Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fan Files: Rochdale

Here at Soccer AM/MW, we like to believe we're the voice of lower league fans. Of course, in reality, we're probably not.

However, we do like to gauge what's really happening in the lower divisions, so what better way to find that out than ask the people who know best - the fans themselves.

In the first of a new series, we get the inside information on what life is really like in League Two, and who would know better than a Rochdale supporter.

Jon Hudson has been following the Dale for 15 years. He ranks the play-off semi final win
on penalties over Darlington in 2008, which took them to Wembley for the first time, as the greatest moment supporting his team.

The 2003/4 season holds less fond memories though as, after defeat to relegation rivals Macclesfield, and with struggling York having two games in hand, the Lancashire club were staring relegation to the Conference in the face.

Of course, they survived, and are now embarking on their 36th consecutive season in the basement division.

So then Jon, what's it like never having seen your team win promotion or be relegated? There must be a good percentage of Dale fans who've never seen either?

It is strange actually, because most other football fans have experienced the emotions that come with both situations. I wouldn't know how to approach a new season going into a new division because everything I have ever known has been geared towards League Two football.

You would need to be at least 40 to remember the last time we changed divisions, which is amazing really, so you would think that at least a quarter of Dale fans have never seen us in a different division.

What's it like seeing sides like Hull in the Premier League, and Plymouth and Scunthorpe in the Championship? These were sides you were playing regularly not so long ago?

Again, it is a bit odd because, as you say, we were playing these sides every year for a long time. It does make you a bit jealous, but the reality is that Hull and Plymouth are far bigger clubs than ourselves and always had much more potential.

I suppose we should be looking at what Scunthorpe have achieved in trying to become a side that can challenge at the top end of League One, but I can't see it happening any time soon!

Re-developed, but Spotland has been a
basement division ground since 1974

League Two has a reputation for being a division of cloggers and ruffians, is that fair and accurate?

I think that would have been fair about 15 years ago. When I started supporting Rochdale all that seems to stick in my mind is rock hard centre backs that just hoofed anything that came near them as far as possible!

Our average age was probably just over 27, and full of journeymen. If you look through our team today you find a squad of young, very technically gifted players and over recent years this approach seems to be gaining popularity as a new breed of manager seems to be appearing.

If you look at the likes of Andy Scott, Jim Gannon, our own Keith Hill, and even Alan Knill at Bury, everyone seems to carry such a fresh modern approach to things, which is good to see.

The division seems to be a mix of stars of the future, and stars of days gone by. Any names stand out that you never expected to see Dale playing against, or who you never expected to make it big?

I think the most high profile player that I ever saw at Spotland has to be Peter Beardsley when he played for Hartlepool at the end of his career.

I remember it creating interest at the time, although he obviously didn't add many onto the 1,943 crowd at ours! Paul Gascoigne joining Boston was another big surprise, although he didn't play against us.

There have been a few transfers from this division which I have questioned, to be honest.

The most recent one is Reuben Reid to West Brom. He is a good player, but his attitude has always been in question and I would have never had him down as Premier League standard, which is obviously what they are aiming for at the Hawthorns.

I also never expected to see Patrick McCourt (right) make it after he left us, but credit to him. He went home and got his life back together and is now playing for Celtic! I saw him playing for them in the Wembley Cup in pre-season and he went on a trademark mazy run past four Spurs defenders. I'd love to see him break into the side and do really well there.

So, back to the current day, and what about your manager, Keith Hill, tell us about him. He doesn't seem to have put a foot wrong since he took charge?

It's funny how things can turn out sometimes. I had my doubts when he was appointed, how often do you see the usual honeymoon, but after two 4-0 wins, how can you not give the guy the job full time?

The second half to the 2006/7 season was the best football we have ever played, in my opinion. We just went into every game with no pressure and scored so many goals it was untrue. To go from second bottom to just missing out on a play-off space in 23 games is amazing.

The pressure was on us to achieve in our centenary season, and it would have been easy to revert to typical Rochdale, but Hill put together a great squad and took us to Wembley for the first time in our history - and all in his first full season as a manager.

Again, the pressure was on after the play-off final defeat, but we went again and finished in the top seven in successive seasons for the first time since the 1940s.

He will have a tougher job this year as budgets have been cut, but he has to go down as our best manager ever for me. What he has done throughout this club has been absolutely first class.

Rochdale boss Keith Hill has enjoyed great success in Lancashire

So, after a couple of recent misses, could this finally be Rochdale's year for promotion?

If I'm honest, no, I don't think we will get promoted this season. The cut in the playing budget has left us thin in terms of numbers, but we still have a quality starting line-up.

However, the sale of Adam Le Fondre has left us short of a quality finisher, and we are still looking for a replacement for Glenn Murray. I still think we will be top half, but can't see us pulling up any trees this time around.

Any other tips for League Two this season? Sides you expect to struggle or succeed? And which teams have impressed you to date?

Well, I don't think I'm going to surprise many people with my tips here.

It's looking like Notts County are just going to have too much quality in the long run. I didn't think they would actually start that well with so many new players, but they just have so much money that surely they can't make a mess of it, although questions still remain over their manager Ian McParland for me.

Again no surprises, but Accrington are going to be in for another long, hard season. With their crowds and low budget they've done well to stay here for three seasons, but I think this time is going to be one too far.

So far I have personally seen Port Vale, Aldershot, and Cheltenham, and haven't been impressed with any of them. In fact, if we hadn't been missing that slight cutting edge, we'd have comfortably beaten all three of them.

So finally then, Jon, tell us, what's the best thing about being a Rochdale supporter?

It might sound odd, but I think it has to be our uniqueness in never moving anywhere. It is our unique selling point and sets us apart from other small league clubs.

We are a small bunch of fans, but very loyal and with a good sense of humour, and there is just the pride in following our home town team that is very unsuccessful but has achieved simply by surviving.

I believe that if we do achieve that elusive promotion it will mean far more to us than it would to the supporters of any other club.

Jon, thanks very much for your time.

Soccer AM/MW would also like to thank Jon for his expert IT skills in creating the banners which adorn the top of this blog.

If you'd like to represent your club in The Fan Files, get in touch with us.

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