RICHARD FOAD explains his lifelong love for an unfashionable club...
I’VE been asked the question headlining this article many times over the years after professing my support for the Lancashire club, usually accompanied with a slight squeak of disbelief.
The fact I live 275 miles away from the town and have no obvious links only adds to the incredulity. If I’d purported to follow Manchester United or Liverpool then this would be accepted without question, albeit with ill-concealed mutterings of ‘plastic’. But Rochdale?
It was the late 70s when I first started to take an interest in football. I lived in Newarkon-Trent at the time so there was no local league club factor when it became time to pick a team to ‘support’.
The old cliche that ‘You don’t choose your team, you inherit it’ might have come into play here and both my dad (Tottenham) and mum (Manchester United) followed teams that represented a chance of considerable reflected glory. At the time, Liverpool were sweeping all before them so were the fashionable team for my playground pals.
I was already developing what would become a lifetime affiliation for the underdog though. Scouring the league tables after each season, my eyes were drawn to the foot of Division Four and one team who appeared there year after year, mostly hanging on to their Football League status by a thread after surviving the dreaded re-election.
Something about this haphazard existence appealed to me more than any glittering haul of trophies ever could. I had chosen my team, and it would be Rochdale.
Of course this represented considerable difficulties when it came to actually watching my team of choice. Whilst humouring (if not actually understanding) my new found enthusiasm for the Dale, my dad wasn’t about to start taking me on the three-hour round trip across the Pennines to see them in action. When we moved nearly 300 miles away to Brighton what seemed improbable became impossible and I resigned myself to following my heroes from afar.
In the pre-internet/Sky Sports days of the 80s, this meant Final Score on Grandstand and for midweek games Ceefax and the interminable wait for page 310 to refresh itself so I would be able to see if Andy Flounders had managed to snatch a last minute equaliser at Halifax (he hadn’t).
Like a lot of long distant romances, I had my head turned by others and there were brief flirtations with closer, more accessible, teams, but ultimately I remained loyal.
It wasn’t until 1990 that I eventually got my first taste of live action against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup at Selhurst Park (the Dale going down 1-0 in the archetypal ‘plucky’ lower league performance) during Palace’s run to that year’s final. My accent may have bore closer resemblance to South London than broad Lancastrian that day but I sung my