Saturday 19 April ~
A while ago an article in WSC included Rochdale in a short list of clubs who were said to be perennial Division Four strugglers. This produced an angry response from a Rochdale-supporting reader who pointed out that it had been several years since their last poor season. The club have indeed been solid performers in what is now League Two for a while, with the exception of one struggling year in 2003-04. They reached the playoff semi finals for the first time in 2001-02 and are odds-on to repeat the feat this year, with the consequent prospect of a first-ever trip to Wembley. Victory over Morecambe today would even give them an outside chance of automatic promotion for only the second time.
Without wanting to provoke that letter-writer, it can be safely said that Rochdale have been the least successful of the traditional Lancashire town teams. And that they endured an especially grim time in the 1970s, travails that provided the basis for a highly-acclaimed book whose title was taken from a translation of the Latin motto on the club badge, Believe In The Sign. (See book review in WSC 242). The team seemed to be stuck in the mire again just over a year ago with home crowds dropping below 2,000, a 5-0 victory at Darlington being offset by a 7-1 defeat in their next away match, at Lincoln. But the dismissal of unpopular manager Steve Parkin in January 2007 had a revolutionising effect. Under new manager Keith Hill, they recorded another two 5-0 wins, plus a 7-2 at Stockport in which they were four goals up after 15 minutes. All but one of those big victories came when Rochdale were in the bottom half, although they eventually finished ninth.
A storming run of seven wins in the last nine this season has propelled Rochdale up to fifth. They are also League Two's top scorers in away games, in a statistically odd season with ten clubs recording more away victories than home. If they do win promotion this season - 1968-69 being the only previous time - it will be a fitting end to the club's centenary season, which has been marked by wearing a version of their original kit.
The club has apparently decided to return to the usual blue for next season, albeit in a version that supporters aren't happy with. Black and white stripes haven't proved to be a winning combination for English clubs in modern times. Newcastle's last major trophy came in the same season as Rochdale's only promotion, 1968-69, while Notts County are still in danger of relegation from the League. The League Two play-off final on May 24 may yet provide an opportunity for that kit hoodoo to be broken.