Ground #: 48
Competition: English League 2
Kick Off: 3pm
Northampton Town 0
(Rochdale are promoted)
Regular readers (or followers, no idea what you called someone who frequently reads this – if there are any!) will know that my other footballing friends at university support AFC Wimbledon, Spurs and Rochdale. Having seen a Wombles game in November and a Spurs game in March it was time to complete the treble with a trip to a Rochdale game, but not just any game, the game that could see Dale’s 41 year wait in Level 4 of the English League Pyramid come to an end with a promotion to League 1. My Dale supporting friend was obviously quite nervous when we made the hour drive to Rochdale down the M65 to see this vital game against a team who were chasing play-offs after relegation from League 1 last season.
Rochdale is a large market town in Greater Manchester which lies in the foothills of the Pennines NE of Manchester. As historically part of Lancashire, its history is dominated by the Industrial Revolution as a major mill town and a centre for textile manufacture. Rochdale was one of the first industrialized towns and the Rochdale Canal was a major route of commerce used for haulage until 20th Century when the decline of industrialized industries began hitting towns and cities hard, Rochdale included. Today, Rochdale is home of the Co-Operative Movement, which now is across many industries such as Retail, Banking and even Funeral services. Not much else I can say about ‘Dale, maybe I’ll mention that Rochdale was the birthplace of Lisa Stansfield and we’ll move on. When we arrived at Spotland, after a short detour to my mate’s house, there was a sense of expectation around the ground that THIS could be the day that Dale finally secure promotion. Even the media were ready for the party, BBC Football League Show presenter Mark Clemmit was even at the ground (picture below) ready for a possible promotion party.
Spotland has been mentioned by other people who have visited here as one of the best grounds in the Football League and with 3 decent seated stands and one terraced, it is a pretty cosy ground that could be expanded if need be (probably not) as all four corners could be built in. We were in the Twaites Beer Stand – behind one goal and the only non-seating stand in the ground. But what of the home team, why have they been languishing in Division 4 (then Division 3, then League 2) for so long? Mainly, because they are England’s worst professional (or at least, least successful professional team). Only one national cup final appearance, which was in 1962, where they promptly lost the League Cup final 3-2 to Norwich City. Dale under Keith Hill have been more successful, where in 2007/2008, they reached the play-off final but lost, 3-2 again to Stockport County, and last season, Gillingham dumped them out the play-offs at the semi-final stage. However, this season they have romped away in the league, and were leading the league until a late wobble has seen Notts County overtake them, who also could go up on the day as they played Morecambe at home. Dale fans, I don’t think, care that much as if you offered them promotion in any form in August, they would have snatched your hands off.
The team who were looking to stop the promotion party were Northampton Town who after relegation from League 1 last season were looking to bounce straight back up through the play-offs and went into this game in 10th place, but only 2 points off a play-off position. Dale could have secured promotion the previous Tuesday when they took on Blue Square bound Darlington at home, but in front of a season high 5,371 spectators, crashed to a 0-1 defeat. In this game, Keith Hill’s men were looking to stop a rot of 4 games without a win where they hadn’t scored a goal in those 4 games either. This also included a 0-5 raping at Torquay which I very nearly attended, but in the end couldn’t be bothered. At kick-off there was a very good atmosphere, also helped by a fairly decent travelling contingent of Cobblers who were put in the corner of the Westrose Leisure Stand and made a fairly decent noise now and then.
It was Northampton who adapted quicker to the game as Dale still looked quite nervy as the Cobblers resorted to long range shots in an effort to beat on loan Dale goalie Frank Fielding. However, they went extremely close as Liam Davis ran at a static Dale defence took on both centre backs, won and then rounded goalie Fielding but put his shot into the side netting from a tight angle. Steve Guinan and chubbster Kevin Thornton also went close to efforts outside the box, but after this Dale looked to be getting a foothold into the game and began impressing, especially Kallum Higginbotham down the left wing. Dale then won a corner on 23 minutes after more good work by Higginbotham and although Tom Kennedy’s corner was woeful, the first defender only managed to clear it behind him and into the path of Joe Thompson. His shot was weak, but this allowed Chris O’Grady to turn on it and smash the ball into the roof of the net past on loan ‘Hampton goalie Jason Steele and send Spotland into dreamland. Dale then had more good chances when Chris Dagnall and his “bulldog like energy” (FIFA 10 joke there) managed to force Steele into two good saves as Dale went into HT 1-0 up.
The 2nd half was always going to be more nervous when Dale only had a 1 goal lead and 41 years of near misses to call upon too and Northampton didn’t disappoint as they began to have a go at Dale, but were still, on the whole, restricted to long range efforts. The ground and Dale team began to get nervous, except for one man, Dale goalie Frank Fielding who seemed to cope with everything ‘Hampton threw at him and even had time to spill a shot and watch quite relaxed as his defence got it away. Dale nearly had a 2nd late on in a half of little action as Chris O’Grady and his porn-star ‘tache went on a barnstorming run and while his weak, deflected shot was well saved by Steele, his header looped over the goalie but only landed on the bar, before Thompson’s shot was blocked and went out for a corner. In the end, Northampton had given up on trying to equalize and Dale began to celebrate as even a Northampton equalizer would have sent them up anyway as Rotherham were only drawing 0-0 at home to Cheltenham. At the final whistle, it was pitch invasions galore, as Rochdale had finally done it. A Level 3 team next season in League 1. LEAGUE 1 (just for my Dale supporting friend)
This game was certainly not a classic, but these nervy promotion encounters never are, and will Rochdale fans care? No. I won’t speculate where they will be playing next season, although ex Premiership side Southampton and local rivals Oldham are definates at the moment. It was also great to see the team celebrate on the Main Stand after the final whistle and released all the tension that had been building up in recent weeks. It was a pleasure to come to Rochdale and see their promotion party. Northampton weren’t great and credit to their boss Ian Sampson admitting that his side didn’t deserve anything as their play-offs hopes to a huge blow. A few final thoughts, unlike Carlisle fans who were already on the pitch before the final whistle went for their invasion last season, Dale fans were extremely well behaved as one steward had an easy job keeping a whole stand at bay, fair play to them. The pitch was dreadful, although as the rugby league season has kicked off, Rochdale Hornets probably aren’t helping matters by playing on it. Finally, another well done to Dale, I’ll make a provisional promise to see them in League 1 at least once next season, although god knows where as I still have no idea what part of the country I’ll be in for the 2010/11 season!
A song, “THE ROCHDALE DIVISION, IT NEEDS A NEW NAME! IT NEEDS A NEW NAME! THE ROCHDALE DIVISION, IT NEEDS A NEW NAME!”
- Match: 5/10 (not a classic, but expected)
- Value for money: 7.5/10 (£9 is great, although I’m not 19… ;) )
- Ground: 7/10 (great FL ground)
- Atmosphere: 9/10 (after 41 years of nothing, it was never going to be quiet was it?)
- Food: 7/10 (best non-Scotch pie I’ve had all season)
- Programme: 6/10 (fair enough effort)
- Referee: Andy Haines – 4.5/10 (must have had draw on his coupon)