Adventures in Football #66: Spotland (Rochdale AFC)
October 22, 2022
ROCHDALE vs. AFC WIMBLEDON (League 2)
I’m aware Spotland is also known as the Crown Oil Arena but with most grounds, I don’t care for the sponsored name because it can change. It might not be the Crown Oil Arena in 2 years’ time, but it’ll still be Spotland. Rochdale have been playing here since 1900, although the original Rochdale AFC folded. As did Rochdale Town. The current Rochdale AFC was founded in 1907 and Spotland, as a proper stadium, opened in 1920. Prior to that the pitch was open land with no stands.
Rochdale joined the football league in 1921 and have been there ever since, albeit never moving beyond the bottom two divisions. In the cups they’ve made it to R5 of the FA Cup twice. Losing to Wolves in 2003 and famously taking Pochettino’s Spurs to a replay before losing 6-1 in 2018. In the League Cup they’ve done even better, making the final in 1962 before losing to Norwich over two legs.
Spotland has seen regeneration work done on it over the past 25 years, but the area has fallen on hard times for football. Neighbouring Bury were expelled from the football league in 2019 and Rochdale’s other main rivals Oldham were relegated into the National League last season. Rochdale themselves just got relegated out of League One and started this campaign in such dismal form it looked as if they’d follow Bury and Oldham out of the league. Rochdale’s form has suddenly improved though, and they’ve won three of their last four games (Colchester, Newport and Barrow).
A win today for the ‘Dale will see them move above opponents Wimbledon and potentially gain as many as six places in the league.
Before heading up to Rochdale, I don’t think I realised how close it was to Manchester. My geographical knowledge of the north-west is clearly lacking as I didn’t realise how many satellite towns Manchester has. It’s only 13 miles from Spotland to Old Trafford. In my head it was more like 40-50 miles. You know where Leeds is? That’s how far north I thought Rochdale was. Consider myself geographically levelled up.
It’s game day and I’m up early to get a train into Birmingham. I’ve got a stinking cold and I go through two whole packs of travel tissues on my journey up. After a lengthy wait in New Street, I end up on a train to Manchester. I sit and read the Stevie Ray Vaughan biography “Texas Flood” while going through tissues. The poor bugger next to me has to listen to me blowing my nose for 2 hours. In Manchester I meet up with Big Chris Linay. I’ve not seen him in a few years and it’s a chance to catch up. We’re sat together at the ground, and we take a walk across Manchester from Piccadilly to Victoria. A quick train journey later and we’re in Rochdale.
Rochdale train station bizarrely has a bloke checking tickets and a barrier. I think he might be retired, and they let him hang around the platforms. Another travel quirk is being on a train going to Manchester from Birmingham when Blues are playing Blackburn away. Manchester city centre getting a rare rendition of “shit on the Villa”. We join Andy and Geoff Ogden at D’Ale House and I’m doing a separate ‘Crawling’ column for the pubs because we went to LOTS. After three pubs we headed into Spotland, via taxi.
This is my view as we enter. That’s the scoreboard over the entrance. I had a bag with me, because I thought I’d give myself the option of an overnight stay, and it was checked by security. The unsure guard had to ask his boss if it was okay for me to bring a can of deodorant in. I didn’t come all this way to chuck stuff onto the pitch and sensibly they just let me through, noting if they saw a can of right guard on the pitch they would know where it came from! In spite of being three beers in I didn’t feel the urge to throw my deodorant at any Wimbledon players.
Anyway, here’s our view from the seats. Spotland is still called the Crown Oil Arena and three sides of it have now been renovated, leaving just the terraces at the far end untouched. There are posts but they’re in sensible places. I love the view over the terrace of various trees, made better by the autumnal colour scheme. After some debate with the Ogdens we confirmed it was a cemetery over there. It felt quite peaceful.
Here are the lads! Myself with the glasses, Andy next to me, then Geoff and Chris at the end. We’re tucking into some pies here and I had both a steak pie and a tandoori pie. They were locally sourced and not just Pukka pies reheated. They’re made by the Northern Pie Company and are some of the best pies I’ve had at the football. There’s also a cracking bar under this stand (we’re in Pearl Street) but I didn’t feel the urge to put even more beers away with so many pubs yet to come. All these boys are bigger than me so I’m in a rare spot where I’m the smallest guy. It could get messy.
Here’s how well I could see. It’s quite a small ground and I had a good view of everything. The stand was worrying sparsely populated and I worry about Rochdale as a club. The stadium takes 10k+ but the attendance was 2,568 today. There were a few kids on the back row behind us and a couple of old boys on the row in front, but it was very quiet in our area. The terraces were packed so it’s clear where the ultras prefer to be. A lot of noise from that end during the game.
Mascot time! This is Desmond the Dragon. I’ve not been able to capture him in his full glory, but he does appear to have an ample pair of yellow breasts, directly in the middle of his face. A slight design flaw on an otherwise excellent mascot. I always like it when mascots have those big goofy feet. I bet he’s roasting in that thing though.
Here are the away fans. It’s a massive stand for 100 people to hang out in. They were fairly well behaved and there was only one knobhead who felt the need to be funny about how he threw the ball back into play. The familiar “AFC Wimbledon” chants made me remember another great day out at the football. The game itself was a shambles. Both teams really struggled to get anything going and you can see why they’re both in League Two. Wimbledon are so much worse than last season. What happened? The Dons took the lead through a fluke goal in pretty much their only attack.
I jokingly said I was on my way to “sunny Rochdale” expecting it to piss it down and we got such bright sunshine we couldn’t see during the second half! A beautiful day for the football. The game improved in the second half too. Wimbledon doubled their lead with a long ball tucked away by Josh Davison. The man bunned forward had a decent game and caused problems throughout. A few minutes later Tyrese Sinclair got one back, but Rochdale couldn’t fit another goal to tie it up. Sinclair played for Mansfield before this. His dad is former Chelsea player Frank Sinclair. He took his goal well and was player of the match.
As we depart from the Pearl Street Stand let’s give some ratings for Rochdale’s Spotland ground!
It looked jumping in the terraced end at the other end of the ground but around us it was very quiet. The Wimbledon fans were in and out of the game. Call it **½.
At £22, I paid only £3 less than Arsenal in pre-season. League Two crowds are going to be a struggle because the action isn’t that good but the price structure at some clubs is asking for empty seats. Average attendance at Rochdale this season is 2,962 and it’ll get worse if the weather turns. **
Well, what can you say about this game? The passing was poor and the final third saw a lack of excitement. At least there were goals, and it did improve in the second half. **½
EASE OF ACCESS
Spotland is 1.7 miles from the train station, so it is walkable. There looked to be a lot of street parking, but I didn’t see any specific football parking. **½.
In spite of the ratings here I really enjoyed Rochdale. There was a nice, relaxed atmosphere in the ground, and they had some fantastic amenities for the level. They had a great bar downstairs under the stand and the food was good. The toilets were actually passable, which is nice! ****
It’s a solid score. It puts Rochdale above Sutton, Butts Park, Nuneaton and Rushden but slightly behind Oxford and Man Utd. My memories of the day may have been significantly improved by the pub crawl we did after the game, but I did have a good day out. The club was friendly, and I liked the facilities at Spotland. Pub crawl review forthcoming!