Player Profile #5
Born: May 1st, 1987 in Sheffield (but he qualifies for Northern Ireland)
Position: Centre-half (used to be a right-back too)
To chart the so-far short-ish history of McArdle’s period at Rochdale, you must first chart the history of the last four years of the club itself; for the two are intertwined in a way that no other player can quite match, not even Gary Jones.
After Alan Buckley’s dismissal part-way through the 2003/04 season, (and yes I do realise this is going some way back), Steve Parkin arrived for his second spell at the club after leaving two years previous for an ill-advised (and bittersweet) stint at Barnsley. Well, Rochdale needed him again, so he swallowed his pride, and we swallowed ours, and Parkin arrived back at the club he’d spurned before. The 03/04 season was a season of dross such as McClare, Donovan, and Shaun Smith, but also of Grant Holt, who arrived in January, and defenders Greg Heald and Daryl Burgess, who stopped just enough goals going in to eventually keep us up that year. Parkin had done the trick… All was forgiven! All was forgotten!
The 04/05 season – and as Dale fan we would have taken anything above 22nd – was a major success, for us at least. This was the real season of Grant Holt, who top-scored in a season in which we finished 8th. A 22 year-old midfielder arrived too, from Stockport County, but was soon discovered to be a far better forward than a centre mid, and he too scored a load in his new position. Rickie Lambert, and Holt, would both move in 2006 for triple figure sums, which was something pratically unheard of at that time for the Dale. But, as far as we could see for the 2005/06 season, things looked promising with these two amazing strikers, a solid defence, and the irrepressable Gary Jones in central midfield. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, almost everything. Wayne Evans and Greg Heald were released in the summer despite being part of an experienced defence which, in general, conceded less than we tended to score. Evans’s departure was particularly galling for the average Dale fan, he’s been deemed by popular consent since to be the club’s greatest ever right-back. (Then again, competition for that award is scarce). To replace those, partly, Parkin brought in the forever-injured Mark Jackson, central midfielder Jamie Clarke (who was played at right-back), and a young Northern Irish lad on loan from Sheffield Wednesday. This is where McArdle’s journey with the Dale starts.
Rochdale finished 14th that year – not bad you might think – but with a squad that boasted both Grant Holt and Rickie Lambert this was seen as something of a failure. The defence was never settled, and the constant rotation of defenders saw Dale concede sloppy goals here, there and everywhere. (Mostly everywhere). Rory McArdle himself didn’t have the most glorious of starts to his professional career, he was shite, to put it bluntly. Playing at right-back usually, swapping with Jamie Clarke, Gary Brown or whoever had a right-foot, and then sometimes playing at centre-half with Tony Gallimore and Gareth Griffiths, McArdle seemed the epitome of a wasted season, and of Parkin’s particularly balls-up of the most talented squad we’d had since 01/02 (when Parkin left us for Barnsley). The excitement the start of the season heralded soon wore off when it became clear that Dale could not sustain a promotion challenge, and Parkin went from balls-out messiah to balls-out muppet.
The season after, 2006/07, spelled the end for Steve Parkin. Rochdale lost the first five matches of the season, and didn’t record a win until their ninth (against Grimsby Town). Holt had gone and Lambert had gone, for £300k and £250k respectively, and in their places Blair Sturrock, Morike Sako, Keith Barker and Iyesden Christie were a forward line of grand ineptitude. As much as I love Morike Sako, I would not actually choose to play him in a football match, given the chance. Not only that but Parkin had gone and got that duffer McArdle back on loan! What’s he playin’ at?! Shortly after an embarrassing defeat to Macclesfield in December 2006, who up until that point had not won a single match, Parkin was given the old heave ho, and in came Keith Hill.
This moment, Hill’s arrival, summoned the second journey of Rory McArdle at Rochdale – the good journey. Rochdale started to play well, better than well actually, brilliantly – and McArdle himself became something of a changed man. No longer were we seeing a weak, serial misjudger of headers, we were now seeing a combatative young centre-half, strong in the air and confident in the tackle. Hill’s arrival spelt McArdle’s emergence; or to put it another way, McArdle was born under Hilly. Before that he was merely gestating.
In January 2007, McArdle, along with that other player transformed by Keith Hill, Glenn Murray, became the first permanent signings of this new and different era. McArdle continued to play well in central defence, and formed a partnership with Nathan Stanton which still continues to this day. As Rochdale finished 9th (they were 21st when Parkin went), McArdle became a focal point of this new, exciting young team and it’s overwhelmingly positive management team. No fear, home and away, and all that! It continued in 2007/08, our Wembley season… or should I say our first Wembley season. McArdle, along with Stanton, were instrumental in defence, especially with Dale’s kamikaze-style attacking strategies. The season culminated in a goal in the playoff final for your man Rory, a losing goal I may add, but a goal at Wembley nonetheless.
If McArdle has a particular fault, it’s his concentration. The customary once-a-match McArdle error is a common feature of every match at Spotland, sometimes the ball goes out for a corner, or a throw-in or something; but sometimes, sometimes, it results in a goal.
This, this habit of committing daft mistakes every now-and-then, is the reason McArdle’s history is so intertwined with that of the Dale. When we play well, the mistakes tend to get less serious, less noticeable and McArdle seems a better player. When we badly however, McArdle’s errors stick out like sore thumbs. In short, McArdle’s own form reflects Rochdale’s form like no other player. Think back to when he first appeared at Dale back in 2005; Dale were crap, so McArdle was crap. And then, when Hill came, and Rochdale were brilliant… McArdle was brilliant! And this season, when our form has been for the most part sketchy, McArdle… sketchy!
McArdle has come under some scrutiny recently for his performances, but my own opinion is that there are sometimes other reasons for a Dale loss than the odd mistake by a centre-back. So here’s to a future of excellent form for McArdle – and with that, Rochdale too.
Written by Matt Boothman on 21st April 2009