Such is the inconsistency of the football supporter that when your team faces an opponent who you have never beaten, you think that there`s a good chance that record will continue. Yet when you face an opponent to whom you have never lost, you think that record has got to end some time soon. Rochdale, our opponents this weekend, fall into the latter category. We have yet to lose in six previous visits to Spotland. Nervous? I am.
I rather like Rochdale. They are a similar club to ourselves. They have a number of larger clubs close to them and yet plough their own furrow, representing their local community and they have their own identity. The town is the birthplace of the Co-operative moment and the seminal Joy Division recorded their song ‘Atmosphere’ at the town`s Cargo Studios. Having not lost to Dale on their own patch also warms me to them. Opposite the away end is the Willbutts Lane Fish and Chip, which is renowned as one of the best in the Football League.
It nestles in the foothills of the Pennines and its` known existence stretches back to the Domesday Book. It grew into the small market town it is today. It also has a claim to fame, becoming one of the first ever industrialised towns in the 19th century. It is a mill town, served by both the River Roch and the Rochdale Canal, and is famed for the woollen trade.
There is one dubious connection between the two towns with former Doctor Who and current Wanderers fan Colin Baker, one of the current owner`s biggest cheerleaders, having spent his childhood in Rochdale. Actor and singer Don Estelle first wore his infamous shorts shortly after being born in nearby Crumpsall. Comedian Steve Coogan, creator of the magnificent Alan Partridge was born in nearly Middleton.
Eighties singer Lisa Stansfield was born in nearby Heywood and I, I, I can`t find my baby! Gracie Fields was also born in Rochdale itself, and one of the songs she sung was ‘My Blue Heaven.’ Es ex-Goonie and all-round loonie Bill Oddie was born there as was former Brookside actress Anna Friel who became famous for participating in the first lesbian on-air kiss in British soap history. Our famous followers really need to up their game. I`m looking at you Bill!
Rochdale A.F.C. (there is something about clubs who add the word Association to their name – a true sign of purity!) were formed in 1907 after two previous attempts to form a football club had failed. They spent a year in the Manchester League before joining the Lancashire Combination. After a few failed applications to join the football league they became founder members of the newly formed Third Division North in 1921.
Of course the club are infamous for the record of having enjoyed just two promotions (in 1969 and 2010) and endured two relegations (in 1959 and 1974) in their 104 year history. They also hold the record for the lowest post-war attendance in the Football League. Just 450 spectators were present on a Tuesday afternoon in February 1973 to see them play Cambridge United at Spotland. It was played at that time due to power shortages associated with the Miners` strike.
The club started playing in black and white stripes, which was influenced by the successful Newcastle United side of the time of their formation. In the thirties they switched to an all-blue strip and have also worn white shirts and black shorts. They reverted to their original kit to celebrate their centenary.
Sadly someone at the club used it as an opportunity to switch to blue and black stripes (like Internazionale) and these colours have been worn since. A lesson for those who can`t see the dangers of switching kit colour for specific events. It`s usually just the thin end of the wedge. (I`m getting off my soapbox now.)
Not many players have appeared for both clubs, and those that have have often been on loan. They include goalkeepers Stephen Bywater, and Frank Fielding; defenders Greg Heald and Guy Branston and strikers Andy Turner, Fola Onibuje, Matthew Barnes-Homer, Miguel De Souza and Reuben Reid.
We made our first trip to Rochdale in our very first season in the Football League. It was April 1994 and it was a day that would have sent global warming enthusiasts giddy. There was hazy sunshine, snow and hail. The visitors were wearing their vomit yellow change kit and they made a dreadful start when striker Steve Whitehall gave the hosts a third minute lead and they ought to have been further behind by half-time.
Martin O`Neill made a tactical switch, with Steve Guppy making a rare appearance on the right wing, Tony Hemmings taking his place on the left and Dave Carroll partnering Tony Cunningham in attack. It was Hemmings who supplied the equaliser with twenty minutes to play, teeing up Carroll to bury his shot past home goalkeeper Martin Hodge.
Sadly parity lasted less than six minutes with Jon Bowden`s shot taking a deflection to loop into the net. Fortunately O`Neill changed the game with a double substitution and Simon Garner shoved the taunts of the locals down their throats when he tucked home Glyn Creaser`s headed knockdown from all of three yards in the last minute of the game to snatch a point.
The two sides didn`t meet again for another eleven years. In March 2005 John Gorman took his play-off hopefuls to Spotland but they were soon a goal down. A penalty was given against Danny Senda for a possible handball and Mike Williamson for a possible push. Gary Jones beat Frank Talia from the spot. Nathan Tyson levelled for the “yellows” two minutes after the break when he ran onto Clint Easton`s through ball to beat home goalkeeper Matt Gilks and the game ended level at 1-1.
We claimed our first win at Spotland in August 2005 in one of the finest Wycombe performances I have ever witnessed. Arguably the high watermark of the Gormania project some of the ‘whites’ football was simply a joy to behold. Williamson tucked home Stefan Oakes cross on seven minutes and Matt Bloomfield doubled the lead midway through the first half when he headed home a Kevin Betsy cross.
The Wanderers missed a catalogue of chances and it looked like it might come back and bite them on the backside when Williamson conceded a penalty with a daft foul on Blair Sturrock and Jones again beat Talia from the spot. Striker Grant Holt twice went close to snatching an equaliser but the visitors held on to record a 2-1 victory.
The next encounter in September 2006 saw the debut of midfielder Tommy Doherty in a (white) Wycombe shirt. The visitors made a great start and dominated the opening exchanges. The breakthrough came on 16 minutes when Tommy Mooney, wearing the Captains` armband flicked the ball on for Russell Martin and he returned the favour for the follically-challenged striker to smash his shot into the roof of the net.
The Chairboys had a real let-off soon afterwards when goalkeeper Ricardo ‘Bonkers` Batista came racing out of his box to collide with beanpole striker Morike Sako. Not only might he have committed a foul but he looked to have also handled the ball outside the box. Referee Peter Walton decided it was only worthy of a yellow card.
Whilst there was some mutiny in the home stands (not sure of the reasons but rumours of undercooked pies still persist to this day) the Wanderers made sure of all three points late-on when Betsy stole possession and laid the ball on a plate for striker Jonny Dixon to tap home and seal a 2-0 victory.
The Blues (still white on this occasion) were on a roll under boss Paul Lambert, especially away from home. On a February afternoon it took just a single goal from striker Leon Knight after less than a quarter of an hour to earn a 1-0 win. He beat his marker to run onto Russell Martin`s superb slide-rule pass to bury his shot past James Spencer. The home side were never going to find a way past David McCracken and Williamson in the second half and the visitors held on to take the points.
Our last trip to Spotland was more than three years ago now. In early September 2008 Peter Taylor`s side were embarking on an unbeaten league run that would eventually stretch to 18 games. Again a single goal was enough and it came on the half-hour mark. The hosts failed to deal with a Lewwis Spence corner and Chris Zebroski slammed the loose ball home from six yards. It was his first goal for the Blues (or ‘Red and Whites’ on this occasion) and it took the club to the top of the League Two table.
So there you have it, we have won on each of our last four visits to Rochdale. Now are you nervous?
‘All that`s left are memories’