Monday 26 May ~
Today's League Two play-off finalists Rochdale and Stockport have plenty in common. The towns are less than 20 miles apart in an area chockfull of professional football clubs, including seven Premier League sides. Both have young managers who recently played for their respective clubs. And both sets of fans will be tired of hearing about how this is a rare moment in the limelight for their clubs. In fact, Stockport were in the Championship as recently as six years ago after more than a decade of upward mobility. And while it's true that Rochdale, in their centenary season, have only ever been promoted once before, as manager Keith Hill says: “I'm sick of hearing about the history of the club and what we haven't done. It's all about today.”
Having said that, supporters of both sides will surely have been reflecting yesterday on the possibility of upcoming fixtures against a club from the other side of the Pennines. Whoever goes up will get the chance to play Leeds next season. Rochdale have only ever played two cup ties against them while Stockport had three seasons of League fixtures – but the last of these was in 1923-24.
Should Stockport win, the broadcaster of the final may find experience some difficulty in obtaining post-match reaction from their manager. Jim Gannon refused to talk to Sky in the build-up to the game in protest over a delay in repairing a digibox at his home. And he was in any case less than enamoured of them. “I think people will be surprised how good the football will be,” Gannon has said, while also extolling Rochdale's “great young side”. Stockport, with an average age of 21-and-a-half, will start the day as marginal favourites having finished ahead of their opponents in the regular League season and, more significantly, having done the double over them.
The Stockport manager took charge when they were bottom of the League, while Rochdale were only three places better off at the time of Keith Hill's promotion from youth-team coach in December 2006. Since then they have lost only 17 out of 72 games while the manager has acquired a nickname, the Baldy Mourinho. Rochdale's chairman seems to be considering the prospect of losing Hill and his assistant Dave Flitcroft this summer should the team get promoted today, but even that might be bearable if it means that the club have finally shaken off their tag of being the longest occupiers of the basement division.