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12 Months Behind Closed Doors
Sunday, 7th Mar 2021 11:11 by Chaff

Today marks a full year of Dale supporters being unable to attend games so I thought I’d jot my thoughts down in an editorial.

I've just watched it again. It's brilliant. Matt Lund plays it to Callum Camps, continues his run and Camps plays a wonderful through ball to an advancing Matty Lund who produced a moment of magic with a lob of the highest quality to seal a brilliant win over Rotherham United on an absolute disgrace of a pitch. A win that saw us complete the most unlikely of doubles over a Rotherham side that went on to achieve promotion to the Championship. We all went home happy and hopeful we'd have enough to stay in League One.

I strongly suspect that there's not a single person who thought it would be over a year before we’d get to go to watch our beloved Dale. A year without being able to cheer on our beloved club from our usual concrete spot on the Sandy Lane, our usual seat in the Main Stand or the Pearl Street, or even our usual chair in the executive boxes. And the reality is that by the time we are allowed back, it will have been closer to 18 months. A reality I wasn't ready, or prepared for.

We went weeks without any football even on the TV. It was awful wasn't it. We all had to get the board games out, do quizzes over Zoom, jigsaws, bake banana bread and discover the local area by going out for walks whenever we could to alleviate the boredom. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting out and discovering the local area as it happens. Staying in made me realise that getting a dart board was a genius idea!

It felt like months but eventually, sport began to return bit by bit. The Bundesliga returned to our screens and while it was the only football we could watch, it was better than nothing and I think most of us, at least for a couple of weeks will have adopted a German side to support. I know I wanted Wolfsburg to win because their kits were amazing. Thankfully, the Premier League returned not long after, behind closed doors and it seemed like there wasn't a day where there wasn't football on the TV. Having a girlfriend who loves football as much as me was a huge positive in this because I can only imagine the arguments that will have occurred in some households!

It's not been without positives. Dale stayed in League One thanks to PPG and the premature end of the 2019/2020 campaign. Tranmere were a bit pissed off about that, but we stayed up and fully deserved to. Ironically, Keith Hill of all people is manager there now and there’s a good chance they could swap places with us as they’re doing quite well in League Two!

Dale had a hugely transitional summer. The first big change was the pitch. As you can see from the video at the beginning of this video, the pitch was abysmal and needed sorting and the club did just that with a brand-new pitch, raised compared to where it was which will only really be noticeable when we get back inside the ground. To have got to this point in the season with no pitch issues suggests it was money well spent.

It was always going to be a worrying summer with regards to players being out of contract and leaving and who we could bring in, to the point that many, myself included, had accepted relegation before a ball was kicked. Arguably our GOAT, Ian Henderson left the club along with all the other out of contract players. He left the club three goals short of the all-time goalscoring record held by Reg Jenkins. It was all played out over social media as well, giving a very sour end to a wonderful Rochdale career. He went to play for Gary Neville's Salford City in League Two. Callum Camps, having come through the ranks as a kid, left the club as well, to play for Fleetwood Town. The likes of Calvin Andrew, Aaron Wilbraham, MJ Williams, Josh Lillis and Matty Gillam also left Spotland while we also said goodbye to Robert Sanchez who is now Brighton’s number one in the Premier League.

We all feared the worst at that point as a COVID hit summer, will no doubt have a huge impact on BBM's budget but, surprisingly, Dale spent money on a strike force of Stephen Humphrys (Southend) and Jake Beesley (Solihull) and brought in Manchester City loanees Gavin Bazunu and Yeboah Amankwah although the latter went back almost straight away with a bad injury. Tolaji Bola came in on loan from Arsenal while Alex Newby came in on a free from Chorley and Haydon Roberts came in on loan from Brighton as Amankwah's replacement. It was more than I was expecting.

We’ve also seen the emergence of Kwadwo Baah who is becoming one of the most talked about youngsters outside the Premier League, to the point everyone was under the impression he’d signed for Manchester City in January, but it seems to have fallen through now. As he’s out of contract, it seems likely that we’ll not get to see him play live again. A huge shame given some of his performances this season. We’ve also seen Matty Lund turn into prime Frank Lampard with goals aplenty from midfield! To be honest, scoring goals hasn’t been an issue for Dale until recently, we were one of the top scoring sides in the division somehow but as we all know, we’ve leaked an unbelievable amount of goals at the same time. A god-awful defensive record that Sunday League teams would be disappointed with. That defensive record and the fact we’ve won once at home all season will be the reason we’re relegated if we don’t manage to avoid the drop and are both huge areas of concern and have been all season.

At present the fans seem very split on what should happen with regards to manager Brian Barry-Murphy but despite the chairman’s recent vote of confidence, it could well be that the next Dale game we get to may have a different manager in the dugout. It wouldn’t surprise many. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that but the fact we’ve now hit the bottom of the league and only seem to be going one way will now see the majority want a new manager for when we can go back.

Off the pitch, well, there's been big changes there as well. A poor on-field performance usually has an impact on the off-field matters and we've seen boardroom changes with Andrew Kilpatrick resigning as chairman. A chairman we've barely seen or heard since taking the seat. That's not to say he's not been a good chairman, he's just been one who has kept himself to himself and maybe there's something to be said for that but it never struck me as being a long term position for him? Andrew Kelly, long standing director, has taken the chairman role on an interim basis. We've put an advertisement in for a Sporting Director. What even is a sporting director? I guess we'll see soon enough. It was something Dan Altman said he would do when he expressed interest in becoming a major shareholder last summer. Oh yeah, that happened! The American's were coming to take over! It didn't quite happen at the time but a big part of me didn’t think they’d just disappear and as it happens, they got accepted onto the board of directors, Dan Altman and his mate Emre Marcelli but then in a major plot twist, decided against it with a post on Linkedin! Just what the bloody hell is going on here!? The place is turning into a circus at the minute! The virtual fans forum in the coming days may well be interesting viewing, if it goes ahead!

https://www.rochdaleafc.co.uk/news/2021/february/andrewkelly_danaltmanemremarcel

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/altmandaniel_statement-on-rochdale-afc-activity-6

If/when we do go down, we'll have been relegated in, and been unable to see live, the three best kits we've had for years. Three kits that saw big sales as well by all accounts. A different style home kit (finally, not a lazy Errea design), a mint green away kit and a fabulous take on the green and black retro kit from the mid-90's. I even think 442Dale approved of them, well more or less!

As for the site you're reading this on, if you've got the patience to read it that is, we’ve managed to start the rochdaleafc.com podcast. This has allowed us and will hopefully continue to allow us to interview some special guests like BBM and Eoghan O'Connell, Adam Le Fondre and Lee McEvilly so far. Hopefully, this will continue to go from strength to strength regardless of restrictions and lockdowns. Without these restrictions in the first place, we'd probably not have done it. If you’ve not listened to me, Dean, Ryan and Luke waffle on, you can do here https://soundcloud.com/user-296512693

Hundreds of us queued for hours, sacrificing any potential lie in, to get our season cards for the 2020/21 season. With a fair amount of hope and expectation that we'd at least get chance to use it at some point. We haven't and following the Prime Minister's roadmap announcement, won't get to use them.

Some people did get to use their season tickets at other clubs. When the government announced the tier system, that allowed some clubs in certain tiers to go and watch their clubs, albeit with heavy restrictions in place. Despite the huge efforts that the club went to in order to make Spotland a COVID-19-safe environment, as well as cost, the restrictions were never eased for Greater Manchester. Is it better to have missed out all season than have been given that hope and managed to get in, only to have it taken away again? I'm not sure which would be harder to take in all honesty, but I do know that the longer this goes on, and the longer we're unable to go, the better it will feel when we finally do get to. There will be tears without doubt.

We've all had to change our match day routines. Before we were all housebound on match days, I used to take my lad to football training, then we'd quickly get changed, scran some dinner and head over to Spotland. Firstly, to the Dale Bar to meet up with our mates, including forum regulars and Cem Cliquers, before getting my Bovril and heading in. Now, we bring the laptop downstairs, I hook it up to iFollow, get a Bovril from a multipack that I bought from B&M Bargains and we watch the game in the living room. At half time, if the weathers ok, we get out to the front where the cars are parked and have a kickabout for 15 minutes. It will never be the same as going but you have to make the best of it don’t you? I do wonder how this new routine of not going to games will effect kids. My young lad can’t get into watching the Dale on the TV and I’ve struggled to keep him occupied and engaged at times. He won’t be the only one either, so there is a risk that this pandemic will have had an impact on our younger supporters and the sooner we get back, the better for them and the better for the club and hopefully, we won’t have lost too many for good.

England's recent test cricket series in India saw spectators in the ground. Part of me was jealous and envious while another part of me looked at it as progress and a clear sign that we aren't going to be in the position we are forever.

This past 12 months have been incredibly hard in so many ways for so many people. I'm fortunate not to have lost anyone close to me from the virus. I'm fortunate that people close to me have received their vaccination already and I'm fortunate to have been able to work from home and keep my job. There will be an awful lot of people that won't have been as fortunate.

How many of us have obsessed over stats, news outlets, government briefings to the detriment of our mental health? Everyone in the country now knows more about the government and individual roles within it than ever before, well during my lifetime anyway. The likes of Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson and other ministers have become almost like celebrities. Even the scientists like Professor Chris Witty, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Jonathan Van Tam are all people we’ve come to rely on for clarity and explanations on an almost daily basis, but I reckon very few people would have ever heard of them 12 months ago.

I miss going out for a meal with my partner, looking at the menu from top to bottom despite knowing I'll be limited to whatever doesn't have onions in. I miss going out in town, into Empire and the Flying Horse and then protesting against that one person who says, "let's go to Kokos". I miss watching my lad play for Milnrow Juniors on a Saturday morning, though in fairness, it's only really this current lockdown where we've had to shut down on that. I miss the office I used to work in (closed down because of the pandemic and relocated) and my work colleagues despite the convenience of working from home, I even miss the 163-bus commute from Heywood to Manchester. But, above all, I miss the Dale. I miss the match day experience. I miss the pre-match drinks with my mates in the Dale Bar. I miss taking my place in the Sandy Lane, either behind the goal at the back when I've not got my lad, or over to the far side near the away fans when I do. I miss away days, the trips to here, there and everywhere, whether it's with my partner and her Dad, or with the lads, drinking too much and acting like a knob. I miss making more noise as a collective in whichever away end we are in. I miss the Manchester Bar in Blackpool, I miss the train journeys to Crewe, London and Sheffield, I miss the long treks down to Plymouth, Torquay or Exeter, I miss going for fish and chips on the beach at New Brighton when we go to Tranmere, I miss looking at the fixture lists in June and wondering when I will get to tick that one ground I’ve never been to off (Ipswich in this case for the past two seasons), maybe Harrogate next season. No matter what town or city you visit what you specifically miss more than anything is the company and people you’re with. I miss it all and I will continue to miss it until it's back to normal and while it's been easy to think we're not much further on than we were 12 months ago, we are heading in the right direction and we finally have light at the end of the tunnel. The roadmap is out there, and we'll get to the destination, even if we get bumps along the way.

It doesn't matter how shit we are, what division we’re in, who the manager is or anything, I never want another season where I can't go to games. Even with the mess that seems to be building at Spotland at the minute, I just want to be able to go. It’s perhaps highlighted that I will never get to a point where I think we’re that bad, I’m not going.

As always in football, bad spells are not forever and will be followed by good ones, history tells us this (unless you’re in the situation Bury were but I’d like to think we’ve got a fanbase that won’t allow that to happen, maybe that’s naive). We’ve seen it go both ways but nothing is forever in football, no matter how long the struggle seems at the time.

That first game back will be special. Even if it’s a pre-season friendly. The nodding to people whose names you don’t know but you’ve nodded to each other every home game for 20 years. Hearing the loud Manc tones of Dave Sweetmore through the PA system on the way into the ground, followed by the inevitable Stone Roses or Oasis tunes, closely followed by a complaint about the speakers. You’ll forget just how hot the brews are and scold your mouth with your first sip. The food you always buy despite it being average at best will taste that little bit better, regardless of the cost! It's all coming, we'll get there and eventually, we'll hear that first, louder than usual voice start it all off at around 2:55pm on a Saturday.......UUUUUUP THE DALE!

Photo: Action Images



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