It is true that Rochdale are not and have never been a great team. Not only are they dwarfed by their venerable neighbours from along the M62, but they have no past glories to draw upon like Preston, Burnley or the recently revived Blackburn. Throughout their eighty-eight year history, Rochdale have never won a thing (unless you include the Lancashire Senior Cup in 1949 and 1971) and seem established as a permanent resident of the Third Division.
But of course I did not choose Rochdale, I had mediocrity thrust upon me. My Father was a dedicated regular at Spotland and in his younger days, on moving south, kept in touch by going to local away games. My earliest football memories therefore are of Dale games at Griffin Park and the Valley, and occasionally on trips back to the north, those first visits to Spotland.
My heroes at the time never gained entry into football's Hall of Fame. But those were impressionable years and unbeknown to me, I was being indoctrinated and primed for years of disappointment and frustration. Try as I did to submit to peer pressure, something inside me resisted the allure of the "in" clubs of the time. My Rochdale sports bag was incongruous in the corridors of a Bedford school but at least I was being individual and if the going got too tough, the printing was only on one side.
As I got older, Spotland seemed much smaller, no longer the vast arena of my childhood memories, but a modest, neat, tidy little ground with an unpretentious charm of its own. But by then it was too late, I had contracted a particularly virulent strain of the Rochdale bug.
On moving to Glasgow, the full extent of my eccentricity became even more apparent. At least in Scotland, you knew that when someone said "Rochdale! Who the hell are they?", they meant it and were not just rudely feigning ignorance.
I got regular satisfaction from turning up for weekly five-a-side donning my 88-89 Dale shirt with the logo of the club sponsors on the front. Oh yes, the "All-in-One Garden Centre" complete with watering can was always certain to get a few laughs on the astro-turf.
Spotland has changed in the last few years. There is a new stand and plans for another to be built. The old spion kop is grassed over and the ground is shared with the Hornets rugby league team. Consequently, by the end of the season the pitch resembles a ploughed field: not exactly conducive to good football and therefore a factor that ought to favour Rochdale.
The club shop sells anything from key-rings to match videos of a rather homely quality: I have a particular favourite of Dale thrashing Lincoln 5-1 in 1992 which includes a sensational goal by Andy Flounders (pounds 80,000 of pure class who lobbed the goalkeeper from the half-way line).
In my dreams, Rochdale would be bought by a Jack Walker figure who would enable them to soar up the league into the Premiership in consecutive seasons and then win the European cup in glorious style. If this happened then I would not even mind if I were wrongly accused - on account of my Home Counties accent - of jumping on the Rochdale bandwagon. Failing that, a few seasons in the Second Division would be lovely.
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