Dale delirium: Rochdale folklore in front of my own eyes


I’m writing this two days on.
I apologise for the lateness, Sunday was a fluorescent blur after 18:00, engulfed
with celebrations and alcohol. Monday was a sentence to the festivities of a pulsating
evening that will never leave the memory.

I have followed Rochdale for over a decade. Formerly a Manchester United fan, a Rene Howe hat trick stemmed my admiration for my hometown team that has created a terminal love. There is no treatment to supporting Rochdale. The odds – alike to surrounding teams such as Bury and Oldham – are stacked against you. Two behemoth giants in City and United less than 15 miles down the road heavily deter any Greater Mancunian team’s progress. We operate on a minuscule budget and that is putting it lightly. But we support our teams whatever happens. I follow Rochdale for local pride and proper football. I do not lust for my team winning trophies or signing £100m footballers.

Keith Hill is our best ever manager, assembling squads that have taken us along two promotions (2010 and 2014), a trip to Wembley for the Play-Offs in 2008 and cupsets against the likes of Leeds and Nottingham Forest. He produces miracle upon miracle and with him at helm and long-term Chris Dunphy in the boardroom anything is possible. We even bought our ground – Spotland – back, an astronomical achievement in securing our future. I love Spotland, a proper working class football ground. Close to the pitch, intimidating in atmosphere when at capacity and the best pies to boot.

Wigan’s triumph in the spotlight in the 2013 (and now again this year) cup shock against Manchester City and Oldham’s victory over Liverpool earlier in that year’s competition sparked celebrations amongst Dale, Shaker and obviously Latics fans alike. It was a breakthrough moment that whatever your finances or history – large or small – at the end of the day it’s 11 v 11, nothing else. The FA Cup is made for the unexpected…

I stood there on Sunday on the Sandy Lane terrace with a mate who’s been going to Dale since he was a kid and two relatives who had ventured from Devon in hope of the greatest of shocks. Rochdale, bottom of League One with 5 wins in the league, against Tottenham Hotspur – FA Cup royalty – fresh from a vintage away performance against Juventus and 5th in the top flight. This was David versus Goliath, except Goliath had the world’s best striker on the bench in Harry Kane to boot. No chance, not a chance. The ground was flow, burgeoning to overflowing towards the left-hand side of Sandy Lane where we stood. After all the smears and animosity Rochdale as a town has faced in recent years, this was our time to showcase what Rochdale Association Football Club and its supporters are about. And boy did the club and fans do the town proud.

I watched the match bemused. For most of the first half we were tactically astute with a ravishing passing game coupled with intense pressing of the opposition. Tottenham had left big stars like Harry Kane and Dele on the bench but still had a side which should have done the job – Son Heung-Min alone had contributed 37 goals and assists in 88 Premier League games. Plaudits have to go to the Dale midfield; Camps, Cannon and Kitching – young bodies with streetwise heads. They made supposed superstars quiver. And it was Kitching’s meticulous interception from England international Harry Winks which gave me and everyone in the ground a moment to last a lifetime.

Slickly playing in Andy Cannon, Cannon lifted his head to see Ian Henderson in space. Now bearing in mind Henderson had spurned two incredible opportunities already in the game, most strikers would have taken an extra touch, dilly-dallied or pass away responsibility. Not Ian. This man to me is the best player to play for Rochdale, mesmerising technique for somebody at third tier level and the scorer of iconic goals – Youtube his efforts against Leeds, Chesterfield and Cheltenham, outstanding. He finished first time aplomb, a low crisp finish giving Vorm no chance. Pandemonium ensues. The goal celebrations on Sunday didn’t really have a pattern or a shout like ‘GET-IN!’ to support the finish. I just screamed like a deranged beaver in truth. I couldn’t believe it. A wave of Dale fans leaping for uncontrollable joy on the terrace – the best feeling – for now. If you watch the goal back, there’s laughter. It’s probably a supporter down a Match of the Day microphone set up near the stand, flabbergasted like us all. Rochdale scoring against Tottenham and leading at half-time was frankly ridiculous.

The half-time whistle was met by a roar from three sides of Spotland and rightly so. Probably the best Dale performance I had seen. Stop the game now. We were prepared for a Tottenham onslaught and were sure of stars been brought on from the bench but for now, let us dream. Let us f***ing dream.

The second half started as expected. Pressure never-ending, Mauricio Pochettino’s men suffocating the Pearl Street end. Our defence and goalkeeper Josh Lillis were fantastic, but you can only hold for so long against Premier League calibre. Lucas Moura – making his first start for Spurs – lofted a delightful yet heartbreaking finish with his left foot over Lillis to equalise. I say heartbreaking, but at this point a replay guarantee’s a trip to Wembley, such a conundrum a win-win for everyone.

Except Tottenham obviously. They had the return leg against Juventus at Wembley less than 3 weeks away and engulfed in a pulsating race for the Champions League places in the league. They had to go for it. Dele and Harry Kane both entered proceedings – Kane on to make his first appearance at Spotland since his professional debut. It was fate for him to score.

The clock was approaching 90 minutes. Wave after wave of Tottenham attacks, like the herpes that would never go away (I don’t have herpes). A run was made by the energetic Danny Rose and a loose ball had made its way to Dele. Harrison McGahey had been excellent, assured at the back with Jim McNulty creating a stalwart effort. But McGahey was beaten by Dele’s burst of pace. Contact to the right knee, penalty. F***!

I have seen last minute trauma being a Dale fan. But I’d have rather been kicked in the balls than Kane score the oncoming penalty. But this is Harry Kane, the top-scoring striker in Europe last year for 12 yards. Karius produced a miracle to save one penalty for Liverpool against him, but this Kane effort was unstoppable. Buried low and hard to Lillis’ right, in my head Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ starts to play, ever so woundingly. I must applaud Rose’s and the Tottenham fans for singing Ryan Mason’s name, apt and necessary after traumatising news that he’ll never play again after sustaining a fractured skull against Chelsea last year; one of their own. A heart-warming moment in a moment of turmoil for Dale fans. I can’t fault Tottenham fans, they and Dalians alike created an outstanding atmosphere. However, the decibel reading was about to go off the scale.

At 17:50 approximately, I think my soul left my body. Not in death but delirium. This for me was the stand-out moment in my journey supporting Rochdale – all the pain of relegation at Chesterfield and torture at Hartlepool forgotten in an instant. Matty Done like counterpart Joe Rafferty had phenomenal games at full back, Steve Davies laid off the ball to Done before bursting into the box. Now where we were stood our view was compromised, but Done’s devilish cross skimmed Toby Alderweireld’s majestic haircut, I knew the ball had reached Davies. A journeyman Scouser was set for the big moment. I had to rely on the crowd reaction to tell if we had struck gold. We did. It still sends shivers.

The scenes on television lived up to the hype. Ecstasy like I hadn’t ever seen live in person. The promotion campaigns of 2010 and 2014 were incredible, but nothing lives up to this – this was the best feeling. I’m not married and I don’t have kids, but it’ll probably beat that too. The entire Dale team piling on in the corner, supporters didn’t know what to do. My reaction consisted of hugs and amazement, as mentioned blur-like, out of body experience. We were going to Wembley. Oh my f***ing God. But perhaps Keith Hill’s celebration optimised it all. Looking ravishing in Peaky Blinder attire and sporting the best beard in the game, a roar projected to the home crowd like no other. Keith Hill brought the club up from relegation to Non-League certainties to a last minute equalizer against Champions League ability and England internationals. This was pure Carlsberg in terms of fairytale – the magic of the Cup which showcases why it can never die.


Focus will obviously shift on to the league campaign and trying to rectify our precarious position. We might be ‘cut-adrift’ on paper, but our trump card is the four games in hand. Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Jermaine Jenas were left dazed about how we were bottom of English football’s third-tier. It is our bread and butter and who knows if the ending will be happy. But this performance and drama united a struggling town. It brought community together shown by the wide-ranging demographic in the crowd. Rochdale was put firmly on the global map, reaching #1 trend worldwide in the aftermath of the game. Rochdale got its moment in the sun; I can only thank Keith and every single player who contributed on that incredible day. Now, where’s Keith’s statue?

The sky is the limit for Spurs ace Kane

Another season and Harry Kane keeps on scoring. Some things never change. His early performances in this campaign have lead to compliments from his manager, Mauricio Pochettino. First Kane was compared to an Argentinian legend who played with his boss for their national side.

“Batistuta was a killer, a strong mentality, a strong shot. You can compare but for me I put Batistuta higher, but Harry can be better. Harry is a killer, too. Look at his scoring in the last few seasons.” (Mauricio Pochettino)

High praise indeed. It could have been a ploy by the Spurs boss to motivate his player to carry on improving and reach new levels. But there is no reason why the Englishman cannot go on and emulate legends of the game. At the very least it gave the the Tottenham goalscorer a decent nickname. Killer Kane. His manager was not finished there. After the Batistuta comment he went one step further.

“Cristiano Ronaldo is fantastic, one of the best. But Harry is one of the best and maybe better because he is younger.” (Mauricio Pochettino)

Now in terms of world football at the moment there is still a separate bracket of seriously world class players at a level never seen before. Ronaldo being one of them Kane is still some way off the Real Madrid star and his Barcelona rival Lionel Messi. The key part of Pochettino’s comment is the fact Kane is younger. He is still working on his game and improving his skills. As his reputation grows his opposition will fear him more.

The comment has to be taken on face value regardless of Kane’s age. And it has to be labelled as complete nonsense. There is no doubt that Ronaldo is better than Kane at the moment. The ex Manchester United attacker has surpassed the level even Sir Alex Ferguson could have imagined  when he brought him to Old Trafford. Over 10 years at the top taking all the expectation on his shoulders at two of the biggest clubs in the world show just how good Ronaldo has become.

Kane is starting his fourth full season as a regular Premier League player. The striker has performed well and after bursting on the scene in 2014/15 with 21 league goals. Many people believed that Kane would be a one season wonder due to his surprise run of form and he would begin to struggle the next season. The predicted dip never happen and Kane bettered his tally scoring 25 in the Premier League for Tottenham.

If there were still doubters last season Kane really turned up the heat. Retaining the golden boot award he won the season before he once again bettered his return and scored 29 goals in the league and 35 in all competitions. Surely now the critics do not have a leg to stand on, he has proven he will score goals consistently when playing regular football. You would not bet against the Spurs striker equalling Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer’s record of winning the golden boot in three consecutive campaigns.

Tottenham stepped forward as Real Madrid’s main rivals for top spot in their Champions League group when they beat Apoel away by 3 goals to 0. All 3 goals were courtesy of their talisman. As if his first European hat-trick was not already satisfying enough it was perfect. The first with his left boot, the second with his right and finally a headed effort was added. It will be Tottenham’s adventures in Europe that will ultimately define Kane’s career. If he can do it in the Champions League his reputation will increase. He has the perfect opportunity in the next couple of game weeks. Back to back matches against reigning kings of Europe Real.

There is a feeling that if Tottenham cannot produce trophies Kane may move on. Ultimately that is how football works. But why would he leave? The team is set up to create chances for their star striker. Dele Alli plays behind him moving and creating space for Kane and Christian Eriksen has such a quality delivery the forward only needs to get in the right position. The qualities the Spurs number 10 posses will lead to interest from the footballing elite if the club cannot grow with him.

Another factor in Kane’s happiness at the London club is the wage structure Tottenham employ. Kyle Walker left for Manchester City in the summer and Danny Rose tried to force his way out. Spurs have a strict salary structure in place and do not offer as much in wages as their rivals. It should not be a factor but the reality of modern football means that it is a considerable one. It is vital for Spurs to keep Kane if they want to progress as a club.

The comparison with Ronaldo is unfair. They are different players. Ronaldo is far more dynamic and started out his career as a winger. He had to modify his game to play centrally and become a goalscorer. Even though Kane is not as competent at dribbling and creating chances he is more of a natural striker and goalscorer. When Kane gets a chance it is more often than not a goal. The comparison to Batistuta is substantially more accurate. The way he develops will be key to any legacy he leaves and the level he can reach is unknown. If he can keep improving and his eye for goal stays sharp he could become one of the best.

Stars in football rarely come out of the blue. Many prospects are monitored from an early age and football fans have a good knowledge of who will break through and become a superstar. Kane was on the radar but when he stepped up to the first team few believed he would make the impact he has. Now he is established as a key player at White Hart Lane, a highlight in the Premier League and an established England first team player. Not too bad for a player once released by Arsenal.

He has put down the foundations and now new challenges are emerging. European success, Premier League success and some sort of success with England are on the agenda. He is the brightest star for Spurs and England and with a growing reputation comes added pressure. Now the road towards a long standing legacy in football has been paved the long journey to realising it can begin.

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Players to watch 2017/18 – Eriksen spurred on

It must have been a difficult summer for Tottenham fans. Kyle Walker has left for Manchester City, Danny Rose has criticised the club and Christian Eriksen said he would be open to his dream move to Spanish giants Barcelona. Couple this with the fact that no players have signed for the London club and it is understandable why the fans are restless. Fortunately Eriksen has not left, yet. With Neymar leaving the Spanish club they are looking to replace him with Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho but if that fails it is not beyond the realms of possibility they would swoop for Tottenham’s great Dane. If he stays at Tottenham though their chaotic season, which will see them play their home games at Wembley, could be salvaged.

Eriksen has played for ‘Spurs’ since he moved to London in 2013 from Ajax for around £11 million. He played regularly in his first year and performed well. He has represented Tottenham 134 times and scored 31 goals. Eriksen has become a vital part of the team and if they do keep hold of him he will continue to improve his game as he has done in the past.

It is vital that they keep hold of the Danish midfielder. He brings real quality to the team. He is great from set pieces and creates a wealth of chances even when he is pushed out wide and out of position. He has the ability to change games and move into areas unnoticed and really cause teams damage.

He does not have the pace that many think of when you speak about attackers but he has pure quality. Tottenham boss Maurico Pochettino will be hoping to keep Barcelona away from him as he will rely heavily on Eriksen this season.

This season will be difficult for Tottenham. They have struggled to bring in players to improve their squad and their current stars seem to be getting frustrated. Fans and people associated with the club can feel positive with the relationship between Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eriksen. While the other two of the trio grab the majority of  the headlines the former Ajax man brings just as much to the attack. He often goes under the radar but performs well and consistently.

This year and the current situation could be the making of Eriksen. Expectations are high at ‘Spurs’ and he is one player with European experience and top level quality who could help them progress in the Champions League, something they made a real mess of last season. It will be tough for Tottenham in the league. Everybody around them has improved their squad with big money signings. Tottenham are the odd ones out in that regard. They are hoping their tight group of players can continue to perform.

A lot of eyes will be on ‘Spurs’ this season and their will be huge pressure on their biggest stars, mainly Kane and Alli. Eriksen has less pressure on him but Barcelona’s interest in him underline just how much quality he possesses. He will be the rock in the attacking third for Tottenham, creating chances and scoring vital goals. When the big moments come expect him to deliver. He makes other players around him shine but this season will be his year at Tottenham.