Partially hidden amongst the ivy and the last few blossoms of the fading summer foliage is a small inscription. It’s located near the junction in Ripponden and is dedicated to the numerous Yorkshire folk who have passed though the area on their way to take on the Lancastrians. Left towards Oldham and right to Rochdale. It was our meeting point for the older contingent of the usual suspects. The Ripponden Shayman, who is full of useless local knowledge, had already told us about the potential delays in the valley linked to the Rushbearing Festival. We’d dragged Tesco Pete out early, much to his protestations, and were off on our 23-mile journey across the Pennines.
The sun was out, it was a barmy 23 degrees, and the view from the top of Blackstone Edge was perfect. From Hollingworth Lake to the cooling towers in Runcorn on the horizon, everything looked calm and picturesque. We made our way down the steep and winding road, through the outpost of Littleborough and into the suburbs of Rochdale. We turned right at the wonderful multi-story tower blocks and then headed towards the floodlights poking up between the trees.
We’d bagged the last parking spot in the ground a few weeks ago, the stewards were terrific, once we’d parked up, they kindly guided us round to the away end. We passed the fan’s zone, the club shop, and were directed to the best chippy in Rochdale, according to the locals. It’s handily placed directly across the road from the turnstiles and was overrun by travelling Shaymen. An entrepreneur from years earlier must have woken one morning and decided to knock down his front room, move the telly upstairs and install a fryer. I bet his neighbours loved him, but I’m sure he has made a fortune over the years since. Genius!
Rochdale’s Spotland ground has a capacity of just over 10,000. There are four independent covered stands around the ground. The home fans are well provided for with a terrace behind one goal and seating at the other end. The main stand has executive boxes behind reflective glass, the media and changing rooms, and there are seats from one corner flag to the other. The 722 travelling Shaymen were given perhaps the best stand in the ground, fully seated, and running alongside the pitch, it’s the only stand without supporting pillars for the roof. With advanced admission of £24, it’s the most expensive entry price in the league by some way, and perhaps this had an impact on the numbers in attendance.
The Shaymen were in complete control in the first half, Rochdale hardly entered the final third of the pitch. The team looked fitter, faster, and much more up for the battle than the home side. It was no surprise when the Shaymen opened the scoring, the drum hammered out a decent beat as the travelling fans celebrated. Town could have been two, three or four up by halftime, without any complaints from the home side, they were that dominant.
The second half was a completely differently game, the team held their defensive positions from halfway and challenged Rochdale take them on. The home team only tested Johnson a few times, unable to break through our compact and organised defence. On the break the team almost made it two with a deflected cross that hit the Rochdale crossbar with the keeper stranded. With ten minutes to go the locals started to make their way to the exits, some giving us a pleasant wave as they left. At full time, the team were given a terrific ovation for their victory, the supporters had sung all day, and the drum had been bashed from kick-off to final whistle. A great victory.
Driving back and everyone was in high spirits. The result was as comfortable as you could possibly hope for in a one-nil win, the three points never looked in doubt. Tesco Pete read out the other scores and the league table; we’ve had a decent start to the season. As we dropped off the old boys, they continued finishing the inscription they’d started earlier. The magic markers were out, with the Greetland Shaymen keeping lookout – ‘Dedicated to numerous Yorkshire folk who have passed through the area on their way to take on the Lancastrians, Oldham and Rochdale 2023-24 – Come on Shaymen!’. You can’t take old folk anywhere these days!
Next up, we’re off to Chesterfield in a few weeks, that’s going to be fun too.
Miles on the road 726, Goals on the road 4.
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