These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the National League South in a swanky new ground. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Day Out In Spotland

Published in the Slough Town programme v Billericay Ryman Premier League 16th April 2005

I've always had a soft spot for Rochdale. As a young boy, they always seemed in need of my 'support'. Along with Hartlepool, Southport and Workington Town they were the worst clubs in the league. Lucky for them, in those days before the Conference and automatic relegation, the old boys network usually voted for the league club to be re elected and the non league upstarts to stay where they were. Otherwise, history right now might find Rochdale in the Conference - or like Workington – even lower down the feeder leagues.

So finding myself in Manchester last weekend, having to go to synagogue for an 'auf-ruf ' (which means 'calling up' the groom, who speaks at the service a week before his wedding) I was asked by 'Uncle Steve' if I wanted to go to see Rochdale play after the service. I jumped at the chance.

Steve used to live in Leeds where he'd supported United during the Don Revie era and all the success that brought, but when he moved to Rochdale in the seventies ‘the Dale’ became his club. He’s been supporting them ever since, going to most home games and at least half the away games. Despite Old Trafford being just down the road, he seldom goes, recently turning down tickets to see Real Madrid for a mid week match against Peterborough - that was eventually called off!

Rochdale are still one of the leagues most unsuccessful clubs. They have only been promoted once, and that was over 35 years ago (although recently they have been in the play offs twice) But with average gates of around three thousand and one of the smallest budgets in the league they still manage to operate in the black.

Infact one of the only things Rochdale have ever won is best club in the land in Four-Four-Two magazine for friendliest, food, ground., programme etc. As one opposition supporter put it “I would say that Spotland in my book, is one of the best footballing days out in the country. Friendly and knowledgeable fans, good stewards, good facilities, three pubs located at the ground, a great range of pies on offer and not a bad atmosphere to boot.” I must admit on my trip I was impressed. Their tidy ground has been done up over the past 10 years, still has some standing terracing behind one goal and is covered four ends (and it needs to be, with the rain frequently coming off the Penines to soak people; whereas last week we were lapping up the sun watching Slough, today was freezing and of course wet).

To make ends meet, Rochdale have to be a proper community football club. Kids accompanied by adults get in for a quid (and can get a season ticket for just £23) and the family stand was heaving with them (and I didn't hear a single swearword). A group of school kids appeared on the pitch at half time to get the message of road safety across. There was a collection for Childline. They run Football in the Community and Centre of Excellence schemes. Like Slough they've got a Supporters Trust (currently 276 members) who help raise money, but frankly their set up and facilities are a million miles away from us (even compared to our Wexham Park days).

Steve gave me his season ticket and bought me a programme because I was his guest and supporting Slough made me a "proper football supporter". And there’s the rub at this level. We all know about the friendliness of most non league clubs, and some of us can remember that supporters of those league clubs joining the Conference had a serious chip on their shoulder. Not so Rochdale. Take a recent game against Scarborough in the LDV Cup that was called off. As Steve approached the ground, he could see two glum looking lads who told him they had travelled up from Yeovil. So he took them into the clubhouse, they met the directors and players, which helped to make up for their long and wasted journey.

Steve’s five minutes of fame is being featured on Sky News who were doing piece on why people support unsuccessful clubs. But as he told me "The only difference about Premiership and watching Rochdale is the level of skill, everything else; the controversy, excitement etc is still the same whether it’s park football or premiership."

And the game? Well they won 2-0 against a poor Leyton Orient side, which puts them with a distant shout of the play offs. My trip to Spotland has rekindled my strange liking of the club, and i'll once again be checking for their result every Saturday evening, hoping that for dedicated supporters like Steve that a bit of success for them is just around the corner.