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Addicted to Rochdale (Part 16) Diary of the 2010-11 Season
Written by middale on Thursday, 22nd Jan 2015 00:37

This part covers strange Birmingham connections with Rochdale , including a chance encounter with the Dale trialist Tyrone Amory, and reflections on the crucial role of a true Dale striking legend, Keith Barker in kick-starting our revival under Keith Hill.


Thursday 5th May 2011

Near the end of my extended gym workout this morning, I was labouring away on the cross-training machine when I was approached by one of the personal trainers. Undeterred by the profuse sweat that had seeped through my beloved purple Rochdale AFC “Get the Label” away kit, he boldly engaged me in conversation.

“So you’re a Rochdale fan then are you?”

“Yes, I love them” (gasp, gasp)

“That’s a coincidence, I played on trial for Rochdale earlier in the season.”

“Really?” (cough, pant) “What’s your name?”

“Tyrone Amory”

“Did you play any games for Dale?” (feeling slightly annoyed at myself for having to ask this question, I should have known)

“Yeah, do you remember the pre-season game against Bury?”

“Oh yes, I didn’t go though. That was played at Rossendale United’s ground wasn’t it?”

“Naah, it was at Bury’s ground, Gigg Lane” (damn, another minor gaffe)

“Oh yes, I remember, we lost 3-0 didn’t we?”

“Yeah, I played 70 minutes then was subbed off. We played in those purple kits. Bury were good. I was blowing big time by the end.”

“Did they release you straight after the game?”

“Yeah, but they said they’d keep monitoring me this season”

“Did they treat you OK?”

“Yeah they were fine.”

“Good, they’ve got a decent reputation with youngsters. What position did you play”

“Left wing”

“That’s hard isn’t it, you’re always relying on decent service”

“Yeah I didn’t get much in that game, Bury were too sharp. They’ve just gone up haven’t they?”

“Yes. So who do you remember who was good at Dale?”

“That guy Chris O’Grady was awesome. He should be playing at a higher level”

“Absolutely agree, he’s immense”

“What’s the name of that fat guy who’s the coach and still plays a bit?”

“Dave Flitcroft” (cough and mildly suppressed laugh)

“Ah, yes. Who else has had good seasons for Dale then?”

“Scott Wiseman, Craig Dawson, Matt Done. Do you remember them?”

“Yeah, yeah. And that left back was really good – what was his name”?

“Joe Widdowson?”

“Not sure, possibly” (I think he meant Alan Goodall actually) “Who was that striker with a really long name?”

“Jean Louis Akpa-Akpro?”

“Yeah I think so, he was pretty poor the week I was there, he could never hit the target.”

“That sounds about right! Anyone else who wasn’t so good? There’s a lad on the wing Joe Thompson who gets in the first team but a lot of the fans don’t rate.”

(Cough, splutter, 3 short sentences was my limit as I passed 6 kilometres on the cross-trainer)

“Really. Oh yeah I remember him as well”

“So who are you playing for now?

“I’ve been at Tamworth on trial. Before that I was at Derby. I know I’m going to make it, I’m quick and skilful, I just need to get stronger and bulk up a bit.”

“Best of luck mate, sorry you didn’t make it at Dale.”

“Yeah, see you around.”

Well isn’t it just a small world? It was fabulous to hear these inside snippets about life at Dale. If I hadn’t been knackered on the cross-trainer I might have been able to think of some more interesting questions. What struck me most about Tyrone Amory though was his positivity and unshakeable self-confidence. Give me some of that mate, I need it.

Incredibly, little pieces of Rochdale AFC were everywhere in Birmingham this morning. Well, they were if you looked hard enough anyway. Less than half an hour after this conversation with Tyrone Amory, I found myself sitting barely 10 yards away from a genuine bona fide ex-Dale first team player. This was Keith Barker, who spent a couple of months on loan at Dale from Blackburn in the dark and gloomy pre-Hillcroft days of October-November 2006. Barker has since made a successful sporting switch to become a professional cricketer for Warwickshire, and here he was this morning, fielding at deep mid-wicket on the third day of the County Championship match against Lancashire.

Popular rumour has it that Warwickshire snapped up Barker after seeing his final kick for Dale away at Hartlepool in the FA Cup. His penalty in the shoot-out went so far over the bar, out of the ground and into orbit that it’s probably only just landed some 4 years later. Warwickshire must have reasoned that if he could kick a football that far, surely it would be a doddle for him to whack a ball many a mile with a cricket bat in his hands.

Barker has certainly been trying to emulate this feat on the cricket field ever since, especially in his role as an agricultural looking pinch-hitting number three batsman in limited over matches. He actually succeeded once last season in a 20/20 game, connecting with an almighty straight blow for 6, into the building site that has since become the spanking new stand at Edgbaston. Alas, the more typical end result of these wild swings from Barker (which look uncommonly like a lumberjack attempting to chop down a tree in one colossal scythe) is a grossly mis-timed connection which sees the ball trickling apologetically off the bat towards mid-on.

A fairly radical thought has just occurred to me regarding Keith Barker and his role in the glorious upturn in the history of Rochdale AFC. His hopelessly missed penalty at Hartlepool was quite literally the last kick of a ball by a Rochdale player under the management of Steve Parkin. This FA Cup replay was live on Sky TV, and the embarrassment of national exposure for Barker’s hopeless miss probably directly led the Rochdale board to sack Parkin and appoint Keith Hill. A truly glorious chain of events as its transpired. Where might Dale be now if he’d scored the penalty and the shoot-out had be won? Mid table in the Nationwide Conference is a reasonable guess, as that Dale team was seriously dire. So thank you so much Keith Barker.

Sunday 8th May 2011

Yesterday, the lamentable Stags were part of what must undoubtedly be the dullest game of football ever to be played at the new Wembley. Just my luck to be present to witness it. The standard of passing by Mansfield on the carpet like surface was jaw droppingly shocking (OK, I am spoilt watching Dale but even so). They finally lost 1-0 when Darlington put them out of their deep, deep misery with a comedy goal in the 120th minute. This all means that I’ve now seen Mansfield play for 390 minutes this season without scoring. I feel suitably cheated and bitter towards them. What a bunch of jokers.

What limited joy there was came from the day’s peripherals. Our designated seats down in Row 2 by the corner flag were every bit as crap as I’d imagined. However, some skilful and stealthy manoeuvring past various disinterested young jobsworth stewards ineffectively guarding their aisles ensured a mission accomplished of procuring excellent halfway line seats.

The frustration of some of the diehard Stags fans was also moderately amusing. All in all I thought they accepted their teams incompetence with great stoicism, but as the game drifted on going nowhere fast, a few dissenters started to make their feeling known. Some of the more amusing comments were:

“Briscoe. Call yourself a big game player? My arse.”

“Think before you do another aimless flick Connor, think!”

“Now if you were writing a report for the Mansfield Chad, what on earth would you find to say?”

“These teams could carry on playing until Christmas without scoring.”

News of the League One scores was annoying sketchy at Wembley. Jake’s wrath was raised by televisions in the Wembley concourses all being tuned to Sky Sports News, but then bafflingly switched off at half time. If Dale managed to beat Bournemouth they still had a chance of finishing as high as 7th, overtaking Leyton Orient and Exeter. When our crowded return train rattled out of London toward the rolling fields near High Wycombe, Nick’s Blackberry confirmed the excellent news that Dale had won 2-1. Fantastic! However, less than a minute later he’d confirmed that Leyton Orient and Exeter had also both won, so Dale were stuck in 9th, their joint-best season ever. Still, 68 points is a glorious harvest, and inevitably we both wished we’d been there to witness it, instead of stuck watching the turgid Stags at Wembley. The day has served its purpose though, reinforcing to me and Jake how lucky we are to be following Dale.

When we finally got home at 20.30, it was raining heavily and as there was no parking spot on the road I dropped Jake off to rush inside. In the 150 seconds it took me to park up in the next road round the corner and walk back to the front door, Jake greeted me excitedly with:

“Colin! Reece Gray scored the winner for Dale! I told you he’d score! Done scored again as well! I’ve just listened to the Hill interview on the BBC website and he said Gray is going to be a Premier League player in 4 years time! Next time we’re at Spotland I’m going to get Gray printed on the back of my Dale shirt!”

I just hope he remembered to say hello to Lydia and Becky before grabbing the laptop to unearth this vital information, but I’m not too sure.

It is with great sadness that I have to report that Dagenham & Redbridge got relegated back to League 2 yesterday. Oh dear, how sad, never mind.

Monday 9th May 2011

People just want to dream. Checking out the local Mansfield reaction on their gallant defeat at Wembley, I unearthed a veritable feast of delusion, denial, hard luck stories and misplaced positivity. The staple diet of pretty much everyone involved in football I suppose, but some of this stuff took the biscuit.

Chief culprit was the anonymous and allegedly under threat new Stags manager Duncan Russell, who ludicrously claimed that the Stags played the better football (dream on), that they should have had two penalties (which none of his players even bothered to appeal for) and that they’d have definitely won if he’d had a fit squad to choose from (yawn). He went on to offer further pearls of wisdom, including Darlington’s late winner being down to cruel fate (lets all get the violins out), that Darlo were lucky (que?) and that the Stags did enough in the game to warrant winning (I wasn’t aware that simply turning up at Wembley allows you to reach that conclusion). Overall, Russell delivered his post-match interview with all the gravitas of a drunk staggering out of KFC at midnight.

The Mansfield players and supporters weren’t much better. Captain Adam Murray followed his manager’s cue by going similarly overboard on the injuries theme, whilst the fans seemed split 50/50 between acknowledging Darlington were the better side.

Jake and me have been practicing our volleyed keep-ups in the back garden. Tonight we set our new record of 79 volley in 10 attempts. We’re pretty pleased with that. Volleys have taken over from headers, where we’ve officially given up on trying to beat 153 in 10.

Tuesday 10th May 2011.

When to finish this diary? The season feels over now that Dale have played their final match and the cricket season is underway, but football never sleeps these days. The Premier League drags on with a further fortnight’s action, and Blues seem to have sleepwalked towards the relegation zone with a set of dismal results since winning the Carling Cup. Likewise the Scottish Premier League lingers on, where Hamilton Accies have suddenly got a fighting chance of overtaking St Mirren and avoiding relegation. Then there’s all the play-offs which Dale could so easily have been in. Soon there’ll be the excitement of the new fixture list. Lets just give it a couple of weeks.

Lets give it a couple of weeks? I think that’s what I keep telling myself on the jobseeking front as well. The distractions persist. Lyd scribbled me a list of little jobs to complete. The internet remains more down than up. Get this writing done and dusted. There’s the garden to tidy up. Today the road is being dug up and the cacophony of noise cranks up my restlessness many more notches.

There’s also cricket on television, today featuring the polar opposite attractions of Sussex v Nottinghamshire in the County Championship, and Deccan Chargers v Pune Warriors in the Indian Premier League. On the former I found myself actively listening to ex-Warwickshire captain Nick Knight waffle on about the impact of terrestrial loam on wicket preparation (that would make a really exciting dissertation). On the latter, for half an hour of my life I was suckered into caring about whether the new franchise Pune Warriors were about to win their second IPL game in a row. ITV4 were also trying to sucker their double figure audience into believing that regular football host Matt Smith (he of the exaggerated enunciation and irritatingly mannerised pregnant pauses) actually knows anything about cricket. He doesn’t. This is my life at the moment.

Wednesday 11th May 2011

Still briefly on cricket, I discovered today that Pippa Middleton is stepping out with ex-Warwickshire spinner turned City banker Alex Loudon. An extremely lucky catch there, Alex. Pippa is still everywhere at the moment enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, not just across all the magazines but also across the railings of our primary school where she is rather gratuitously advertising the imminent Year 2 cake sale.

At the other end of the social spectrum, tonight was the last football game of the season for Bournville Warriors. However, this match in the humble setting of Kings Norton park down by the canal, was graced by none other than ex-Coventry manager Aidy Boothroyd. One of Gary Megson’s favourite mannequin managers (presumably, I’m guessing) made a clandestine appearance by the halfway line, supporting his son who was playing for the opposition. His sage words of advice ranged from the moderately bizarre and oft repeated “don’t show him your number” (what’s all that about?) through to the surprisingly progressive “link with him” and “keep passing” (considering one of the reasons Coventry cited for sacking Boothroyd was his penchant for playing route one football). Perhaps he’ll come back reincarnated in his next job and committed to playing attacking football, like Ian Holloway at Blackpool.

In a peculiar déjà vu with Rochdale’s recent home defeat against Carlisle, the opposition nicked the game 3-2 against the run of play with two second half long range wonder strikes. Still, it was a nice game of football. Both sides tried to pass the ball. Both sets of parents were cool, calm and collected. There were no silly offside decisions from ultra-partisan linesman. The two coaches were encouraging, not shouting at the youngsters. Quite reaffirming in the wider scheme of things.

I had a fascinating post-match chat with the referee, shedding light on problems at Birmingham City and the English youth game in general.

“Well done ref, that was a good game wasn’t it?”

“Cheers. Yes it was good to see both teams trying to play football the right way. I thought your lad had a good game, and a couple of the other smaller ones. I’m a Blues scout and I’d happily recommend them but the club would just laugh at me, they’re only interested in big athletic lads, not footballers.”

“Typical Blues. That’s where we’ve been going wrong for decades.”

“Yes I know. It doesn’t even work either. I refereed a Blues academy game a couple of weeks ago. They Derby team they played were all about a foot smaller than the Blues lads but they ran rings round them.”

“Good. So why don’t the Blues coaches change?”

“Don’t know. Too risky I suppose, even though privately they agree with me.”

“That’s crazy. Good luck trying to change them anyway.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Very frustrating but hardly surprising. This is the story of the Blues (as the Mighty Wah! may once have said). It certainly doesn’t sound like Blues have seen the light and will be attempting to emulating Barcelona’s total football principles any time soon. It also confirms that being involved in football on the inside is no more rewarding than being addicted to watch it, on the outside looking in.

Dale have sprung a couple of end of season surprises, releasing Owain Fon Williams and Robbie Williams. That’s a trifle harsh on Owain Fon, who has probably paid the price for letting in Carlisle’s two long range screamers. Owain - you’re fired. It’s a cruel world.

Oh well. It’s getting near to that stage when I’m ready to switch off from football for a good few weeks, or at least until the new fixture list comes out. Tonight, this coming down process is aided and abetted by seeing The Arbor, definitely the most powerful film I’ve seen in many years. It tells the story of the life and early death of Andrea Dunbar, who wrote the seminal 80s film “Rita, Sue and Bob Too”. Then it morphs into the even more tragic tale of her daughter’s descent into drugs and prostitution, culminating in the death of her 2 year old son. Set in the grim Buttershaw estate in Bradford, it could possibly be classified as another example of poverty porn. Who cares, I may be up that way in a few weeks watching Warwickshire play Yorkshire at Leeds, and if I do I’ll be driving around Buttershaw seeking out the “Andrea Dunbar lived here” commemorative plaque on The Arbor.

Monday 16th May 2011

Blues are continuing their mysterious and spectacular nosedive towards the Championship. If you had to hand-pick opposition for a final must win home fixture then you’d choose a team like Fulham every time, but Blues bottled it and were massacred 2-0, when 6-0 would have been a more accurate reflection of the game. They are now out of the bottom three only on by a goal difference of one. It goes without saying that they are also the lowest scorers in the Premiership. What a surprise.

One of the match reports in today’s broadsheets gets to the nub of the issue. “Birmingham pay the price for a lack of creativity”. Therein lies the problem for Blues, for approximately the last 35 years.

Not content with living and breathing football, Jake is now talking like a football journalist as well. Analysing the Premiership relegation fight, he solemnly pronounced that “Blackpool deserve to stay up as they’ve been a breath of fresh air this season.”

I gave him plenty. The lack of access to fresh air with the hours spent watching Sky Sports News and on the PlayStation is clearly addling his brain.

Hopefully Keith Hill has currently got a clearer head. He’s reached the stage where he’s vaguely linked to every Championship or fallen giant League One side going. The latest two are Sheffield United and Barnsley. What would you do in his shoes? He’s worshipped at Dale, has just given the budget for next season that he’s asked for (which is unheard of in the last 30 years of the club apparently) and all the key players have renewed their contracts. It must be tempting to give Dale another crack. My money’s on his landing the Sheffield United job though. His managerial stock may never be higher. It’s still a 16-1 shot apparently.

I’ve seen my Mum and Dad quite a bit in the last few days. It’s rather strange how they never grill me at all on finding a job. They must have given up on that remote prospect. They rationalise our situation by comparing our one wage situation with most of their early married life in the 1950s and 60s. Hey, that’s a good one. I don’t think either Lyd or the Job Centre Plus see it in those terms though.

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