The glories of Rochdale

CAS Trust member and author Paul Breen celebrates the many joys of Rochdale.

At the end of last season I wrote an article for Trust News anticipating our travels through League One in this season that has come upon us all too soon, and hasn’t exactly set the heart on fire as we stand on the threshold of another autumn. Though I covered all grounds in that article, including one not so far from us on the way to London Bridge, there was a certain trip that I anticipated more than most. That’s a place we used to find buried at the bottom of Saturday’s classified results alongside the likes of Torquay United and Lincoln City, while Charlton graced the Premier League. However the computer that churns out the fixtures has decided that AFC Rochdale are coming to London next week, and then we will make the return trip on the first weekend of January. It’s going to be bloody cold up North by then, but at least there are a few things about the town of Rochdale that can send a warm shiver through the coldest of hearts.

For me this humble suburb of Greater Manchester is the place that sums up the character of League One travel and competition in a nutshell. Aside from spinning wheels and Victorian Gothic architecture in the centre of town, this place has given the world four things of note. The first was a performance of Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal at the town meadows on Valentine’s Night 1863; arranged for the benefit of a certain Mister Kite, late of Wells’s circus. I guess that means he was deceased, rather than that he didn’t turn up for work one day and got in trouble. John Lennon would write a song about the whole show from seeing mention of it on a poster in a shop in Sevenoaks, while down there filming Strawberry Fields. He’d call the song ‘Being for the Benefit for Mister Kite’ and place it near the end of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Then the name Pablo Fanque would be immortalised in British folklore.

The second most famous thing from Rochdale is the TV show Waterloo Road – a kind of Grange Hill for grown-ups, with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. But enough of that. It’s Rochdale’s next contribution to the world that makes me sort of happy to be back in League One on the off chance of getting to see one of the greatest actresses of her generation. A girl of Irish parentage, born on a glorious twelfth of July, no matter what your political persuasion. Her name is Anna Friel and if Rochdale is fourth division, she’s real Premiership quality. Ever since she appeared in Brookside years ago, she’s been one of the country’s top pin ups.

If God created woman in her own likeness it was as if she pointed her finger towards Lancashire and said ‘I’ll give this town a shite football team for nearly seventy years and then I’ll compensate them with Anna Friel.’ That perfect combination of Irish looks and northern English accent would make up for even a hundred years of fourth division football. And Rochdale, our opponents in next Saturday’s Football for a Fiver, have spent a lot of their history in division four – including 36 consecutive seasons between 1974 and 2010.

Mind you they do have one League Cup final to their name. That was back in 1962 when they lost in the final to Norwich City. Some of our more mature fans might remember that one, and if they don’t they’ll surely remember the fourth association with Rochdale. That’s the actress and singer Dame Gracie Fields who was a West End star and pin up girl in the decades before and after the Second World War. She earned acclaim the world over for her work in keeping the servicemen entertained during the conflict, and then for her battle in overcoming illness after the war, to go on and rebuild her career, alongside continuing her charity work. Even today she’s held in high esteem in her home town where they have a theatre named after her. And if that wasn’t enough Rochdale’s modern pin-up Anna Friel called her first born daughter Gracie as well.

So on the whole then there’s a lot more to Rochdale than just fourth division football. Besides this is now their third consecutive season in League One and last time out they finished in a respectable tenth position with 69 points. That would have been enough to get them into the play-offs the year before when they finished in eighth place on 63 points, and Chesterfield sneaked through in sixth position. Though they’ve made a less impressive start this time around they are likely to be no pushovers when they come to The Valley on the first of October having beaten our dear neighbours 3-2 at The New Den on Saturday.

Out of a dozen games between 1947 and 2012 they have only beaten us once in the league, and that came in March 2011 when we were in the midst of an awful run of form shortly after Chris Powell had taken charge of the team. They beat us 2-0 in a re-arranged fixture from which Chris Solly is the only Charlton survivor since those days of a team that included Rob Elliott, Jose Semedo, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Of course the home side’s joy would be short lived because we played them again a month later at The Valley and beat them 3-1. That was just before the famous summer when Chris Powell took apart the team he inherited and remodelled them into League One champions in the 2012 season.

We can only hope that another visit from Rochdale can provide the spark for Charlton to go on to greater things, and that it doesn’t turn out to be another Exeter City, as in the Football for a Fiver offering of February 2011. On that afternoon we lost 3-1 and began our descent from the edge of the play-offs to a record equalling low of 13th place in the league’s third tier. At the time of writing we are hovering around a similar spot, but showing signs of promise with recent performances against Fleetwood and Scunthorpe. Hopefully by the time we head on our travels to that place near London Bridge we’ll have built up momentum. The associations we have with our nearest rivals aren’t quite as pretty as those we might have of Rochdale with its pin-up girls across the generations.

Certain aspects of Charlton’s fortunes might have had a circus quality lately, for all the wrong reasons, but we’re all united in hoping that Russell Slade’s red army can put on a show as legendary as any by Pablo Fanque or Gracie Fields.

Paul Breen @CharltonMen

Paul’s latest work of fiction is now available on Kindle at the following link -