For such an obviously group-orientated sport, football sometimes can be a very personal thing. It’s the excitement you feel when nobody else seems to care, the sense of satisfaction when your pre-match prediction becomes true, or, like yesterday, the overwhelming despair you felt when everyone else seems to accept defeat. These are all things only you can feel, and deep down it’s why you like watching the Dale.
Those pre-match texts you got from non-Dale friends and the resulting messages of “hard luck” afterwards make you aware of who you are. You are Rochdale to your mates – whenever they hear about the football club, it is you that they think of. And it feels good to know that you are connected in this way to RAFC. It is as though you actually embody the club.
Of course this all changes in the stadium, you aren’t one alone any more, you are one of many. And when you lose, you lose together; and yesterday we all lost.
One of the reasons I love the Dale is also one of the reasons I hate it; we are too nice. Yesterday the fans just seemed to accept defeat, at the end there was no trouble, just light applause. Was I the only one slightly annoyed by this? I don’t want to be the good guys, because good guys always finish last. I want to the bad guys for once, ruthlessly shoving aside teams with a mixture of gamesmanship and aggression. I want to be Man Utd for once, not us. But then again I hate Man Utd, and I love us. I think all of us left London with a mixture of feelings.
There remains a strong sense of optimism amongst fans. Everyone thinks “we’ll be there next season”. I prefer to go one better, I think we’ll be automatically promoted. This kind of softens the blow of Wembley defeat, our place in the final was by no means a fluke, and we lost to a team better than us. But, what if we weren’t to do well next year? What if we don’t get to Wembley again? I’d hate to think that our match yesterday was bigger than it felt.
Stockport deserved their win yesterday, they were stronger, passed better, and looked cohesive compared to Dale. I thought they played football in the “correct” manner, and were an attacking side despite playing with only one forward. In comparison, Rochdale threatened, but didn’t have the guile to be really incisive against a strong defence. We undoubtedly missed Perkins, but his replacement Ramsden was by no means awful. We were simply beaten by the better side, as we had twice before this season.
After 25 minutes, everything looked so rosy. Rory McArdle leapt ten feet into the air to head home a rare set-piece goal and thoughts turned to possible fixtures next year. This was far too early, and I still feel ashamed for thinking about Leeds and Leicester when there was still 65 minutes to play. But, we had scored at Wembley, and we were in front in what looked a tight match from early proceedings. Bearing in mind the previous four matches at Wembley had yielded four goals, I was hoping that one might have been enough. Alas, it was nowhere near enough.
The tone was set for an equaliser when Pilkington very nearly scored from a free kick. Not long after, a corner was conceded by Gary Jones and we failed to deal with it taken short. A ball came in and it seemed to bounce into the net without anyone moving – later we were told Nathan Stanton had the last touch, and we were at 1-1 again.
Still, we weren’t disappointed at half-time. It was an even first-half, and neither side deserved the lead. Ramsden was looking like a right-back playing midfield, but Jones was making up for him with a fantastic battling performance. Stockport were looking to play it into Dickinson’s feet and releasing the wide-men, whilst we were playing it to Higginbotham and Rundle for them to run at the Stockport defence. One-one wasn’t bad at all, and anyway, we’re a second-half team!
But, as we came out in the second half, our play lacked anything exciting, efficient or threatening, and Stockport deservedly went two goals ahead. This was the turning point of the match. We were nowhere in the first 25 minutes of the second-half. Increasingly our players were running into dead-ends, passing behind players and generally not playing well together. The reasons for this will stay ever unknown, but the causes will stay with us until we finally get out of this division.
Stockport’s second came after 49 minutes, a cross from the left eluded the entire defence and Anthony Pilkington came from deep from head it home via the crossbar. And all of a sudden our chance seemed to be slipping away.
Muirhead and Howe came on for Higginbotham and le Fondre, but neither decision altered the match significantly. We were beginning to lose the midfield substantially, after all Jonah cannot run continuously for 90 minutes. Stockport’s dominance was beginning to look ominous, and they scored on 67 minutes when the excellent Liam Dickinson squirmed past Stanton and fired it low past Tommy Lee.
Will Buckley came on for D’Laryea on 73 minutes, and from then on we played 3-4-3. It still didn’t look promising however, as sloppy play repeatedly gave Stockport possession. Then, with 76 minutes gone, a goal appeared out of nowhere when Adam Rundle volleyed the ball into the goal in front of the Dale fans, and for a while we looked like we might be able to get an equaliser.
But it wasn’t to be, we weren’t good enough to put it bluntly. Stockport looked comfortable with our attack and were having shots on goal on the counter attack. 4-2 seemed more possible than 3-3.
And when the final whistle went, all I felt was despair. I didn’t feel proud that we had played well all season, I didn’t commend our attacking spirit even when we were winning, and I definitely wasn’t wishing Stockport well for next season. I wanted all the people who were clapping the teams off to shut up and leave as quickly as possible. What do they know anyway? they’ve only been to one Dale match this season. And how can they clap Rochdale off when they don’t even know the names of the players; never mind their ages, positions, former clubs, wages, personalities, ambitions? Rochdale is mine, not yours. And right now, Rochdale is upset.
Soon though, this petulance wore off and we were left with five hours to gather our thoughts on the coach back. It has undoubtedly been a magnificent season, and as the title of this blog suggests, there will be other chances. We will increase our home support next year, we will probably be able to attract better players, and hopefully we’ll be right up at the top come May 2009. But that’s over a year away, and I wanted to go up this year.
Patience is a virtue that every Dale fan must have, no more so than now. We didn’t go up – but we will soon, I’m sure of it. And what’s more, we now have a match to talk about for years to come. It will become known as the match we nearly made it. Next year, let’s actually make it. No messing. Let’s be the bad guys for once, and actually do something. Let’s win the league. Let’s go up. Let’s never look back at days like yesterday. Let’s never lose at the last moment again. And most of all, let’s believe.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 27th, 2008 at 12:42 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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