the League 2 title ahead of Rochdale, and today they have become manager-less yet again having sacked Paul Ince. There’s added intrigue that they may even approach Keith Hill. Come on, how many more good reasons do I need to come up with? That’s got to be enough to be going on with, surely?

Maybe not. On the flip side there’s major issues with the logistics. Lyd will be tired as she works until 6 on Tuesday’s, and it’s hot on the heels of last week’s trip to the Charlton game. She won’t be able to get home until 18.30 at the latest which would mean cutting it extremely fine to get to Nottingham for the 19.45 kick-off. I could ask her mum Angela to look after Becky for an hour or so, but I’d rather not, especially as the plan to ask after running a few errands for her looks like it’s dead in the water. So a more realistic Plan C is to ask my brother Steve, who is up for the day tomorrow with his partner Vicky visiting our parents. But it’s all getting a bit complicated, perhaps I should just cut my losses and bale out. The car is feeling sluggish as well ahead of its MOT later in the week. I’ll just have to see how the land lies.

Wednesday 6th April 2011

Unsurprisingly, I managed to find a way to get to Meadow Lane last night. The immediate reward was witnessing yet another Dale victory, this time 2-1 over Notts County. Dale raced into a two goal lead in the first 15 minutes through Craig Dawson and Will Atkinson, then sat back, and rode their luck somewhat having conceded early in the second half, inevitably to their pantomime villain striker Lee Hughes. Bournemouth also lost tonight, so Dale are now only 2 points behind them, in 7th place on 61 points, and with a game in hand. Simply incredible, can this really be happening?

I’m rather in the doghouse with Lyd for going though. It’s now roughly 24 hours after the final whistle and she’s thawing slowly, but there’s been frost in the air in stark contrast to the glorious spring sunshine outside. Plan C involving my brother was the chosen one. Nothing wrong with that, but the later than anticipated 23.30 return home with Jake was a big downer, thanks to a mysterious closure of the M42 near Tamworth.

Oh what the hell, Dale are worth it. The fans are starting to believe. Rochdale’s 100 strong teenage male choir occupied the back three rows of the away stand, stood up for the whole match and pretty much sang non-stop for the full 90 minutes. Their repertoire predictably ranged from the supportive to the downright crude, with the ongoing rivalry with Notts County leading to the proud airing of brand new material, generally focusing on baiting their drink driving offender Lee Hughes and the state of their club finances.

Jake lapped it all up, especially as we sat immediately in front of the choir and therefore had every last ditty bellowed heartily down our ears. The full set list that I can recall was as follows. I might as well review this impromptu concert for impact as well:

1. “Flicker – He’s Rochdale’s porno star.”

(Cue icy pre-match stares from David Flitcroft who understandably now hates this song. It dates back over a decade from when he was still a player at Dale)

2. “Owain Fon Williams, Owain Fon Williams.”

(No acknowledgement of the singers from Dale’s new keeper was forthcoming as Owain was engrossed in a high intensity warm up at the time. Timing is everything, lads.)

3. “Can you hear the County sing? Can you hear the County sing? We’ll sing on our own. We’ll sing on our own. This is the best trip I’ve ever been on.”

(This song kick-starts the set after a shaky start. It’s a surefire winner really, being the unofficial anthem of Rochdale’s 2010-11 season. Simply insert the opposition’s name into the first line, hope it still scans and bingo, it’s fully usable every time. Tonight even some of the oldsters are roused from their slumbers to join in.)

4. “He drives to the left. He drives to the right (swaying movements to accompany these lines are optional). That murdering bastard, his driving is shite.”

(The teenage choir loved this affectionate ode to Notts County’s drink driving offender Lee Hughes, repeated it many a time, and obviously thought it was the best song in their entire set. However, their ardour was dampened by the lack of anyone requesting an encore. They also received further chastisement from older fans on the messageboard the following day, who pointed out the blindingly obvious to the youngsters, that this song is in extremely poor taste. A minor spat ensued, and Col the messageboard moderator had to calm everyone down and remind the Dale fanbase that everyone’s in this supporting lark together. Tolerance)

5. “14 points, we f...ed it up. Now you’re going down and we’re going up.”

(A reference of course to Dale blowing an enormous lead to Notts County in League Two at the end of the 2009-10 season. Revenge is sweet if rather crude.)

6. “1-0 to the taxpayers.”

(On the same theme as 5. One can’t help but worrying though when Dale fans constantly hold our club up as paragons of financial virtue. We’ll cop loads in return from opposition fans if and when we start to struggle in the next few years.)

7. “Serves you right for cheating.”

(That one was pretty good and to the point. I’d give the choir plus marks here for the refreshing and surprising lack of swearing)

8. “Where are you now you are shite?”

(Quickly back to the swearing, but quite apt, as last season’s 11,000 Notts County crowd is down to less than 5,000 tonight including at least 500 Daleys. Part-timers!)

9. “Where’s your Incy gone?”

(Very topical, but I don’t think the Notts County fans were remotely bothered that Paul Ince had been relieved of his managerial duties earlier in the week. Apparently he’d been arrogantly messing the players about in the last 3 months, cancelling morning training sessions at short notice to accommodate his drive from Cheshire. As you do. He’s also been playing the its so hard to be a black manager card, poor me, an ex-England manager and I had to start at Macclesfield).

10. “Simmo in, Simmo in!”

(Come on lads, that song really was a bit harsh. Wishing to inflict Paul Simpson on any manager-less club, even Notts County is way below the belt. He has left a trail of underachievement and devastation at Rochdale, Preston, Shrewsbury, Stockport in the last decade. His stock tactic has been to blame everyone but himself, and fall out equally with players and fans. How he continued to convince chairman into re-employing him was the biggest mystery. They probably fell for his pseudo-intellectual interview patter and “mannequin manager” style, showcased regularly on Sky Sports’ Football League Weekend show, where he seemed to be on every week with his big mate George Gavin. The same George Gavin who also heavily backed serial managerial loser Brian Little as he plummeted through the leagues. And more recently the utterly clueless Aidy Boothroyd. Such a shame really, as Simmo was an outstanding player for Dale at the end of his career in 2002, specialising in long-range wonder goals).

11. “Keith Hill’s barmy army.”

(A mainstay song with the youngsters, unfortunately though its an army that refuses to grow in numbers. I blame the recession and Nick Clegg)

12. “Up the Dale, up the Dale.”

(This is the ancient and ubiquitous Dale song, it probably got its first airing in 1907, the year they were formed. It’s not the most original of ditties admittedly, but it’s still a guaranteed crowd pleaser across the full spectrum of Dale fans)

13. “Murderer, murderer, murderer”

(The succinct synopsis of song 3, serenading the charming Mr Lee Hughes)

14. “That’s why you’re champions”

(Some quite effective sarcasm everytime Notts County came up with a poor bit of play).

15. “I was Munto all along”

(A reference to Notts County’s mysterious financial backers last year who never broke cover – all highly dubious)

16. “We’ll never play you again.”

(That’s rather tempting fate probably)

17. “We’re playing Forest next year.”

(Again rather pre-emptive but we can still dream of a place in the Championship)

18. “Will you sing that shit wheelbarrow song?”

(A moderately polite request to the Notts County fans to sing their quirky anthem – it was given short shrift)

19. “You’re just a small town in Hooters.”

(Notts County’s latest dubious attempt to increase crowds was to have 4 Hooters restaurant girls walking round the pitch at half-time. A fine, family friendly idea by their marketing department. Whatever next – lap dancers?)

20. “Ray Trew is a w..ker.”

(A touching tribute to the Notts County chairman, who gets through managers like nobody’s business, and who had a high profile run-in with Keith Hill over their finances last season)

21. “Done, Done will tear you apart again.”

(Matty didn’t really do that tonight to be fair, even if he threatened to with his burst of pace. More importantly, it’s good to have a chant based on a decent song for a change, this one being based on “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division.)

22. “Super Super Chris, Super Super Chris, Super Super Chris, Super Chris O’Grady

(It goes without saying that he was super again tonight, but as usual with Chris these days it was a case of everything but the goal.)

23. “Dawson for England.”

(Too right, it’s next stop West Brom but the footballing world is Craig’s oyster if he carrries on in this form.)

24. “There’s only one Scotty Wiseman. He play in defence, he’s immense, walking in the Wiseman wonderland.”

(Too right again, and nice to see him back to his marauding best tonight).

Song 24 had the additional amusing feature of being enthusiastically conducted by Sophie Wiseman, one of three Rochdale WAGs who were sat directly in front of us. Last Night at the Proms it was not, but full marks nonetheless for effort. Her companions most definitely included Mrs Chris O’Grady (the dead giveaway was the picture of two young children on her I-Phone that were the spitting image of their dad), and A.N.Other who I couldn’t work out. By the second half, you couldn’t help wondering if Sophie was egging on her man just a little bit too much though, as she shrieked “Two-foot him Scotty!” at a moment when the Notts County winger was running at him with Dale well under the cosh. Calm down Sophie! We can all do without further repeats of Scott’s reckless sending off away at Oldham.

I have to say though that I was highly impressed with this first sighting of the Rochdale WAGs. They’re obviously a key part of the wider Rochdale family that Keith Hill likes to cultivate, and it was great that they so obviously cared about the result by celebrating exuberantly at the final whistle. I wouldn’t have thought that’s typical WAG behaviour, you can’t really imagine Coleen Rooney getting too excited when Man United grind out their latest regulation home victory at Old Trafford.

Anyway, in my eyes these Dale WAGs are definitely Premier League standard. Well they certainly are in texting anyway, especially Mrs Chris O’Grady who was matching her husband’s outstanding workrate on the pitch by going for it hammer and tongs throughout the first half. Like most women, she appeared to be capable of effortlessly multi-tasking. Whilst holding conversations left and right, she also switched seamlessly between checking with her Mum that the children were OK and on their way to bed, and discussing with Mrs Gary Jones the surprisingly mild evening weather, Dale’s fabulous two goal start in the first 15 minutes, and an account of why they were sitting here amongst the normal travelling Dale fans rather than in some executive box. “Iain said he’d sort the tickets, but something went wrong!”, went one plaintive text.

That’ll be Iain Johnstone, Dale’s likeable Scottish commercial manager and all round fixer. I met him a couple of years ago when he hosted the Rochdale Exiles sponsorship of a home game against Grimsby in March 2009, and I emailed him only last week to ask if Jake could get a halftime birthday mention at the Charlton game. He fixed it, even though I only sent the email on the afternoon of the game. Dale are that sort of club. I think he may have remembered Jake, as he won the Exiles raffle that day and got to present a Man of the Match bottle of champagne to Clark Keltie, a long since departed Dale midfielder. The picture of this occasion captured a slightly sheepish looking Keltie standing next to a sullen looking 8 year old with his hands on his hips! I forgot to tell Jake that a warm handshake and a smile would have been more the order of the day.

In case anyone is wondering, I should quickly stress that I’m not some sort of phone voyeur, honest. I could only read all of these texts because the I-Phone was being brandished very close to me, such are the intimate confines of Notts County’s away end. Oh, and Mrs Chris O’Grady’s was also firing off these texts much right in my line of vision of the pitch. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

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