Team of the Decade - the noughties Thursday, 11th Feb 2010 21:08
In January 2010, users of RochdaleAFC.com voted on the best Dale team of the previous decade.
Team of the Decade
1) Goalkeeper - Neil Edwards
Had it not been for a succession of injuries in his final few seasons at Spotland, then we may well have been talking about Neil Edwards as being the man who broke Graham Smith's appearances record for the club and not Gary Jones. However, those injuries were not enough to prevent Taffy making over 250 appearances for the club from when he joined back in 1997 to his eventual departure in 2005. Edwards was an outstanding keeper for Dale and time after time, he managed to pull off the sort of save that you'd have written off as being unsaveable. His most acclaimed Dale performance came at Hartlepool back in 1997, but it certainly wasn't a case of his best days being behind him as we entered the 21st Century. Edwards is currently involved on the coaching side of the game, as an assistant to Fred Barber at Premiership Bolton Wanderers. Almost two thirds of everyone who voted opted for Edwards which tells its own story.
2) Right Back - Wayne Evans
Wayne Evans becomes the second man to be voted into our Best Team of the Decade, the second Welshman to put into the side and the second member of that Steve Parkin side to be voted in. The position of right back had long been a problem position for Dale for many, many years, so it was perhaps no surprise when Evans made such an immediate impact after joining Dale. But there was far more to Evans than just being better than the likes of Copeland, Sparrow, Fensome et al. He showed what an outstanding defender he was, and was rewarded with a string of Player of the Season awards in his opening season at the club - something unheard of for a player in his position. He became something of a Dale stalwart over the years, making not far off three hundred appearances in Dale colours before his departure at the end of the 2004-5 season. Thoroughly reliable at full back, but also possessing a wonderful ability to appear as the last line of defence. Goalscoring was never his forté, but he managed four goals during his time, each of which seemed to have some sort of story attached to it. Evans has recently been appointed as Head of the Centre of Excellence at Shrewsbury Town by his old colleague Paul Simpson.
3) Left Back - Tom Kennedy
When we signed Tom Kennedy from neighbours Bury, you can't say we weren't warned by our nearest and dearest from down the road. Oh how they laughed, telling us how he hadn't been good enough to get into Chris Casper's side, how he'd been cast aside for being Bury's answer to Oliver Reed and how we'd signed a joke of a footballer. How wrong they were. From his League debut, it was clear that we'd signed a cracker. Now into his third season at the club, TK has established himself as not only as a popular player at Spotland, but also as the best player in his position in the Division, something recognised by his fellow professionals last season as he made it into the PFA League Two side. His form has consistently made a mockery of the petty jealousies that accompanied his move to the club. He's missed just a handful of games for the club since arriving, and has weighed in with some important goals to boot and proved himself to be inch perfect from the penalty spot. Kennedy was up against stiff competition for the left back berth in this side, against the likes of Lee Todd and Alan Goodall, but it tells you something that Kennedy attracted almost 93% of all the votes.
4) Central Midfielder - David Perkins
For years, we'd been told that you can't get decent players from non league. Manager after manager had explained that it was far more complicated than just picking players from beneath the Football League and assuming they could do a job amongst the 92. Within a month of getting the job, Keith Hill had made David Perkins his first signing for a pittance. He came described by Morecambe supporters as a left back / midfielder, but wouldn't cut it at league level. In fact, when he signed for Dale, he'd been in and out of the Shrimps side at a Conference level. But nobody could have predicted what we were going to get from Perkins. Within a game or two, he'd been given a run out in central midfield mainly thanks to Gary Jones' injury and he never looked back. It wasn't too long before we'd taken him to our hearts as the lynchpin of our side. He had an engine like we'd not seen in years. He was absolutely everywhere and he must have been an absolute pain in the backside to play against as you wouldn't get a single second to yourself. Perks will always be remembered for his final Dale game in Dale colours that being the 2nd Leg of the Play Offs against Darlington. Minutes after sealing the victory with a wonder goal, he was red carded following Darlington protestations at what was nothing more than a yellow card. His tears on leaving the pitch still bring goosebumps to this day.
5) Central Defender - Craig Dawson
This one came from absolutely out of nowhere. Twelve months ago, no one had heard of him. Six months ago, we were panicking that he was our only defensive cover that we were going to have to rely on with McArdle ruled out for months. Now? He's the best prospect we've had at the club in years. It took until about 3:07pm on the opening day of the season for us to forget that we were starting the season with an 18 year old lad plucked from part time football in the Unibond League. Since then, we've never looked back and the young Rochdalian has gone on to prove himself to be not just a fantastic prospect, but a fantastic defender irrespective of age or experience. He's settled into the side like he's been playing it all his life, and the fact he's a proper Rochdale lad is just the icing on the cake. It hasn't made any difference whether he's been alongside Stanton, McArdle or Holness, he's still been outstanding at the back. And if all of that wasn't enough, he's got this ability to be the invisible man at corners. We know he's going to score, they know he's going to score, but there's nothing they can do about it, as nine goals to his name will testify to. Six months it was unthinkable that we'd be considering Dawson one of our best. Now it's unthinkable not to.
6) Central Defender - Gareth Griffiths
From around 2001 onwards for five seasons, our central defence was always Gareth Griffiths plus one. That plus one changed about 25,000 times during his time at Rochdale in a spell which saw him chalk up over 200 appearances for the club, but Griff was a constant throughout. Noted for both his performances on the pitch and his strong dressing room influence, he was a dominant force at the back. It would be wrong to say that things were always perfect, but the good days with Griff certainly outweighed the bad days, and it was no surprise to see Griff voted into this side. Griff was also a bit of a threat from set pieces and could be relied upon for a few goals per season. His header in front of a packed Sandy Lane terrace against Coventry will be long remembered and I had the pleasure of sitting next to Griff's biggest critic that night that he scored a hat trick against Scarborough in the LDJPTV thing. And if you wanted further reasons for Griff's inclusion within this side, then his role at the beginning of the Hillcroft era should never be ignored. Sidelined from Northwich with a broken jar, it was Griff who came to the club to assist the man he replaced as a player at Spotland - something never forgotten by the management. Here you go Griff, team of the decade and very deserving of it.
7) Right Winger - Will Buckley
If there's one thing that sums up the Hillcroft era, it is the ability to bring players through the ranks and into the first team. Not just as fringe players, but proper players that are vital to the first team. And our right winger in our team of the decade is the second player featured to have gone from the a decent prospect to someone the scouts are flocking to see week in, week out. After arriving at the club in the Summer of 2007 to comments of "that's not Kyle Buckley" from those in attendance of the pre-season friendlies, Buckley has gone on to establish himself as the stand out winger. Not just at Spotland, but across the division. It is honesty rather than hyperbole to describe Buckley as the best player in his position in League Two. The only controversy would be whether he is the best right winger in League Two or the best left winger, though in reality he's probably both. Ten goals in his first full season of football, and a further three in an injury hit second season, it is proof that he cannot be accused of having no end product like most fancy wingers you get in League Two. But it is that fancy play which has seen us take him to our hearts, as he leaves many an opposition player in a heap on the floor as he's left him bamboozled on his way to goal. Beating a player is made to look the easiest thing the world has ever seen, and at times I swear he's gone back to beat the same player again. Just because he can. It's questionable how long we'll have to enjoy his talents at Rochdale before he is poached by by a passing Premiership vulture, but that roar that follows him as he accelerates away having beaten his man will live long in the memory. As a trail of yellow cards from Bradford will testify to.
8) Central Midfielder - Gary Jones
If we are making any sort of serious attempt to put together a team of the past decade, how could we possibly do so without including the player who has been close to being an ever present for Dale throughout those ten years? It'd be unthinkable to do so, and it's been unthinkable for much of those ten years for Jones not to be in the Dale side, and its testament to him that every single manager at Rochdale during his times with the club has made Jonah their captain. For such a long time, Jonah has been the Dale stalwart, that driving force of the Dale midfield, and there could have been no one prouder than the man himself when he led the side out at Wembley - something also shown by his reaction at the final whistle. Recent exclusions from the side should be seen as a compliment to Taylor and Kennedy, rather than the last rites on Jonah's time with the club, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he didn't carve out one more piece of Dale history before his time with Dale does come to an end. But whatever happens from now on, breaking the club's record for appearances is a stunning achievement in modern day football, and there can be supporters of few clubs who have witnessed this happening. Gary Jones - Rochdale legend.
9) Striker - Grant Holt
Throughout much of the past decade, we'd had good strikers many of which would have walked into a side of this nature for the 1990's. But with every one of them, there was always a "but......." Clive Platt was a tremendous team player, but never got enough goals. Townson had the best eye for a goal I'd ever seen from a Dale player, but was often bullied out of games. Paul Connor had was amazing for this first fifteen games or so but was never the same player following that injury, and then spent most of his time looking towards the referee feeling hard done to. Lee McEvilly was..... well Evil was Evil. And then along came Grant Holt. Aside from those who happily wrote him off following a rainswept debut at Darlington, it was clear very soon that with Holt we had the real deal, and if anything, it was Holt who showed up the faults of his predecessors by showing just what a lower league striker could do. He had it all: the strength of McEvilly, the work rate of Platt, the guile of Townson and the goals of Connor. The only downside was that he got more yellow cards than all of them put together. The boy Holt was the most feared striker in the division, and every opposition defender must have woke up on a Sunday morning with cuts and bruises all over the place, whilst every referee woke up with a ringing in their ear from his constant "conversation" with the matchday official. With an average higher than a goal every other game, he was at times unplayable, and no matter what any (very) ongoing polls we're doing might suggest, that goal against Macclesfield where he left Danny Swailes bamboozled on the floor was by far the best goal we scored during the past decade.
10) Striker - Rickie Lambert
Well they warned us at least. When Rickie Lambert transferred from Stockport County to sign for Dale, we were given plenty of doom and gloom in terms of what sort of footballer we had taken off their hands. Fat, lazy, slow and disinterested, and taking the view of the County fans at face value, it sounded like we'd brought in a combination of Jim Royle, Bernard Manning and Vanessa Feltz, and I was half expecting him to appear in a 1976 style Elvis jumpsuit rather than a Dale kit. It didn't take long for us to realise that Lambert was simply the latest in a long list of Stockport scapegoats as they slumped through the divisions, and we had in fact bought ourselves a class act. After initial quandaries as to whether he was best in midfield or up front, he soon found himself a permanent fixture up front alongside Grant Holt in what became one of the best strike pairings in the club's history. Whilst Holt may have been the brute up front, Lambert was a touch of class with the ability to make the ball do whatever he wanted. His free kicks will never be forgotten as any free kick seemed to be an open invitation for him to score. Either top corner, or even along the floor, as soon as that defending wall was settled, we were ready to celebrate. For all that is said about his partnership with Holt, for me it was his form after Holt's departure where he proved his true worth to us, and whilst Dagnall gets the plaudits for that goal at Rushden, it was Lambert's form in the last 15 games or so as he thrived on the extra responsibility which prevented us asking if Gravesend and Northfleet were two places or just one. He finished that season with 22 goals - top scorer for the division, but was sold within the opening month of the following season. A glance at the current list of leading scorers for League One shows just what we had.
11) Left Winger - Patrick McCourt
The mercurial McCourt, the Derry Diego, the original wunderkind - where did it all go wrong? How could we possibly do a team of the decade without including the boy Paddy? Despite the fact that it's now getting on for six years since he left the club, he's still firmly in the hearts of many a Dale supporter with no sign of that rescinding. There's hardly a month goes by without some thread starting up on the messageboard recounting his efforts in a Dale shirt, before launching into Jihad mode against a succession of former managers. After all, does it not speak volumes that Dale supporters have included McCourt in a "Best Of" side, when more often than not, he wasn't considered good enough by the powers that be to get into the Dale side? From the moment that he was first handed his place in the side by Steve Parkin to his final, last shimmy in a Dale shirt, we were witnessing something that we'd never come close to seeing before. He was without doubt the most wonderful talent to have ever worn a Dale shirt, and not even the old dodderers were claiming a better talent from back in the 1950's or some other God forsaken era. McCourt was the real McCoy. He had the skills, the deft touches, the vision, the dribbling, the goals, the passing. And what a legacy he left us with: skills that not only sent opposition defenders' heads spinning, tackles attempting to get Christmas and New Year off, kickabouts with supporters on Lenny Barn on Sunday afternoons, THAT goal against Halifax, a picture in the Observer amongst the orange skinned 2 a.m. beauties, arguably the best pass for Super Kev against York, a proper bona fide international cap from when he took on Raul et al and six years followed of what might have been. If all of that wasn't enough, he was honoured in the art world for his time with the club, with a shirt with "Paddy 17" the main feature on a washing line on a mural on the Subway near Asda - that's something for him to tell his grandkids about. Of course, there were questions over his head. He had the fitness levels of Jack Duckworth, and there were games where missing person alerts were reported to GMP out of genuine concern. Even the close to perfections of the Hillcroft era have led to pondering about how Paddy might have fared under their tutelage. But any supposed blemishes were worth it for the bigger picture of the talents to die that he possessed. Inevitably, it all went horribly wrong at Spotland for him, and his last few months were spent seeing him hawked around any club who were willing to take him on trial for the week, a million miles from the starting line up, before heading for the "Where are they now?" file back in Irish football. Currently playing for Celtic.