Rossendale Utd 0
Rochdale 6 (le Fondre 4, Shaw, W. Buckley)
Dale team: Russell, Wiseman, Evans, McArdle, Kennedy, W. Buckley, Keltie, Toner, Rundle (Higginbotham), Shaw, le Fondre
This was hardly the class of opposition we will be playing throughout next season; Rossendale Utd are after all a semi-professional club whose players are more likely to regard plumbing or physiotherapy as their occupation as opposed to football. But, it was still a thoroughly convincing win, and a thoroughly enjoyable day out at one of the most picturesque grounds I’ve ever seen.
Having never been to the annual Rossendale friendly before, Dark Lane impressed me a lot. Standing on the barrier five metres or so from the halfway line, I could see the rolling hills of the Pennines behind the uncovered side of the ground, the clouds casting their immense shadows on the dark green of the dales. Occasionally, a bright layer of sunlight found its way through the blanket of cloud and lit up one side of a hill, before being cut off again by the overcast sky. It made me wish I’d brought my camera with me.
The game kicked off about seven minutes later than schedule, Rochdale in the new white away kit and Rossendale in their amateur looking blue and white stripes. Almost all the fans at the match were Rochdale fans, about 700 in total by my reckoning (I had ticket number 522), with two main groups; one behind the goal where most of the new chants got airings, and a few in the only seated area of the ground, along the touchline, opposite the dugout. There were a few others clumped around too, with a group of young kids concentrated where the benches were.
Keith Hill had decided to give the fans a reward for turning up, by picking a strong team including all four new signings; Clark Keltie, Scotty Wiseman, Jon Shaw and Ciaran Toner. The only two non-regulars for Dale were Raphale Evans at centre-back and Will Buckley on the right wing. Rossendale’s team included players of all shapes and sizes; fat ones, thin ones, tall ones, ginger ones… and an extremely short left winger who the fans next to me christened “Inchey” almost immediately. “Don’t let life get you down, Inchey!“, “Dig deep Inchey – wait, not that deep!”, “Now’s not the time for sitting down Inchey!”. I bet he gets that kind of abuse every week, but it was hard not to laugh – even the most politically correct of people would crack a smile at some of their comments.
Rossendale were a team out of their depth, and Adam le Fondre scored after only seven minutes when the Utd keeper Lee Bracey fumbled Jon Shaw’s cross, allowing Alfie a simple tap in. “Alfie! Alfie! Alfie!” went the fans behind the goal, before debuting “Shaw Shaw Shaw! How do you like him? How do you like him?”. Not the most inventive of chants, but it will probably catch on and I’ll probably be singing it myself come Grimsby away. Alfie was happy with his goal, even daring to crack a smile; Jon Shaw was stoney-faced, as he would be all the way through the match. Bracey was looking fairly embarrassed.
The second goal was the highlight of the game, Jon Shaw found space just outside the area and rifled in a low shot (which was slightly deflected) into Bracey’s bottom-left corner. The Shaw song got another airing, and it was about this time when the away fans realised that keeper Bracey was a dead ringer for Phil Collins. “80’s reject, 80’s reject, oh-oh, oh-oh” – again hard not to laugh, but the Rossendale keeper seemed to take it in his stride.
Rochdale’s third goal of the first half came courtesy of another error by Bracey, similar to how the first goal came about. Adam le Fondre scored this one, his second, and seemed almost sorry to score it.
Stand-out man in the first forty-five was undoubtedly Clark Keltie. Although he will not have this amount of space against the Bournemouths, Lincolns and Shrewsburys of this world, he has a knack of appearing calm on the ball, slowing down the play to his pace and picking out a pass which many people (including opposition defenders) would not have thought of. Obvious comparisons with John Doolan have been made; which is a good thing. A slimmer, younger, faster John Doolan would do just fine thankyou very much.
Another player impressing in the first half was Young Will Buckley, who will hopefully be dropping the Young tag during this season to become just plain Will Buckley. Playing on the right wing, he linked up efficiently with Scott Wiseman, and further established his bid to become a bona-fide first teamer next season. He has a turn of pace, without being a sprinter, and has decent technique which allows him that extra second of space in which to pick out a pass. He has the skill, now all that remains is for him to develop maturity and confidence.
Half-time came and a fair few including myself went to get a pie from the social club inside the ground. The queue was massive, so much so that we missed the first couple of minutes of the second half. They only had cheese pies left as well – no meat – and when they said cheese they really did mean cheese. No onion, no anything, just a pure lump of melted cheese inside a crust. I’ve never had a pie quite like it, and hopefully I’ll never have one like it again.
We had made one change at half-time, Adam Rundle was replaced by Kallum Higginbotham, and the dominance continued uncontested. Unfortunately, Higginbotham’s entrance coincided with the creation of the worst football chant in the history of football chants – so bad it made me embarrassed to be associated with the fans who made it up. Have you ever heard Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy With It”? Well replace the word “jiggy” with “Higgy” and you have the gist of it. I hope and pray that this song will not catch on. Pathetic is not the word for it! Another half-hearted attempt at a new chant was “Ciaran Toner, gives me a boner” to the tune of “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow. Must try harder Dale fans.
The fourth goal of the match came when Kallum Higginbotham curled a shot in which Lee Bracey did well to turn onto the bar, only for it to fall directly into Adam le Fondre‘s path. His hattrick was neither surprising, nor deserved, in truth.
There was still time for more though, and Will Buckley scored a deserved goal when he found acres of space in the Rossendale penalty area and side-footed it calmly into the net from about 7 yards. He was so overcome with joy that he ran over to the singers and had a big group hug. One fan liked him so much that he didn’t let go, and fell over the advertising hoardings onto the pitch. Buckley was just laughing, and even the referee saw the funny side as he didn’t say a thing and just smiled. Afterwards a few other “merry” fans decided to do the same thing and were pushing their mates over the barriers and behind Bracey’s goal until the match finished. All good fun.
The rout was completed with Alfie‘s fourth, Dale’s sixth – an agile volley which doesn’t quite fit into the description of “overhead kick”. Still, a nice goal, and a nice way to finish the match.
The tannoy man wished us a successful season and thanked us all for turning up to support our team, and to support Rossendale financially. We snaked away after the match, past giant skips and empty turnstiles, and I left with a feeling of warmth. Rossendale is a nice club, and maybe next year I will turn up to a league game or two, maybe if a Dale home match is postponed. Yesterday’s game wasn’t a true reflection of our team, but it was enjoyable nonetheless, and what more can you ask for?
I wish Rossendale the very best of luck next season, and hopefully a few more fans might be encouraged to visit after yesterday’s game.
Up the Dale!