Tears and toil in the twilight zone; BOOK OF THE WEEK

Kicking In The Wind The real life drama of a small-town football club by Derick Allsop (Headline, pounds 14.99)
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The Independent Online
This entertaining and evocative book will doubtless sell well in one small town near Manchester - but will it be of interest to anyone who does not happen to support Rochdale FC? The answer should be a resounding "yes", because this is a tale of the real, down-to-earth world of professional football, far removed from the glamour of the Premiership.

Kicking In The Wind by Derick Allsop, a journalist who covers motor racing and football for this newspaper, follows the fortunes of Rochdale throughout the 1995-96 season, which started with rare optimism for a club which have not been promoted since 1969. They were as high as third place in October, but slid gently down to finish in 15th position.

Perhaps mercifully, we are spared kick-by-kick accounts of most of the season's matches - although there are exceptions. An FA Cup third-round tie at Liverpool (a 7-0 thrashing) is an obvious one, less so an Auto Windscreens Shield fixture at Chesterfield, when Allsop travels on the supporters' coach (there is only one, and it is not full) across the Pennines.

Instead, we hear (at length, with large chunks of direct quotes) from the key men within the club. The chairman, Dave Kilpatrick, a former undertaker, is under no illusions about life in the Third Division. "The club is in a deep, deep mess," he says. "Two weeks ago we ran out of money, but something was sorted out to pay the wages... We are penniless but it's not all doom and gloom. We have some players, we have a pitch to play on. We just don't have any money."

That never-ending problem forces Rochdale to travel to Torquay and back in a day. "What a complete and utter waste of time that was," Kilpatrick declares after arriving back at Spotland at 3.40am. "Stuck in traffic, didn't do anything properly, the game was crap, we lost and came back home."

There are some more light-hearted episodes. Paul Adams, a YTS player, is accused by the senior players of not trying in training, and is made to lap the pitch, naked except for a coating of boot polish, pursued by two team-mates wielding belts. "It was snowing when they made me run round the pitch with nothing on," Adams recalls. "I put my Santa hat on and just got on with it."

The central character, though, is the manager: Mick (son of Tommy) Docherty. For most of the campaign, it seems he is held in high regard by almost everyone. He is allowing the fans to dream of promotion, and is popular with his players for treating them like adults. Yet he is sacked at the end of the season, and not just because of results. As Allsop explains: "His friendship with Joyce Pickles, who supplies the club kit, ended abruptly and bitterly when she discovered his affections had been diverted towards her 21-year-old daughter, Alison." It's a funny old game.

Rupert Metcalf