League Two Football #12 – Rochdale

As I type my side Gillingham have just won back to back games for the first time in two years.  It was also the first time that they had won away from home all season.   This sudden upturn in form, is thanks largely to some long overdue investment from new American owners.  It has seen Gillingham move off the bottom of the football league, they now sit 23rd in League Two.  The team replacing them at the bottom of the league are Rochdale.   JC, from the new vinyl villain, is a big Rochdale fan and he has been kind enough to offer up a guest contribution on the team this week.  So grab yourself a coffee, get comfy because this is epic – here’s JC.

I’ll begin with a huge apology for the fact that this piece is far too long and self-indulgent.  But I couldn’t do it justice otherwise.

Growing up in Glasgow, I had absolutely no reason to develop a soft-spot for Rochdale AFC, or ‘Dale’ as I’ll call them from now on.  The fact that I did led to a great deal of serendipity in my later life.

1973.  I’d be 10 years old.  For the past four years, my dad had been taking me to watch Celtic.  They were our local team. In fact, I was born in a hospital less than half-a-mile from the stadium.  Celtic in the late 60s/early 70s was an extraordinarily great side who seemed to win just about every week.  I loved it.  But at the same time, there was something in my brain that suggested I should look out for a team that wasn’t so successful. Dale fitted the bill perfectly.

In 1973/74, they were in the old Third Division in England and they ended it, not just rooted in 24th and last place, but miles away from ever being secure from relegation.  The record shows they won just 2 games out of 46.  Until a few months ago, I had no idea just how bad the season was until I read a book called ‘The Longest Winter’ by Mark Hodkinson, a writer and columnist for many years across numerous UK broadsheet newspapers, in which he tells the in-depth story of ‘A Season with England’s Worst Ever Football Team.’  It’s a brilliant read, as much a social history of the decline of the mill town on the outskirts of Manchester as it is about a particular football season.

Dale went down to the 4th Division. They stayed there for the next 36 seasons, the longest any team has ever been in the bottom division of the Football League, and with there now being automatic relegation to non-league level, it’s a record unlikely ever to be broken.

I revelled in the fact that my English team was so bad. Not once did they ever look like getting promoted and more often than not, they had to seek re-election from the chairmen of their fellow clubs to avoid the fates that had visited Bradford Park Avenue (1970), Barrow (1972), Workington (1977) and Southport (1978). It truly was grim up north.

Now to the serendipity.

In 1981, I went to University where I befriended a fellow student on my course called Ronnie Coyle.  I knew of him as he was also a footballer who was on the books of Celtic and had played for their reserve team at the age of 17.  He actually tried to deny he and the footballer were the same person but I wasn’t to be fooled.  We quickly became best friends, albeit Ronnie dropped out at the end of 1st Year to go full-time at Celtic and try and break into the first team. 

He never quite made it, although he played two matches for the first team and captained the reserves to a number of league and cup wins.  In 1987, he decided to leave Celtic and was transferred to Middlesbrough for £25,000.  He couldn’t break up the centre-half partnership at the club which consisted of club legend Tony Mowbray and future England star Gary Pallister.  After a few months, Ronnie accepted an offer to move to Rochdale where he was installed as club captain.  I couldn’t have been happier!

He was only there for a year.  He wanted to come back to Scotland and to marry his childhood sweetheart, Joan, who was now making a career for herself in the lucrative world of medical sales.  He signed for Raith Rovers in January 1988, and within a couple of years, I had given up entirely on Celtic and went to watch the Rovers every single week – something I’m still doing 35 years after he signed.

In November 1994, I went on a long-planned holiday to Antigua with my wife.  Little did I know when the booking was made that the holiday would come to clash with Raith Rovers, who were then a team in the second tier of Scottish football, making it to the League Cup Final where they would play Celtic.  I tried my best to change the holiday, but it was too expensive to do so, and there was no way I could simply cancel it.

These were the days before mobile phones, the internet and fast information about football games being played thousands of miles away.  I took to the Antiguan beach on Sunday 27 November 1994 in my Rovers shirt.  I got speaking to a fellow holiday maker called Ian and explained what was happening.  The only way I could find out how the game was going was to either call back to the UK from the hotel room (far too expensive) or walk about half-a-mile to the nearest bar with a public phone. 

Ian kindly agreed to come to the bar where we spent a late morning/early afternoon with me calling my mum back in Glasgow every 20 minutes or so to ask for progress.  Rovers, in a huge surprise, won the cup beating Celtic on penalties after a 2-2 draw in a game when we scored a very late equaliser.  Ian helped me through that day, getting quietly drunk with me before heading back to the beach where our wives were wondering why we had been gone so long.  My singing from a few hundred yards away night just have given the game away.

Ian was from Rochdale and a regular on the terraces at Spotland Stadium. He remembered my pal Ronnie from his short spell with the club.  It was kind of surreal.

Ronnie, sadly, passed away in 2011 at the age of 46 from leukaemia.  I was one of the coffin-bearers and read a eulogy at the service.  I still miss him every day.  Ian is still a very good friend, and indeed I was his best man when he re-married in his late 60s a few years ago; his first wife Iris, who I had of course met in Antigua, had died very suddenly a from an aneurysm in 2016. 

So that’s why I’ve so much fondness for Rochdale AFC and why I asked SWC if I could get the honour of contributing to this great series.  Again, I’ll offer apologies that it’s such a long read.

Musically, Rochdale is best known as home to Gracie Fields, the best-selling singer of the late 1920s and 30s who also made a name for herself as an actress.  A little-known fact is that she was born as Gracie Stanfield.  Which brings us nicely to the second-best known singer to come out of Rochdale.

Lisa Stansfield – All Around The World (1989, Arista Records, Taken from ‘Affection’)

A #1 hit in 1989. Lisa Stansfield had first came to a wider attention as lead vocalist on this club classic

Coldcut – People Hold On (1989, Tommy Boy Records, Taken from ‘What’s That Noise’)

In a career that was still going as recently as 2018 in terms of new material, Lisa is reckoned to have sold over 20 million albums. 

If you go to the neighbouring town of Middleton, (which forms part of what is known administratively as Greater Rochdale), you’ll find it has been home to some indie bands over the years– The Chameleons, Courteeners and Mock Turtles.  More importantly, it was where the frontman of this lot was brought up.

The Wedding Present – Brassneck (1989, RCA Records, Taken from ‘Bizarro’)

Yup.  David Gedge was born in West Yorkshire but his family moved to Middleton when he was a kid (so he qualifies under the BRMC South Devon Clause – SWC).  I’m sure as a teenager that he roamed the streets of Rochdale looking for things to do, and I’m willing to bet he found his way to Kenion Street.  

You see, there’s a blue plaque attached to a building on Kenion Street, Rochdale.  It informs passers-by that it is the site of the former Cargo Studios, which opened in 1978.  Hundreds of bands passed through its doors over the years, including just about every act to emerge out of Manchester, Liverpool and the wider north-west in the late 70s through to when it closed in 2001, by which time it was known as Suite 16 and was owned by Peter Hook, who happened to play on probably the most famous track ever recorded at Cargo:-

Joy Division – Atmosphere (1980, Sordide Sentimental Records, Taken from ‘Licht und Blindheit’)

For the new music aspect of Rochdale, the best I can offer up is this

The Sprats – Let’s Sail (2022, Unknown Label, Single)

The indie band have been described as potentially the next big thing to come out of Manchester, but two of the members come from Rochdale and two come from nearby Burnley. 

Oh, and back to the football to round things off. 

Dale finally got out of the bottom division in 2010 after 36 years.  It had, during that time, changed its name from Division 4, to the Third Division and then to League Two, but all the while being the fourth-tier of the English League.  The most surprising thing was that Dale got out by winning promotion to League One and not through relegation to the National League.  Dale lasted two years in League One before relegation in 2012 but somehow kept things together to win a promotion back up in 2014.  The stay in League One this time around lasted until 2021, which was unheard of.

It’s been a real struggle over the past two seasons, much of it caused by boardroom shenanigans and what proved in the end to be a successful effort to fight off a hostile takeover where much needed cash for the playing squad was diverted to pay legal costs as it all ended up in court. 

The team got off to a shocking start this season, failing to win any of their first nine games, but began to pick up a bit of form once October came round.  But just as hope seemed to spring eternal, the onset of 2023 has seen Dale fall back to the foot of the table and slipping out of touch with the sides above them. It will be a very sad day if they do go down to the National League (5th tier of English football) given that they have been a constant in the Football League since they first joined in 1921. History shows that clubs the size of Rochdale never find it easy to make their way back, and therefore, I have every right to be worried.

Rearranging The Flowers – A Pointless Whodunnit with musical interludes and 7 chapters – #7

(When the everything falls into place and the truth is revealed.  Probably.)

When I was sixteen I went to the police station to rat on a guy called Geoff who was handling all manner of stolen goods in exchange for various types of narcotics and cash.  If you needed say a car stereo (and back then you did need a car stereo) or a dozen bottles of paracetamol, then Geoff from the estate was your man.  Sadly for Geoff his little brother Alfie threatened to kick my head in after a particularly controversial game of Pom Pom. So I grassed his brother up.  The police told me that I would remain anonymous.  A week after his door got kicked in, an envelope full of dog turds got posted through my front door and my dad’s Renualt’s tyres got slashed.  I’ve always been wary of telling the Old Bill anything since then.

Don’t Tell Anyone – Colour Me Wednesday (2016, Doveton Records, Taken from ‘Anyone and Everyone EP’)

After the message from my wife I went home and sat there on the sofa not quite knowing what to do.  I idly picked at a sausage roll from the fridge and mulled the events of today over in my mind.  After a good hour or so or debating this I decided to write everything down.  Firstly I drew a mind map, I seen some boffins do this on in an episode of NCIS and they solved a twenty year old murder just by doing it, so I did that and when I finished it looked like I sneezed on a bit of paper and then scribbled on it.  

Where’s Your Head At? – Basement Jaxx (2001, XL Recordings, Taken from ‘Rooty’)

Then I wrote up my notes and left then on the kitchen table.  I sent my wife a message, asking her when she would be home (about eight she said).  I decided to tell her my story, from the bit where I was stuck on the roof, right up to the bit when I found out that Veronica had no idea that Kevin had a set of keys to Angela Finch’s house.  I was then going to deliver the note to the police station, as long as my wife thought it was a good idea.  I didn’t want more bags of dog poo pushed through the letterbox, saying that my letterbox is at the edge of my drive, so it would matter that much.

When I’d finished I slumped back on the sofa, exhausted and then glanced up at the clock it was a quarter to seven in the evening.  It was then I realised I had to return Angela’s keys to Kevin so that he could apparently feed the cats.    I grabbed my car keys and Angela’s keys and then left the house.

It is about a three minute drive to Kevin’s house.  He lives in a small thatched cottage about three doors up from the pub.  It has a massive cherry tree at the front and in the summer he sells bags of cherries for a pound a bag.  He has a noticeboard erected outside his house in which he usually advertises local events that the church is running.

I parked in the small car park at the back of the church and wandered down to Kevin’s.  I said a deliberately cheery “Hello” to an old guy called Eric who lives nearby and was unloading shopping bags from his car, just in case Kevin bludgeoned me death with a spanner.  Eric asked me “How I was diddling?” and then went back to his over packed Marks and Spencers bag.  One of them had a split in it and I feared for his pork roast.

If I Die – Biff Bang Pow (1987, Creation Records, Taken from ‘The Girl Who Runs the Beat Hotel’)

It was a nice evening, the sun was beginning to go down and there was some warmth in it, the rain of earlier had all gone.  I stopped just outside Kevin’s gate and took a few deeps breaths.  I sent my wife a quick text asking her if she could pick up some milk on her way home from the hospital (she is a nurse) and left a kiss and then I opened the gate and walked in.

I got about five paces, when Kevin opened the door and waved at me.  He was holding a drill at the time and I had several quick flashbacks to my mate Dean’s lounge in the mid nineties and us scaring ourselves stupid aged thirteen watching his dads stash of video nasties. 

I pulled the dinosaur keyring out of my pocket and as I did, my phone rang.

It was my wife.  I held my hand up to Kevin and turned my back.  Which I thought was a daft thing to do considering I thought he was a killer and he was armed with a battery operated drill.

“Hey” I said to my wife. 

“Hey” She said, “Can’t talk for long, it’s bedlam here, but just quickly.  I’ve just been talking with Angela Finch, her sister’s been taken in with a gastro…”

“What, hang on say that again” I said interrupting, and my wife repeated what she said, I span round and looked at Kevin, he was pretending not to listen on his doorstep.

 “Oh thank god” I whispered. 

“Her sister is very ill, darling” my wife snapped. 

“Oh, yes, I mean, doesn’t matter, carry on”.

Fresh Feeling – Eels (2001, Dreamworks Records, Taken from ‘Souljacker’)

My wife in her duties as a nurse had bumped into Angela Finch on the Ross Kemp Ward at the hospital and had a brief chat with her.  Her sister has been taken seriously ill with some sort of stomach issue and after all the pleasantries, she had reminded my wife that I had promised to sort out a wiring problem in her kitchen and that if I was going to do it tomorrow then I could get a key from Kevin, whose feeding the cats and let myself in.  I was also told that I could help myself to the ginger cake in the breadbin.  

Kevin walked past me and went and stuck something on his little noticeboard and I walked towards him. I looked at the notice as he stapled it to the board.

The Friends of St Andrews Church Present “Agatha Christie Night” was what it said. 

“Agatha Christie” I said and looked at him, my voice wobbling largely out of relief.

“Yeah, we are doing a version of ’Murder at the Vicarage’, I’m playing the killer.  All a bit of fun.  We were practising our lines today at the church.  Jean is playing my accomplice and my Ronnie is playing Miss Marple.  All a bit of fun.  You’ll come along won’t you.  Tickets are a fiver…?”

Oh Me, Oh My – James Yorkston (2019, Domino Records, Taken from ‘The Route to the Harmonium’)

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. And I promise never to do this again.

Thanks – The Wedding Present (1989, RCA Records, Taken from ‘Bizarro’)

The One Word Countdown – #21

You’ve got to pick some people up…..

Kennedy – The Wedding Present (1989, RCA Records, Taken from ‘Bizarro’)

Points 135

Succumbing to all the indie schmindie stereotypes that have already been (correctly) allocated to me – I owned ‘Bizarro’ on tape.  I know this because I exchanged a copy of Bananarama’s Greatest Hits for it in the Hempstead Valley Branch of Our Price in January 1991.  I’d been given the Bananarama cassette as a Christmas present from an aunt and whilst I will always argue that their version of ‘Venus’ is the definitive version, I wasn’t really a big fan.

Venus – Bananarama (1986, London Records, Taken from ‘True Confessions’)

I listened to ‘Bizarro’ a lot back then.  Largely because of ‘Kennedy’ (but also because of ‘Brassneck’ and the nine minute epic ‘Take Me’) and the tape suddenly begun to work its way around the kids at school who were indie minded.  I think there was a period of maybe five months when I had no idea who actually had my copy of ‘Bizarro’. The same thing happened in 1992 with my copy of ‘The Great White Wonder’ by the Pooh Sticks but not bizarrely my copy of the debut Birdland album.

I think everyone loves ‘Kennedy’, certainly I’ve met very few people who claim not to like it, you only have to say “Too much apple pie…” to people and you an see a wistfully haze cross their face as they are transported back to a time where furiously fast guitars that sound like they are on amphetamines was the thing to be listening to.

Actually talking of “too much apple pie…” that moment about half a second after David Gedge reluctantly (well he sounds reluctant…) sings it, when the bass comes in, growling like some huge monster with an empty stomach followed by guitars that so fast and furious that you seriously worry about the fingers of whoever is playing it, is one of my all time favourite moments in the history of music.  It is a song that never loses track of its melody and remains a joyous listen ever now some 33 years (!) after it was released.

There were a whole host of Wedding Present tracks that were considered for this rundown – including

Brassneck – The Wedding Present (1989, RCA Records, Taken from ‘Bizarro’)

Dalliance – The Wedding Present (1991, RCA Records, Taken from ‘Seamonsters’)

Three – The Wedding Present (1992, RCA Records Taken from ‘Hit Parade 1’)

It’s Monday, Lets Swear #8

Box Elder – Pavement (1989, Treble Kicker Records)

In 1989, in the middle of an English class, my friend Jason was asked to read a page or two from whatever Shakespeare book we were reading at the time. He ploughed in, giving it gusto and character. Suddenly, the teacher, a frightening old spinster held together by coffee, hairspray and tweed, stops him mid sentence and tells him he is reading the wrong page, “Pages 32, Chapter 3…” she snaps.

In four seconds, Jason went from being a slightly insignificant lad to being a shoo in for the next class captain because he just looked at the teacher and said “Oh, Fuck, sorry”, to gasps and generally gapes of amazement, I’m pretty sure one of the cool girls, moved her chair a foot closer to Jason. We all expected Jason to be thrown in the school dungeon for at least a week but the spinster barely batted an eyelash and asked him to carry on. Pandemonium ensued (silently), has she heard…? Was swearing now ok in the classroom?

With five minutes to go, the spinster told us to put down our books and she said “Many of you will be wondering, why I didn’t punish Jason for his cussing earlier” eager nods from the room, Nick, the class spanner, rubbed his hands expecting a very public dressing down for Jason. The spinster continued “It was because his swearing was unintentional and most importantly, like all forms of acceptable swearing, subtly unexpected, almost like Jason forgot where he was.” The spinster suddenly went up in everyone’s estimations, until three minutes later she gave us all an essay to do on the use of ‘Cussing and Cursing’ in ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

The swearing in ‘Box Elder’ by Pavement is brilliantly unexpected, coming at the end of a catchy chorus all about escaping a dead end town. It’s so well done that like Jason, Malkmus seems to have forgotten that the tapes are rolling. It’s brilliant because when he utters the curse, you know, just how awful life must be and that’s why he needs to go to Box Elder, MO. But its so fleeting so ambivalently done that it just makes you smile with pleasure.

‘Box Elder’ is taken from Pavement’s very first EP, the wonderful and if you can find a copy on vinyl, valuable, ‘Slay Tracks (1933 – 1969)’ and it marked the arrival of not only the band as one who are destined for greater things but also highlighted Malkmus’ talent as a songwriter.

Slay Tracks had four other songs on it, all of them are essential but ‘You’re Killing Me’ is probably the best of the bunch and of course, The Wedding Present made ‘Box Elder famous before Pavement really had a chance to but they left the swearing out.

You’re Killing Me – Pavement (1989, Treble Kicker Records)

Box Elder – The Wedding Present (1990, RCA Records)