I just love it when a last minute plan comes together! With the hottest day of the year forecast, what better way to celebrate it than to find a match to go to? Unfortunately I missed out on Atherton Collieries visit to Rochdale a few weeks previously as I was working for the Non-League Paper, so it was nice to finally tick the ground off.
Lost Boyo himself (Matt) had texted me asking if I fancied Rochdale Town v Formby, followed by Manchester United v Liverpool U21′s. As tempting as it was, I wasn’t in the mood to traipse across Manchester to Old Trafford, so just the one match was on the cards.
Girlfriend Lucy was still up from Swansea, so I managed to persuade her to come along. I even managed to get my Dad and sister to join the fun. It was going to be one wild afternoon in Rochdale…
Setting off from a scorching Atherton at 13:00, we had a quick pit stop in Farnworth. We were keen to show Lucy the most famous place in comedy. The Phoenix Club. It was a lot smaller than we imagined, but I thoroughly enjoyed having my photo outside. We did encounter one slight problem though. Whenever we walked past a car it set the alarm off! We didn’t take too kindly to repeatedly hearing “Get back you b#####d I’ll break your legs!” so off we went to Rochdale…
Mayfield Sports Centre was one of the harder grounds to find. It would have been plain sailing, but since Google Street View was last updated they’ve closed the road off next to the ground. It was time for my emergency navigation skills to be called upon once again (as seen in the stressful trip to Worcester).
With the ground being tucked away in a residential area at the bottom of a valley it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Eventually we turned a corner, and a floodlight emerged. There was plenty of parking available in the vicinity of the ground. It appeared to be quite a nice, tidy ground which backed on to two rugby pitches at the rear. Apparently when Atherton Collieries had played there a few weeks previously, our local rugby team Leigh Miners were playing on the other pitch. Unfortunately there was no such repeat performance and it was just the football taking place.
I had a stroll around the ground, and I was surprised to find that I was taller than the fence on the far side of the ground and I’m only 5 ft 6 inches tall! As tempting as it was to watch the match from the rugby pitch I thought it would make me look slightly cheap… not that that bothers me! I was wearing my £2 Primark shirt after all.
Rochdale Town were formed in 1924 under the name of St. Gabriels FC. This is because the club was originally founded as a Church team. The players HAD to be Catholic and they all attended the Church every Sunday. It was once the restrictions had been lifted that the club began to claim regional success.
The club moved to their current home in 1979. At the time the ground was called Butterworth Park. In 2004, the club was forced to groundshare with Oldham Town (now Oldham Boro) after their ground failed ground grading. The club was bought by Mayfield Rugby Club who immediately began to refurbish the ground.
A return to their own ground a year later brought little success to the club as they finished bottom of the league for the third consecutive season. They won just two games all season, and were later deducted points.
In 2008, Castleton Gabriels changed their name to Rochdale Town to try and make the club more commercially viable. Rochdale AFC have been seen to be helping the club with their old kit being passed down to their non-league neighbours.
An hour until kick off meant we had time for a drink in the clubhouse before kick off. Although the clubhouse is obviously the rugby clubs facility, it was quite impressive. Definitely one of the better clubhouses in the NWCFL. With a wide range of beers to choose from, we bought our drinks before going back outside to have photographs with the NWCFL Division One trophy which Formby had brought along with them for the day.
Formby had decorated the trophy in yellow and blue ribbons. The runaway winners of the league had had a fantastic season (bar being denied promotion due to ground grading problems). Their striker Jason Carey had scored 49 goals to become one of the most talked about players in local non-league football. It’s a shame that (at the time of writing) Formby won’t be getting promoted. By far the best side in the division and at times, a real thrill to watch.
Despite only sitting 9th in the table, Rochdale Town are also a fantastic side. On each occasion I have seen them this season, they have defended brilliantly and attacked as a unit. I saw them play Atherton Collieries twice, and they frustrated us on both occasions – ultimately knocking us out of the Division One Trophy and taking a thoroughly deserved point when they played us away in the league.
We were ready to enter the ground… and what a performance that was! The young girl on the turnstile had already annoyed Lucy and Eleanor with her mood when they bought a chocolate bar in the clubhouse. She carried on her mood when taking our money on the gate. She was sent over the edge when I asked her for a matchday programme. Unfortunately Rochdale didn’t produce one. The club said they “hadn’t yet turned up” but that was the excuse when Colls played them.
Entering the ground, you become lost in a world of metal cladding and containers. A small opening in the blue cladding gave a glimpse of the playing surface. On top of the Main Stand is an executive box which appears to be balanced rather peculiarly on the roof.
Opposite the Main Stand is a small covered stand, which has a couple of rows of wooden seating. Eleanor asked why there was “bird poo” on the seats if there was a roof. We explained to my 13 year old sibling that pigeons can walk.
Behind the goal nearest the rugby pitches is what I class as the best end of a football ground in the division. It’s a nice compact flat terrace which runs the full length of the pitch. With such a low roof, I’m sure it would be home to a brilliant atmosphere if filled on a matchday.
After walking around the ground, we stationed ourselves behind the goal at the other side of the ground. It was a small open terrace which was basking in the sunshine. The Rochdale players were already out on the pitch, waiting to give Formby a guard of honour.
Formby knocked the ball around, but there was only ever one team in the game. Rochdale started off very brightly and were leading after just 9 minutes when Gareth Hill scored from a few yards out after the ball had been squared to him from the right hand byline.
The home side doubled their lead just 8 minutes later when the lively Jordan McKinley (with his ripped shirt) fired the ball into the bottom right corner from 25 yards out. It was a great finish leaving the goalkeeper with no chance.
Rochdale could and should have been further in front by half time, but for a tremendous individual performance from Formby goalkeeper Josh O’Connell. In my opinion, the two best goalkeepers in the division were on show – with Joe Brobbin in the Rochdale goal.
Shortly before the half time whistle Rochdale had a goal disallowed. The corner came in from the right, and the Rochdale player rose superbly to head the ball into the top right hand corner. The referee deemed the player to have been climbing and awarded a free kick to Formby instead.
Half time arrived, and we left the ground to go back into the clubhouse which was on the car park. I bought a small (but nice) burger for £1.30 and smothered it in Burger Sauce which seems to be the most fashionable condiment around the non-league scene at the moment. If your club doesn’t have Burger Sauce, your club is simply second rate. With yet another pint to wash it down, it was time for the second half.
The second half was a more laid back affair than the first. Formby were still knocking the ball around well, but struggled to create many opportunities up front.
On 63 minutes, Gareth Hill grabbed his second of the afternoon as Rochdale went 3-0 up against a team who had been unbeaten on their travels all season.
That, unfortunately was the end of what had been a very entertaining season of NWCFL football. There had been controversies galore, and we still don’t know whether it will be Formby or West Didsbury & Chorlton who get promoted. Atherton Collieries still have a marginal opportunity of going up with there *possibly* being a spare place in the above division. Who knows! We shall have to wait and see what is decided at the League AGM in a few weeks.
It had been a lovely day out. The ground at Rochdale is one of my favourites. Well kept, tidy and compact. The people who run the club were pleasant enough, apart from the moody girl of course – but we’ll let her off. She was probably annoyed that she was stuck operating a turnstile when she could be sunbathing in her back garden listening to N-Dubz. The wide variety of drinks and food was good. The only problem was the fact there was no programme.
Rochdale Town have the makings to be one of the top teams in the division next season, and I certainly would have no complaints about that. I hope I can visit again next season, hopefully with Atherton Collieries!