11/4/09; Rochdale v Port Vale, Spotland, Rochdale :: League Two
On a clear, bright, beautifully calm Easter Saturday, somewhere among the foothills of the Pennines, a fallen lamb – only a little thing – cautiously and carefully shifts weight from hind legs to front and props itself up as if on stilts. Only just able to stand, the lamb swings out a limb and plunges it into the soft April mud, still unfeeling in these bizarre legs of his. Aha! The lamb is walking!
Rochdale started the match with the shiny bonce of Frank Fielding in net, commanding a back-four of Tom Kennedy, Bob Holness, Rory McArdle and Simon Ramsden; who must’ve ran out of batteries during the shaving of his own head and subsequently walks around with this A5-sized strip of hair plonked down the centre of his skull. The midfield comprised of Billy Buckley, Cíarän Töneř, Clark Keltie and Kallum Higginbotham, and the front line was formed of Alfie le Fondue and Crisp Dagnall. Keith Hill promised a very young side, and a very young side was delivered; average age – 22.36 recurring, favourite breakfast cereal – Nesquik, favourite member of McFly – Charlie.
Our visitors, Port Vale, were an indiscriminate hotch-potch of players formed with an absence of thought; individual members offered glimpses of skill, patches of productivity, but as a team they were frustratingly ponderous. Paul Edwards threatened to take apart Dale’s right-flank, but the full-back found himself all alone in this task. Have you met before, Vale? They also possessed amongst their ranks a professional John Doolan impersonator, Dave Brammer, who cheered me and my friends up immensely. There’s something inherently pleasing about seeing a player who looks like he could be your Dad.
Rochdale started with vibrancy. Buckley skipped, and skipped, and skipped, and fell over. No penalty, silly boy. Not one for quitting, Buckley skipped and skipped and skipped again. And fell over again. And again. And a-bloody-gain. Will Buckley’s sole aim for the match was to race into the box, knees sidewards, and clatter innocently into a Vale defender or an advertising hoarding, whichever came first. He achieved that aim with considerable aplomb, but to what effect is debateable. Still – vibrancy. Of a sort.
Despite all that, all Dale could achieve at the start was a procession of corners taken with vastly differing accuracy by the young man Higginbotham. Until he went off that is – clattered into oblivion, firmly and fairly, by the impressive Edwards down in the right-hand corner between the Sandy and the Willbutts. Off went he, cradled lovingly by Andy Thorpe, and on came Dynamite Joe Thompson in his place. A couple more Dale corners were taken and lost before Port Vale had their own; John Doolan crossed in, the ball bobbed up off someone’s head and John McCombe planted it expertly onto the crossbar. Ooooooh! Woof! 0-0 still.
Not long after, Will Buckley, still with penalties in mind, found himself in a dangerous area down the left but was forced to resort into passing the ball after Port Vale refused to foul him. He chipped the ball in but Dagnall could only nod into the keeper’s arms given the lack of pace on the ball. “Gotta do better than that”, piped up the miserable get who sits near me. Minutes later the Miserable One would state, to the silent chagrin of everyone in the vicinity, that “the midfield… it’s so weak!”. If Ciaran Toner would have heard that he would be into the stands and onto this fella. And I’d be the one holding him down. Weak midfield?! Brammer, Howland, Dodds and co. could not get a touch on the ball let alone room to create, such was Toner’s tenacity throughout the game. Weak midfield?! Sometimes it makes you wonder if these people are watching the same match as you; actually, sometimes it makes you wonder if they’re watching the same sport. Weak midfield indeed!
It was this feeble midfield that won the throw-in which led to our goal, the only goal. Simon Ramsden lobbed it towards Chris Dagnall, who ignored Dale pleas to “shoot!” and instead crafted his way to the goal-line, evading two central defenders and pulled back for the all-alone Will Buckley to tap-in from six inches. Buckley’s name but Dagnall’s goal. 1-0 Dale. This lamb is walking!
From that moment on it looked like one goal would be ample. Vale were toothless, each empty attack carrying with it the threat of a six-year-old with a spud gun. Without wanting to labour the point too much, Vale really were a poor side and beating them was no great feat. But – for a side wounded last week by a Bournemouth blitz – Vale were the perfect opponents. Victories rarely come on silver platters, but yesterday’s did.
The white space that appeared at half-time was filled with small footballing children vying for attention from fathers, adolescent cheerleaders vying for attention from middle-age spectators (and dying with embarassment) and Pete On-the-Pitch’s apprentice, Alastair On-the-Pitch, vying for the attention of anybody. All three groups failed on all respects. Come on Tannoy Man, what’s the Exeter score? 1-0 to Exeter. The Wycombe score? 1-0 to Wycombe. Bury? Ah, Bury played last night, oh yeah, I forgot. And so the half-time interval consisted not of entertainment, but of strained ears and amateur mathematics. As always.
The second half was a colourless shadow of the first. Port Vale tried to attack but looked strangely unaware of the methods for actually doing it; like a man who’s forgotten to ride a bike. They did have one decent chance when manager’s son and boo magnet Danny Glover skipped clear of the last defender but Weak Ciaran Toner slid in at the last moment when Glover hesitated too long and it went out for a corner kick. Glover looked a broken man. It can’t be easy to be booed onto the pitch each time he appears from the bench, and subsequently he looked yesterday as if the weight of the world pressed down on his young shoulders whenever he got near the ball. And so Glover becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy; booed because he is rubbish and rubbish because he is booed.
Gary Madine came on for Alfie, and after a hesitant few minutes, produced some good football mostly via his chest. Dagnall latched on twice to knock-downs from the lank forward and twice produced saves from Chris Martin. It wasn’t all yellow, it was black and blue. Despite the narrow lead, nervousness did not get chance to enter the brain of mine, and I did not feel I was alone in this. The fourth official put up three minutes. Three minutes went. The ref blew, Dale had won and Vale had lost. How strange it feels to celebrate.
Saturday’s result should not be met with all-out praise, but with quiet contemplation of what it signified. Like the newborn lamb, Dale were fallen, and the one goal win yesterday represented their unsteady rise to their feet. Heaven knows, you have to walk before you can run.
Written by Matt Boothman on 12th April 2009