If there were a few optimistic fans remaining before 3pm this afternoon, even they now must concede that Rochdale AFC’s 102-year unbroken Football League history will come to an end when the season concludes in May.
The 2-0 home defeat inflicted by Gillingham leaves a six-point gap from safety for a team that hasn’t looked capable of pouring water out of a boot if the instructions were on the bottom. In short, it ain’t happening.
It’s symptomatic of the whole football club at the minute.
Every morning I wake up and look at social media and the forum. It doesn’t take long before I feel anger. A bit of self reflection says I shouldn’t. As my family remind me, Rochdale AFC is my ‘hobby’, my ‘pastime’. They’re right, of course, and rising inflation and interest rates is what should keep me up at night, not a football club, but it’s not that simple. Something that has been part of my life since I was eight years old as, yes, a pastime, cannot be so easily set aside. What happens to the club affects me in the same way as other things in my life that many would argue are more important. That’s just the way it’s become.
Therefore, what I’ve seen happen over the past four or five years has upset me to the point of anger. My profession − applied to the club in a voluntary way − has allowed me to get more of an insight than most (I’m grateful and resentful of this in equal measure). I’ve striven to maintain my integrity and ask the questions that matter. It’s got me alienated at times, bollocked and even seen attempts at my public humiliation. Regardless, I’ve always called it as I’ve seen it. I did this to help the club ultimately, and to give supporters a better understanding above anything else. It’s what I would want from my local media.
I thought this would lead to better times. It’s why I made the effort. We saw off an unwanted hostile takeover and got ourselves a boardroom made up of supporters who have done nothing but give. That seemed a massive positive.
What I will say now, having witnessed one defeat too many, on top of hearing that some players can’t even be bothered to train on certain days, is that, sadly, far from being positive, we have reached the nadir.
Even upon our disappointing relegation from League One in 2021, under the management of Brian Barry-Murphy, we had skilled and motivated players, it was just he saw competitive football as one big player-development project and that environment cost us.
What we have on the field now is incomparable to that and is the final result of half a decade of neglect that even a changing of the guard in the boardroom hasn’t managed to salvage. This doesn’t feel like my club anymore. I feel no affinity to the players, the management and even those working at the club.
What is clear tonight, right here, right now, is that the current management team is not up to it. We got an initial dead-cat bounce when they first came in, we looked a bit more robust, leaving behind the sidewinding softness given to us by Robbie Stockdale, but it didn’t last. Yes, Jim Bentley has been saddled with players on contracts of silly lengths, but he took the job with a remit to play with the hand he was dealt. He has had since the end of August to sort things out and he has been given the January transfer window. A few players aside, the squad is as lethargic and without motivation as it was before Bentley arrived, many are even bereft of the requisite quality too. The failure to get a 90-minute performance out of any of them is as damning as it has been costly. By his own words at the fans’ forum, he cannot even get some of them to buy into an increase in training intensity for a relegation dogfight. He has failed, so, quite simply, he’s got to go.
Next season, in the National League, we will have one solitary season of EFL parachute funding, which presents arguably our best chance of a return to League Two. Can we afford to waste that on a management team that clearly can’t cut it? In my opinion, we need to part ways with them now, take the hit financially, and get someone in who can get to know the club (if they don’t already) and absorb what it means to everyone connected to it. By the summer, they’ll know exactly what’s required to make a fist of it in the National League. This, though, will require the board to be brave and make a decision that really should have been made after the Hartlepool defeat.
If we’ve anything about us, we will go get John Askey before York City hire him back. We were linked to Askey when we had relieved Stockdale of his duties in August, but a new deal offered to him by York put paid to that.
Due diligence done on Askey makes him the perfect fit for us. He operates on a tight budget, he believes in broken toys and talented youth players, and he has experience at National League level (he had York worrying the play-off spots before he was unceremoniously sacked in November).
York chairman Glenn Henderson, who Askey is rumoured to have fallen out with, is now offering to sell his shares to the supporters’ trust and the fans want Askey back should this happen. If we want him, we need to act now.
There is, of course, another option. Since its formation in 1907, Rochdale AFC has only ever been promoted from the ‘Rochdale Division’ three times. Two of these came under this man’s reign. The club has only ever appeared at Wembley twice. Again, that’s down to this man. Of his 570 games in charge of Rochdale, he won 235 of them (41.2%). He is also responsible for garnering the most points Rochdale have ever amassed in a season (82 in 2010) which also included 25 league wins, a record not achieved since 1927. He also led Dale into the fourth round of the FA Cup four times, one of which led to a fifth-round appearance. His club CV sparkles.
It is, of course, Keith Hill.
Sure, towards the end of his time at the club there was struggle and, with the exception of Tranmere, he has since failed to recapture the sparkle that made him, once upon a time, tipped for the top, but one thing is for sure – he gets our club. Totally and utterly gets it. There will be no adjustment period. He created a positive winning culture once. He could do it again, couldn’t he?
Whatever happens, the board cannot maintain the status quo after today. So, it’s now over to them.