Saturday, 17 April 2010

Rochdale 1 Northampton Town 0

Coca Cola League Two
Attendance: 5,025

Spotland. When football fans quiz each other about ground names the home of Rochdale invariably springs first to mind but in most other respects the club comes near the bottom. It’s been in the fourth division continually since 1974 (usually in the lower echelons) and, from a personal point of view, it’s practically the only ground in the north I’d not visited – not even when a student in Manchester in the early 80s. Keen to correct this woeful omisson, the spring sun shining and the bunting out for Rochdale’s first promotion party since 1969, I set off to gatecrash.

Dale should’ve secured promotion weeks ago. They started today’s match having got no goals and just one point from the last four matches. They weren’t so much stumbling at the finish line but lying face down in the mud, arms and legs flailing. Requiring only a draw last Saturday they got tonked 5-0 at Torquay and then faced bottom-placed Darlington at home on Tuesday. A home banker, to be sure, you’d have thought. There was a victory and a club changed divisions – but it was Darlo who scored the only goal and were relegated to the Conference because of other results while Dale were ignominiously knocked off top spot for the first time since Dec 1. The Dale fans are used to the agony having missed out on promotion via the play-offs for the last two seasons. So was it to be third time lucky, twice over?

Expecting queues I got to the ground at 2.15pm – spotting the Mark ‘Clem’ Clemitt (right) of the BBC Football League Show outside – and walked straight in. Even at kick-off there was plenty of space given that the capacity is over 10,000. Half of one of the side stands was closed and the other half was about 30% occupied by away fans.

Disappointingly, Spotland isn’t half as singular as its name (which derives from its neighbourhood). In fact, the ground is so plain it could almost be complete new build. Three of the stands are very similar, each with a facia in blue (but not the shade of the team colours) and, equally curiously, no club name emblazoned on them. The only feature which reflects tradition are the tower floodlights (dating back merely to 1992, as it happens) in each corner which reminded me of those halcyon days at Elm Park. The feel of the place is similar to Bootham Crescent.

The Cobblers (as good a name as Spotland, has to be said) got off to a lively start and Davis nearly scored a sensational solo goal after a 50-yard mazey run. Dale took the lead midway through the half when a corner wasn’t cleared and O’Grady woofed in the loose ball. It was end-to-end stuff with lots of chances and some tidy football. Dale nearly settled it in the second half when a header spun up from the bar and then Thompson's half-volley was charged down. At the other end Northampton continued to do their best to spoil the party as the match edged to an edgy conclusion.

The four minutes of injury time seemed to last forever. By this stage we’d all amassed at the front of the stands, some even being allowed to encroach onto the pitch. Such a sensible approach by the stewards. Why spoil the fun – and just postpone the inevitable?

And on we rushed. As I’ve said before in this blog, there is something extraordinarily exciting and privileged about going onto the pitch. It’s like you’re seeing the place from the inside out. We waited for the lads to emerge in the directors box and sung along to “Wonderwall” on the PA. I stood beside a shaven-headed, bare-chested fella wearing a gold chain around his neck. He sported an equally bare-chested lady tattoeed on one pec and a full Rochdale crest on the other and dabbed at his eyes with his replica shirt.

“Dale are going up! Dale are going up! And now are you going to believe us?” Well, OK then.

Programme notes: Great programme especially the fans tales from the Dale invasion of Torquay. An impromptu match between rival fans was likened to the kickabout between the trenches on Christmas Day 1914 which I thought was stretching things just a tad. There was also a great Q&A with the ultimate non-glory hunting fan. Step forward one Jarle Gunstad from Norway who took to supporting Dale when they narrowly missed being voted out of the league in 1978. Daresay he’s disappointed they’ve now gone up. The Norwegian branch of the Rochdale supporters club has 25-30 members, Jarle reports.

Fashion notes: The goalies looked like highlighter pens. Dale’s sported fluorescent orange and Northampton’s a similarly gaudy hue of green.

Optional extras: Well observed story here (from The Guardian) about Rochdale’s season. And below is  a good film of the pitch invasion from the opposite end to where I stood. Start watching from about 2:15.

1 comment:

John said...

Great post as always - particularly like the chap with his shirt off, tattoos and tears. Favourite bit is the video with the chant "The Dale are going oop" - it's nice to hear an accent in a chant, rarely comes through.