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The Overcoat Men
Wednesday, 31st Jul 2019 07:24 by Col

A new Dale book is out now that looks back at the work of David Kilpatrick and Graham Morris and the role that they served in rescuing the club back in the 1980's. We caught up with author Mark Hodkinson to ask him about it.

Why have you decided to do a book about Messrs Kilpatrick and Morris?
MH: Graham has been my accountant for many years. I used to call into his office annually to go through the books and I’d see all these cardboard boxes stacked up with ‘Rochdale AFC’ written on them in felt tip. He’d always say, ‘The contents of them could tell a story or two’. I found this irresistible and, after many years of thinking about it, decided to get properly stuck in and find out, as far as I could, all that had gone on during that period when the ground was ‘sold’ and the club teetered on the edge of extinction. I was a boy at the time but remember it well. I was really scared that this club I loved so much might just disappear, seemingly overnight.

Were they receptive to the idea of the book?
MH: They were very much themselves – shrug of the shoulders, reluctant, but finally forthcoming. I think, in truth, they both consider me a bloody nuisance and probably a bit daft. They were amazed anyone was so interested after all these years and kept tutting and shaking their heads. I was aware I was really pushing them, both for information and their feelings. They got used to me eventually and I think, on the quiet, they quite enjoyed the interview sessions, though they were lengthy.

Do you think Dale supporters are aware of the efforts put in?
MH: They are both such modest men that it was inevitable that their roles would not be properly understood and appreciated. It sounds a bit sentimental but it really was a case of ‘cometh the hour’. I know we tend to be very fatalistic at Dale but we were so lucky that these two men came along when they did. They brought with them the perfect mixture of diligence, pragmatism, charisma, application etc. They are both so selfless. It’s clear that Kilpatrick isn’t shy of giving an opinion or three and enjoys being the centre of attention but he has a heart the size of Spotland. Graham is much quieter and thoughtful. They complement each other well.

So how bad was it before they became involved?
MH: Much worse than I realised. I have uncovered lots of new information on this. It’s not widely known, for example, that the board of directors in situ immediately before Kilpatrick and Morris called a special meeting to decide whether to fold the club or not and the club survived by one vote – this was just before that famous Football League AGM meeting where, again, the club survived by one vote. Funds and morale were so low that there was a prevailing feeling of ‘putting the club out of its misery’. In the book, I’ve looked deeply into the ‘ground sale’ issue. It was so complex with all kinds of allegations and counter-allegations. I’ve largely left it up to the reader to discern what was going on, or not. I did more than 50 interviews and the approach was particularly forensic on this issue.

Do you feel they still have an influence on the club in 2019?
MH: I don’t think they do and perhaps they should. They have so much experience. Football has changed such a lot but some of the fundamentals remain the same. Graham, in particular, is fastidious and well-placed, even now, to look over any financial or contractual issues. I imagine they’ve both had more than a bellyful, though!

With many clubs now in danger for financial reasons, could what they did be replicated in the modern game or was it very much of its time?
MH: I think they fell into their roles incrementally, as so often happens in life. Otherwise they would have been overawed and probably scared off. Graham says a few times in the book how he’d often have sleepless nights, worried about the shortage of cash and the possible arrival of bailiffs. Most of us could do what they did, if we really wanted, though. In the book, I quote Morris as saying that anyone who put their hands up could be a director at Rochdale – all they had to have was belief, time, commitment, maybe a few quid – and it was a few quid, very few of them invested a fortune in the club. In fact, the biggest investor (post-Fred Ratcliffe) was Andrew Hindle who was later accused of asset stripping and generally has a bad reputation among Rochdale fans. In the book, I take a thorough look at Andrew Hindle, his background, his aims etc. He’s a very interesting chap, as is David Wrigley, another major player in the club’s fortunes back then.

Your previous books on Dale had widespread appeal for supporters of other clubs. Do you think this will too?
MH: I hope so. It’s a really rollicking story and it is also about the town, its people, culture, politics etc and the prevailing mood and atmosphere of the 1970s/early 1980s. I interviewed directors of other clubs and I’ve tried, where possible, to relate it across the whole of football. When I was younger I wasn’t that bothered about how clubs were administered but I find it fascinating now, how all these egos, hopes etc collide, why they do it, what they want to achieve, what it says about them. It’s a secret world to most fans and I’ve enjoyed uncovering it.

The book is available for £10 plus £2 postage here.

Photo: Action Images

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