What are the realistic ambitions for those outside the top half of the Premiership? Mark Hodkinson sums up his club's situation
The death knell, the clock striking midnight, the end of the world as we know it – this kind of rhetoric has shadowed my support of Rochdale FC since I first dunked a plastic fork in a tray of pie and peas at Spotland back in the 1970s. But for all the talk and creeping fog of pundit fatalism, we’re still here. And being here is OK, especially with a completely rebuilt ground and a team that mounts a routine but flawed promotion challenge on an annual basis. We might even, lordy lordy, escape the bottom division one day soon. We’ve been here 27 seasons now, a long time in hell.
By the very nature of my choice of football club (if it was indeed a choice), I am an optimist. I can’t accept that the lower two divisions form a ghetto surrounded by a mile-high fence. I wouldn’t lend my support to a club that I seriously believed would remain eternally anchored to its historical legacy of failure.
I believe a qualified form of egalitarianism was introduced into football about 15 years ago. When someone somewhere with money and influence deemed the game was about to get sexy, a system of grants and handouts levered clubs away from a sole reliance on gate money and the generosity of directors. Premiership clubs benefited the most, and by some distance, but the whole of the professional game was boosted.
Clubs that were run by people of integrity who were financially prudent and could manage the uneasy balance between speculation and consolidation thrived, relatively. We’re talking here about my club and others that have had even greater success while similarly under-supported: Stockport, Crewe, Grimsby etc. Sadly for the likes of Doncaster, Chester and, more recently, York City and Bury, the men required were not forthcoming.
Sure, the majority of kids in Rochdale still wear other clubs’ kits but enough walk about with “Carcraft” on their chest for them not to feel like the speckiest, fattest, weirdest kid on the block for daring to support their hometown club. This is a change in culture, the first evidence of a regeneration of support in 20 years. Perhaps the high ticket prices, monstrous traffic jams and the Groundhog Day of Man Utd v Arsenal has turned kids on to the joys of a local club for local people. Or maybe it’s just that football, any football, is cool-ish. Our attendances have doubled in the past 25 years, despite that booming death knell.
In five years’ time I hope to see Rochdale pushing for promotion to the First Division, maintaining the same steady development that has seen us to where we are today. We’ll only fall back if the directors – all sensible, pragmatic chaps – resign en bloc or blow a million on a 17-year-old Panamanian genius who turns out to be a lap dancer in baggy shorts pointed in our direction by a vengeful agent from Burnley. Not likely.
From WSC 182 April 2002. What was happening this month