Dale take stock as Bentley rolls in

Dale have turned to former Morecambe and AFC Fylde boss Jim Bentley. Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

Perhaps one of the more unfair accusations levelled at Rochdale AFC over the dismissal of Robbie Stockdale as manager is that it was done too quickly.

The notion he was sacked after just four games of a new season is a fallacy, however. In truth, he was dismissed after not just a continuation of poor form from the season prior, but a worsening of it.

There is a legitimate argument that the board of directors should have acted at the end of the 2021/22 season and thus not allowed him the summer to overhaul the squad (and budget) with players of his choosing. Yet, had they done that, they may have faced criticism from other quarters. Such is the lot of a football director – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But after four straight league defeats into the new campaign, with his charges old and new looking disjointed and, worse, disinterested, supporter pressure mounted to a crescendo the board simply could not ignore any longer. On August 18, along with his assistant Jimmy Shan, Stockdale was given his jotters.

While history will probably recall him among the pantheon of Rochdale’s more unsuccessful managers – just 16 victories in 59 games in charge – Stockdale’s time at Dale was not an unmitigated disaster.

It’s easy to forget, while wrapped in the quilt of disappointment, that he arrived amidst the backdrop of a hostile takeover, so his recruitment was initially limited. Despite this, he did okay, bringing in decent players such as Corey O’Keeffe while getting the best out of players we already had, such as Aaron Morley and Jake Beesley, both of whom went on to land big January moves.

Corey O’Keeffe was among Stockdale’s better signings.

Tactically, Stockdale started out with a 4-3-3 but switched to more of a 3-4-3 after we lost the opening game of 21/22 at Harrogate, which was effective enough to see us to eighth in League Two after 10 games. The risk was always that, if the wing backs were pinned back, however, we effectively had five at the back and just two in midfield, but, for the most part, it was effective. People still fixate on the formation rather than what players were being asked to do within it. It was this that Stockdale changed. It still mystifies me as to why he deviated away from what he was asking players to do in those first 10 games, as that is what seemed to impact on the commitment to get the ball into the box quickly and effectively.

In fact, one of the first things Stockdale told supporters was that he thought along the lines of not being concerned with how many passes his side completed, but rather whether or not it was going to get them into dangerous areas. What changed?

If anything, he probably overanalysed things for a long time and God only knows what Sammy Lee was doing in his much-publicised advisory role.

If Stockdale had shifted the focus of his players, especially within games, he’d probably still be here, but the commitment to that structure once the 2022/23 season got under way made people think things hadn’t changed… because they hadn’t!

The other thing that had persisted, and it has dogged us for a good while now, is our inability to defend set pieces. Zonal marking probably plays a large part in this, but, honestly, it is soul destroying the amount of goals we’ve gifted the opposition from these circumstances.

Robbie Stockdale managed 16 wins in 59 games for Rochdale AFC.

So now it’s over to Jim Bentley to rescue the situation and, more pertinently, our much-cherished Football League status. The former Morecambe and AFC Fylde boss was probably not the first name on any Dale supporter’s lips when considering Stockdale’s replacement but, a combination of outlandish demands and improved offers from current employers, showed Bentley in a more committed light when compared to other possible candidates, and so he was the one offered the job. What was most important, however, was that the board wasn’t seduced by a rookie’s PowerPoint presentation and that a manager who already knew his way around League Two was appointed. Whatever people’s view on Bentley, he definitely fits that category.

In the three games witnessed under his charge so far, he clearly believes in the team being more direct. This approach requires a good No.9 and Bentley addressed that immediately by bringing in Scott Quigley on loan from Stockport County. His only move in the transfer market to date.

His impact was instantaneous as he battered a Carlisle backline for 70 minutes at Brunton Park and grabbed himself two debut goals. It was only those cited set-piece follies that cost us three points on the day.

However, as good as Quigley was against Carlisle, he was poor against league leaders Leyton Orient on Tuesday night. Yes, he was up against a better defensive unit, which seemed to anticipate every ball, but we are going to need a lot more of his debutant performance if we are to get out of the mess we are in. Less said about his saved penalty the better.

Attack is not our main problem, though. It is the midfield. This was truly highlighted against Orient on Tuesday. Trying to shoehorn Ian Henderson into a role Connor Malley or James Ball would be more suited to, will doubtlessly still be playing on Bentley’s mind. 

And as for Ball, he is now becoming a liability anywhere but within 30 yards of the opposition goal. If anything, there’s more of an argument to play him up front. He is not the central midfielder we thought we were getting in January.

Against Orient, Bentley looked to have his men get behind the ball when the opposition were in possession in the Rochdale half. He referred to it as “setting traps”. However, we lacked the quality to deliver the final ball on any counter and so Orient rode out the opening stages before going on to pull the strings themselves. The way Paul Smyth enjoyed the freedom of the pitch only served to remind us of the type of player we ourselves were missing. It’s that lack of quality that is concerning. A good few players’ radars were off on Tuesday night and, again, this must be playing on Bentley’s mind. He has inherited somebody else’s players and has to wait until the New Year to do anything about that. 

However, he needs to shift Rayhaan Tulloch and Femi Seriki back to their parent clubs soonest if they aren’t going to start games – certainly in the latter’s case. Seriki was starting to adapt to the right-back role, and just needs to learn when not to run with the ball. The versatile Jimmy Keohane never looks as good at right-back as he does left-back for some reason. 

Every so often, over the years, there’s been a need to simplify things for a few games – when Keith Hill took over in 06/07 being the best example. So, for now, we need to invoke the inner Mike Bassett, play Abraham Odoh and Tyrese Sinclair wide, Malley and Toumani Diagouraga in midfield, and Devante Rodney and Quigley up top. You’d think Bentley is exactly the type of manager to recognise this.

Maybe Rochdale will be playing four, four, fucking two against Northampton tomorrow. Then again, maybe not.

****

It was to much relief that the board of directors issued a statement to say the legal action brought against them and the Supporters’ Trust has been settled.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you’ll be well aware of the fact the club was subject to a hostile takeover from Morton House MGT and First Form Construction Limited, which then brought High Court action against those attempting to fend off this move.

With an agreement to purchase shares back from Morton House now also reached, it is hoped that what has been a nightmare period for directors and supporters alike is now at an end.

The fundraising effort of the Trust also needs a nod here, because, even though the High Court action has been settled, the legal team representing it had been working tirelessly up until that point – and still needed to be paid. So, thank you to all who contributed in whatever way you could. You have all played a part in the club remaining owned by the people who make it tick. Yourselves.

We now need to continue to help the board of directors do what is right for the football club going forward. We’ve seen enough naivety, stubbornness, hubris and pocket-lining apathy to last a lifetime.

On that score, we are still waiting for the EFL to announce its findings after announcing in March that it had brought charges against several individuals concerning the events that led to the Morton House hostile takeover.

Tick tock.

Summer job for Stockdale as Dale record lowest finish since 2006

Robbie Stockdale has a job to do over the summer.

There is a feeling of relief, if not content, among Rochdale AFC supporters as the curtain comes down on the 2021/22 season.

The win against Newport today was a rare highlight in a poor campaign that thankfully did not see the club relegated and, thanks also to the current board of directors, means we still have a club to support at the end of it.

Make no mistake though, this has been Rochdale’s lowest league finish since 2006. Perhaps that statistic in itself shows how spoiled we supporters have been over the past 15 years or so, where finishing in the weeds of English football’s bottom division was commonplace for years prior.

Yet there has been an intimation of tolerance this time around that was missing in days of yore, due to well-publicised matters taking place off the field. I have covered those issues on this website for the past year or so, as has the national media. While these events do provide some mitigation for the on-field struggles of this season, they do not wholly absolve them. It is important, in fact, to separate the two. The predators lurking in the shadows have been keen to exploit any disenfranchise with team performance via social media to suit off-field agendas. It is vital therefore that supporters see protecting the football club, and what happens on the pitch, as two separate interests.

I, too, have to be fair in my appraisal. Last summer was tumultuous. With then manager Brian Barry-Murphy asking to be released from his contract and the attempted club takeover by Morton House, new manager Robbie Stockdale certainly had his work cut out.

Following relegation from League One, with a host of unwanted records, this season was always going to be one of transition and an attempt at stability. A whole new management team, operating in the foreground of an attempted hostile takeover, was effectively functioning with one hand tied behind its back. Last summer was about getting bodies into the club and then out on the pitch. They may not have been the management’s first choices, but needs must.

Stockdale sought to move the team away from an aesthetically pleasing, passing-for-passing’s-sake approach and implement something that can equate more readily to triumph. His comment at his first fans’ forum, “The right pass at the right time”, summed this up.

He asked for patience on the fronts of recruitment and results. A very fair ask given the circumstances already mentioned. He also had to deal with a squad that had lost key players in Ollie Rathbone, Matt Lund and Stephen Humphrys – the propulsion and the shells of the howitzer.

He set about this task efficiently, bringing in no less than 10 players in a matter of weeks.

Stockdale also inherited some decent players too. Abraham Odoh, Alex Newby and Jake Beesley all began to complement each other to provide a nightmarish front three for defences to handle; Aaron Morley was being utilised correctly; Conor Grant continued to look like he could grow into the club’s next big asset; and the versatility of Jimmy Keohane would benefit any team.

Ollie Rathbone left for Rotherham in the summer.

Added to that, there was a clear emphasis from Stockdale on the team playing to its strengths. After a pre-season of 4-3-3, with the addition of the opening day defeat at Harrogate, we witnessed a change in approach tactically. The 3-4-3 may have been partly borne out of necessity, with COVID impacting the squad in the opening week, but it went on to be our familiar set-up and one which did seem to suit the players we had at that point.

After draws with Scunthorpe and Colchester, a very small minority pointed to the negative connotations of ‘five defenders’, only for a decent run of form to illustrate that was far from the case.

Of course, the risk was the side being outgunned in midfield if those five were pinned back or the wing-backs were too wide, and we need only look at the opening 15-20 minutes at Vale Park to see how that was a potential issue. However, the team and coaching staff demonstrated their awareness in the way they responded to this during the game, ensuring Morley and Dooley were less isolated, with the game then turning on its head.

Crucial to this was the way Corey O’Keeffe and Keohane were producing on either flank, in subtly different ways. The former became something a League Two Kyle Walker, with the ability to step inside, adding to the midfield ranks, while at the same time still contributing out wide. On the other side, Keohane stuck to his touchline more, offering a real outlet, often ending as high up the pitch as the forwards when we attacked. Identifying that the central two need some support also saw Newby and Odoh − principally seen as ‘wide men’ − stationed 10-15 yards further infield than you’d usually see a winger. This created the illusion of a four-man midfield at times, and that’s without O’Keeffe’s excursions into that area.

Corey O’Keeffe excelled as a right wingback from August to December.

Newby seemed to be really getting to grips with the ‘in-to-go-out’ approach, as he drifted out when attacks required his presence to deliver quality crosses. Meanwhile, Odoh was tending to drift towards the ball with the aim to start runs from wherever he received it. In combination, it was quite unique to have two players in similar roles playing them totally differently.

The final addition appeared to be allowing Morley and Dooley to flourish when they could have been exposed, with the regular appearance of a central defender stepping forward, usually the one stationed on the left. In fact, Max Taylor on the right was the only one who rarely left his station as Eoghan O’Connell felt more than comfortable stepping in from his central role in the three. Jeriel Dorsett, despite a shaky start, looked to have potential and liked to channel his inner Jack O’Connell when joining attacks and swinging over crosses from the left-hand side.

Crucial to it all though, was the way Jake Beesley was progressing to the point that it seemed almost a positive Humphrys had left for Wigan. They are different types of striker and what Stockdale’s Dale needed were those Glenn Murray-esque qualities, where a centre forward can work across the opposition back line and occupy defenders all at once. That takes a certain level of ability and footballing know-how and it was obvious Beesley not only grasped that, but looked to learn the role more each and every game.

After 10 games playing in this fashion, Dale sat eighth in League Two, which was seen as progress ahead of schedule at that juncture.

But then the wheels came off somewhat. As Christmas lights began to twinkle as early as November, Dale did not. The side seemed to develop a knack for playing out draws – either ones where neither side looked like scoring in a million years or ones that required our side to claw back a deficit.

Four of these came back to back – against Leyton Orient, Walsall, Stevenage and Exeter – and were hotly followed by two defeats – against Hartlepool and Bristol Rovers. In isolation the defeats were poor enough, but following dropped points in earlier games they took on greater significance.

A miserable festive period saw the team’s league position fall to a lowly 18th. However, there had been some cause for Christmas cheer. One of Dale’s better performances came at home against Newport – a convincing 3-0 win – which gave real hope that Stockdale’s men could kick on from the slump. There then followed an enforced COVID break, however, that robbed the team of any momentum.

January, and the gaping maw of the transfer window, was always going to be key. While the club was still not free of the spectre of unwanted outside attention, it was, at least, operating under more certainty and less restraint. This allowed Stockdale to make a more assured pass at making the squad his own.

The initial loss of forward Jake Beesley and midfielder Aaron Morley sent a ripple of concern through the fanbase, even though the money rumoured to have been recouped for the pair ranged between £500,000 and £800,000.

Aaron Morley was sold to Bolton Wanderers in January.

The concern was justified. Beesley, out of the shadow of Stephen Humphrys, had begun to show what he was capable of in the role of leading man. A mobile forward, tirelessly running the channels, had added goals to his game. Blackpool had clearly seen enough to think this could be transferred to Championship level. The club’s policy has always been to usher players on to better things, if the price is right, of course, and so Beesley was given that chance.

Morley was another blow. Finally, what supporters knew the talented midfielder was capable of, he had started to show. So often misused in the past, in Stockdale’s system, Morley was making things tick. The fact his transition to League One Bolton’s midfield was both seamless, and coincided with an upturn in their form, was no coincidence.

So, with these players gone, and those Stockdale already knew he needed, he had to get to work fast. Targets had been monitored since August and their form tracked. The board had promised any funds received would be reinvested back into the playing squad.

Even prior to Beesley’s departure, the forward line was a code red. Two firm targets were identified, both at non-league level. The first was Darlington’s Luke Charman. A product of Newcastle United’s youth system, he had impressively held on at the club until the grand old age of 23 before being released. Two-footed and a good header of the ball, surprising to many, he failed to find a league club and instead pledged himself to the relatively local Quakers in the Northern Premier League. Nineteen goals in 33 appearances showed he was operating well below his level and Stockdale managed to persuade the striker that Rochdale would give him the platform to follow in the footsteps of Jake Beesley et al. The fact Charman turned down more financially lucrative offers elsewhere to turn out for Dale is also testament to a player who is career driven.

Luke Charman was picked up by Darlington after being released by Newcastle United (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images).

The second forward signed was, perhaps, the more interesting of the two. Tahvon Campbell, at the age of 25, had plenty of prior experience operating at League Two. It’s fair to say his record here previously had not warmed any heather. However, this season at least, he had brutalised defences while playing for Woking in the National League and his highlight reel showed some real strength, determination and a willingness to shoot low and hard. Stockdale clearly saw something to work with there and, with 14 goals to his name already, made him a Dale player for a decent transfer fee.

One of the biggest criticisms of Stockdale’s side up until this point had been the defence. Eoghan O’Connell aside, it looked inconsistent and lacking in experience. Too many goals had been gifted to opposition sides.

This was addressed with the capture of Paul Downing, on loan from Portsmouth. Almost right away his experience and leadership alongside O’Connell provided a steadied calm that had been too long absent.

And, of course, Stockdale’s defence utilised a wingback system. This, too, was reinforced. The might of Corey O’Keeffe, who had put in an astronomical turn while on loan from Mansfield from August to December, was secured until the season’s end, while Max Clark, released from Fleetwood, stepped in on the left to provide a more reliable option than the oft-unfit Aidy White.

The final piece of the jigsaw was that midfield spot. With Morley gone, Stephen Dooley and loanee George Broadbent had been valiantly trying to keep things moving in there, but Rochdale had been missing a box-to-box type for some time. Enter another non-league solution in the guise of James Ball. Another signing in his mid-20s, Ball was acquired on deadline day from Solihull Moors, the previous home of Jake Beesley and a club that assistant manager Jimmy Shan knows well.

James Ball was the box-to-box midfielder the team desperately needed.

So, with the window closed, Stockdale had found more pieces to fit his system. Importantly, these were the pieces the team needed and each had been considered over a period of time. In fact, it had probably been the most successful transfer window I can remember at the club in terms of recruitment and financial backing. It left supporters optimistic that the 18th spot Rochdale occupied at that point would soon be left behind. While any talk of a late promotion push was fanciful, there was quite rightly a belief that the signings would be enough to quash any fear of a relegation scrap. Yet a relegation scrap is exactly what Rochdale got. In fact, for a good while, there was a genuine fear that back-to-back relegations were a distinct possibility.

Scunthorpe, adrift at the foot of the table, turned to former Rochdale great Keith Hill to save them and, while he couldn’t, both fellow strugglers Oldham and Carlisle made managerial changes that had a much more positive impact.

The Tranmere game in January, a 2-0 defeat, was like watching Dale start again from scratch and the poor form then played out over the next few months, to the point the team was still trying to gain the identity it had managed to find much more quickly at the start of the season.

Meanwhile, the football had become aimless and joyless. The squad seemed to be without pace, guile, heart, width, strength and, most of all, bottle. From the outside looking in, it seemed Stockdale had consolidated a losing mentality forged by Barry-Murphy – but in a lower division!

The gap between the Spotland outfit and the bottom two places narrowed with each passing week. All of the clubs in the bottom 10, bar Harrogate, swapped managers. There were some calls from the stands for Rochdale to do the same.

The board stood firm, no red button was pushed and Stockdale managed to eek out the required wins to keep the trapdoor at arm’s length – but without ever quite finding the consistency of performance to slake the thirst of those seeking confidence in the manager.

So, an 18th-place finish, comfortably away from relegation in the end, probably does represent the stability that was hoped for in the summer. However, there are still doubts among the support that Stockdale is the man to lead us to better times again, especially given this was one of the weaker League Twos of recent memory.

Perhaps the final home game, against Bristol Rovers, captured the season in miniature. A 3-1 lead squandered to end in a 4-3 defeat. Every time the away side got in behind our defence, they looked likely to score, adding an even greater pressure to anything we did at the other end. It says a lot that this writer, and other supporters, were not confident of a result even with a two-goal lead.

Stockdale has a big job to do this summer. He has now put his own foundations in place, while an expected exodus of out-of-contract players will offer even more manoeuvrability. Two things are an absolute must, however – he needs to get goals into the team and rid it of its soft underbelly by creating a physicality suited to the level the team is currently at.

The board of directors have said that reaching at the least the play-offs must be the aim next season and that there will be a budget to match those ambitions.

Stockdale is going to get another crack at achieving this, rumours that he is being courted by Hartlepool notwithstanding. Only then, I guess, can his reign be judged fairly. Let’s just hope we don’t waste another season to find out we were wrong.

All photos courtesy of Dan Youngs unless otherwise noted.

Rochdale AFC squad at the end of the 2021/22 season:

GOALKEEPERS:

Jay Lynch (28)

Joel Coleman (26)

Brad Wade (21)

Jake Eastwood (25) (emergency loan from Sheffield United)

DEFENCE:

Aidy White (30) LB/LWB

Max Clark (26) LB/LWB

Corey O’Keeffe (23) RB/RWB

Matt Done (33) LB/LWB

Jimmy Keohane (31) LB/LWB/RB/RWB

Joe Dunne (20) LB

Max Taylor (21) CB

Sam Graham (21) CB

Jim McNulty (36) CB

Eoghan O’Connell (26) (C) CB

Jeriel Dorsett (19) (season-long loan from Reading) CB/LB

Paul Downing (30) (season-long loan from Portsmouth) CB

MIDFIELD:

Aidy White (30) LW

Stephen Dooley (30) LW/RW/CM/CAM

Matt Done (33) LW/CAM

Alex Newby (26) RW

Jimmy Keohane (31) LW/RW/CDM/CM/CAM

Abraham Odoh (21) RW/LW/CAM

George Broadbent (21) (on loan from Sheffield United until season end) CM

Conor Grant (20) CM/CAM

Ethan Brierley (18) CM

James Ball (26) CM

Liam Kelly (26) CDM/CM/CAM

FORWARDS:

Matt Done (33) ST

Luke Charman (24) ST

Tahvon Campbell (25) ST

Danny Cashman (21) (season-long loan from Coventry) ST/IF

Josh Andrews (20) (season-long loan from Birmingham City) ST

Alex Newby (26) IF

Abraham Odoh (21) IF

Morton House owned majority stake in company that made millions of pounds in unexplained payments

The payroll company at the centre of a proposed takeover of Rochdale AFC owned 80% of an organisation which the Insolvency Service says could not demonstrate the “legitimacy” of £1.8 million in payments, it has been revealed.

In April 2019, a company called Morton House Business and Corporate Services Limited (“Morton House”), then led by Denise Courtnell, bought an 80% stake in Village Energy Solutions Limited.

Village Energy Solutions Limited was incorporated in February 2018 but, by December 2019, proceedings had commenced to wind up the company after a creditor petitioned the court to shut it down.

In April 2019, Morton House became the major shareholder and, on 4 July 2019, the petition was served by HM Revenue and Customs.  Although Courtnell was never listed as a Village Energy Solutions Limited director, she was the only director and sole shareholder of Morton House.

Morton House divested from Village Energy Solutions six days after the petition was issued on 10 July 2019.

Enquiries by HMRC uncovered that the company was originally incorporated as providing real estate and management consultant services and in its first nine months of its existence had three different names – Rasdale Solutions Limited, Caffe Concerto Payroll Services Limited and Concerto Payroll Services Limited – before settling on Village Energy Solutions Limited.

In interviews with HMRC, Village Energy Solutions Limited director Donna Nada, from Ilford, Essex, informed the Official Receiver that the company traded from premises in North West London and provided payroll and HR services.

But, due to Nada’s failure to ensure that Village Energy Solutions Limited maintained or preserved adequate accounting records or provided any form of records to the liquidator, HMRC said it was not possible to verify the true nature of £2.3 million of income and whether this accounted for all the company’s sales and income.

HMRC added that this also meant it was not possible to determine the legitimacy of at least £1.8 million worth of payments out of the company’s bank accounts.

Donna Nada also alleged to investigators that some of this money was used to buy expensive watches for investment purposes. But HMRC said Nada could not explain where the watches were or supply satisfactory documentation.

When pressed for further information on Morton House’s involvement, a spokesperson for HMRC said: “I’m afraid that HMRC has a statutory duty of confidentiality, which means we don’t discuss identifiable individuals or businesses, so we will be unable to provide a comment on this occasion.”

In March 2020, Morton House Business and Corporate Services Limited changed its name to Morton House MGT and First Form Construction Limited and, under this present name, claims to have purchased a 42% stake in Rochdale AFC in July 2021.

This attempted takeover of the club made national news and became the subject of an English Football League (EFL) investigation, as it transpired Morton House’s private acquisition of shares had not conformed to the EFL’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test (OADT). The EFL said it had launched an investigation into “multiple individuals”, demonstrating the depth and complexity of the issue.

Despite it then telling the EFL in August that it planned to withdraw and divest from Rochdale AFC, Morton House lodged a High Court petition in January 2022 against the Dale Supporters’ Trust and other individuals.

The Trust subsequently launched a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to combat the legal action.

It was openly reported in the media that the Morton House takeover was led by an Andrew Curran and Darrell Rose, along with their intermediary Alexander Jarvis.

In October 2021, Curran was charged by the Football Association with an aggravated breach of rule E3 after being accused of calling members of the Rochdale AFC board of directors ‘Nancy boys’ and the people of Rochdale ‘small minded’. Curran was confirmed guilty by the FA in January 2022 and suspended from all football and football activity, which included a ground ban up to and including Wednesday, 14 March 2022. Curran was also ordered to complete a mandatory face-to-face education programme.

Neither Curran nor Rose are listed as current directors of Morton House, with only Courtnell and a Faical Safouane currently registered as active. Alexander Jarvis has also distanced himself from Morton House.

Jarvis told this writer: “I’m not actually involved in the takeover anymore, but I’m happy to tell you what I know from when I was involved.

“Morton House was invited into the club at the request of the management at the time. The first meeting was with [then chief executive] David Bottomley and other directors. They were very open to outside investment at that time.”

Faical Safouane, listed as majority shareholder in Morton House, was approached for comment, but no response was received.

In September last year, it was reported former Charlton Athletic chairman Matt Southall had expressed an interest in purchasing Morton House’s shareholding in Rochdale.

Jarvis said: “Matt Southall has a relationship with Morton House and they’ve approached him to work with them on a deal. I’m not sure when he initially got involved, but I believe he is now actively involved publicly, you can see that.”

A peek through the window

Robbie Stockdale got the players he wanted this January.

A glance at Rochdale’s position in the League Two table, to the casual observer at least, would cause confusion when contrasted with the current mood among the fanbase.

The jubilation and optimism seem at complete odds with the team’s lowly position of 18th.

Yet, after a summer of off-the-field turmoil, where the very future and direction of the club was uncertain, for most of those supporters to be able to watch their team play again has been enough.

Following relegation from League One, with a host of unwanted records, this season was always going to be one of transition and an attempt at stability. A whole new management team, operating in the foreground of an attempted hostile takeover, has managed to deliver that so far. Last summer was about getting bodies into the club and then out on the pitch. They may not have been the management’s first choices, but needs must.

Robbie Stockdale, and his inconspicuous assistant Jimmy Shan, have managed to employ a system that has at least entertained, if not provided stellar results.

With that in mind, January, and the gaping maw of the transfer window, was always going to be key. While the club is still not free of the spectre of unwanted outside attention, it is at least operating under more certainty and less restraint. This has allowed Stockdale to make a more assured pass at making the squad his own.

The initial loss of forward Jake Beesley and midfielder Aaron Morley sent a ripple of concern through the fanbase, even though the money rumoured to have been recouped for the pair ranged between £500,000 and £800,000.

The concern was justified. Beesley, out of the shadow of Stephen Humphrys, had begun to show what he was capable of in the role of leading man. A mobile forward, tirelessly running the channels, had added goals to his game. Blackpool had clearly seen enough to think this could be transferred to Championship level. The club’s policy has always been to usher players on to better things, if the price is right, of course, and so Beesley now has that chance.

Morley was another blow. Finally, what supporters knew the talented midfielder was capable of, he had started to show. So often misused in the past, in Stockdale’s system, Morley was making things tick. The fact his transition to League One Bolton’s midfield has been both seamless, and coincided with an upturn in their form, is no coincidence.

Aaron Morley showed what he was capable of before his departure.

So, with these players gone, and those Stockdale already knew he needed, he had to get to work fast. Targets had been monitored since August and their form tracked. The board had promised any funds received would be reinvested back into the playing squad.

Even prior to Beesley’s departure, the forward line was a code red. Two firm targets were identified, both at non-league level. The first was Darlington’s Luke Charman. A product of Newcastle United’s youth system, he had impressively held on at the club until the grand old age of 23 before being released. Two-footed and a good header of the ball, surprising to many, he failed to find a league club and instead pledged himself to the relatively local Quakers in the Northern Premier League. Nineteen goals in 33 appearances showed he was operating well below his level and Stockdale managed to persuade the striker that Rochdale would give him the platform to follow in the footsteps of Jake Beesley et al. The fact Charman turned down more financially lucrative offers elsewhere to tun out for Dale is also testament to a player who is career driven. The alleged £41,000 paid out by Rochdale to secure the player is a no-brainer, too. As Joe Royle used to famously say to his Oldham superior Ian Stott, “We’ll make money on this one, Mr Chairman.”

Supporters should not expect too much too soon from Charman, given he has made the step up from part-time training. While he scored an eye-catching hat-trick on his debut in the Central League Cup, his tongue was lolling as he was subbed on 76 minutes. He may need a little time to get reacquainted with the rigours of full-time football once again.

The second forward signed is, perhaps, the more interesting of the two. Tahvon Campbell, at the age of 25, has plenty of prior experience operating at League Two. It’s fair to say his record at this level previously, has not warmed any heather. However, this season at least, he has brutalised defences while playing for Woking in the National League and his highlight reel shows some real strength, determination and a willingness to shoot low and hard. Stockdale clearly sees something to work with here and, with 14 goals to his name already, just how he will slot into system will be intriguing to follow.

One of the biggest criticisms of Stockdale’s side this season has been the defence. Eoghan O’Connell aside, it has looked inconsistent and lacking in experience. Too many goals have been gifted to opposition sides.

This has been addressed with the capture of Paul Downing, on loan from Portsmouth. Already his experience and leadership alongside O’Connell has provided a steadied calm that has been too long absent.

And, of course, Stockdale’s defence utilises a wingback system. This, too, has been pleasingly reinforced. The might of Corey O’Keeffe, who put in an astronomical turn while on loan from Mansfield from August, has been secured permanently until the season’s end, while Max Clark, released from Fleetwood, steps in on the left to provide a more reliable option than the oft-unfit Aidy White.

Supporters’ favourite Corey O’Keeffe signed permanently, but only until the season’s end.

There does seem to be a degree of short termism about the backline, however, with the potential for all of O’Keeffe, Downing, O’Connell and Jeriel Dorsett to move on at the season’s end. One can only assume Stockdale has that eventuality covered and is content with current arrangements as they stand.

The final piece of the jigsaw was that midfield spot. With Morely gone, Stephen Dooley and loanee George Broadbent have been valiantly trying to keep things moving in there, but Rochdale have been missing a box-to-box type for some time now. Enter another non-league solution in the guise of James Ball. Another signing in his mid-20s, Ball was acquired on deadline day from Solihull Moors, the previous home of Jake Beesley and a club that assistant manager Shan knows well. The figurative outpouring of grief towards Ball’s departure by all concerned at Solihull bodes well that Rochdale have landed a good ‘un.

Rumours have also been circulating that Rochdale had beaten their record fee paid for a player this window – that being the £150,000 paid to Stoke City for striker Paul Connor back in 2001. With the way deals are structured these days, however, I’m not sure that the record has been broken. Not yet, at any rate.

So, with the window now closed, Stockdale has found more pieces to fit his system. Importantly, these were the pieces the team needed and each has been considered over a period of time. In fact, it has probably been the most successful transfer window I can remember at the club. It has left supporters optimistic that the 18th spot Rochdale currently occupy in League Two will soon be left behind. While any talk of a late promotion push is probably fanciful for this season, there should be enough in the ranks to quash any fear of a relegation scrap. The blocks are in the place to be built on once again in the summer, and only then, truly, can the Stockdale reign be judged.

Rochdale AFC squad 2021/22

GOALKEEPERS:

Jay Lynch (28)

Joel Coleman (26)

Brad Wade (21)

DEFENCE:

Aidy White (30) LB/LWB

Max Clark (26) LB/LWB

Corey O’Keeffe (23) RB/RWB

Matt Done (33) LB/LWB

Jimmy Keohane (31) LB/LWB/RB/RWB

Joe Dunne (20) LB

Max Taylor (21) CB

Sam Graham (21) CB

Jim McNulty (36) CB

Eoghan O’Connell (26) (C) CB

Jeriel Dorsett (19) (season-long loan from Reading) CB/LB

Paul Downing (30) (season-long loan from Portsmouth) CB

MIDFIELD:

Aidy White (30) LW

Stephen Dooley (30) LW/RW/CM/CAM

Matt Done (33) LW/CAM

Alex Newby (26) RW

Jimmy Keohane (31) LW/RW/CDM/CM/CAM

Abraham Odoh (21) RW/LW/CAM

George Broadbent (21) (on loan from Sheffield United until season end) CM

Conor Grant (20) CM/CAM

Ethan Brierley (18) CM

James Ball (26) CM

Liam Kelly (26) CDM/CM/CAM

FORWARDS:

Matt Done (33) ST

Luke Charman (24) ST

Tahvon Campbell (25) ST

Danny Cashman (21) (season-long loan from Coventry) ST/IF

Josh Andrews (20) (season-long loan from Birmingham City) ST

Alex Newby (26) IF

Abraham Odoh (21) IF

Dale Trust launches crowdfund to fight High Court petition

Rochdale AFC’s supporters’ trust has launched a crowdfunding campaign in a bid to “save the club” from legal action enacted by a company which attempted a hostile takeover last summer.

The Dale Trust, along with eight individual directors of the football club, are currently the subject of a High Court petition from Morton House MGT, a payroll company which claimed to the EFL to have purchased 42% of all available shares in Rochdale AFC, directly from individual holders.

It is alleged by Morton House that the Dale Trust and the board have unlawfully caused prejudice to Morton House as a shareholder in the football club − something which the Dale Trust and the directors strenuously deny.

Owing to this being a dispute between shareholders, the litigation cannot be funded by the football club itself, meaning the Trust, a not-for-profit organisation, and the directors, all of whom are unpaid for their work at RAFC, must bear the cost of defending the legal claim.

The Dale Trust is now appealing to its members and the wider football community to donate to a crowdfunding website to aid its defence of the High Court action.

Trust chair Colin Cavanah said: “We find ourselves defending against a situation that is not of our making. We believe that this is the first time that any supporters body has ever faced such a legal action and we are calling on the help of football supporters within the UK and from around the world to support us in resisting the claim that has been brought by Morton House. Governance in football is a huge issue right now, what with the Tracey Crouch Fan Led Review, and we are of the opinion that the safest future for our beloved club is that it continues to be owned and run by supporters for the benefit of supporters and the community at large.”

The attempted takeover by Morton House last year made national news and became the subject of an English Football League (EFL) investigation, as it transpired the private acquisition of shares had not conformed to the EFL’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test (OADT). The EFL has launched an investigation into “multiple individuals”, demonstrating the depth and complexity of the issue.

Despite it telling the EFL in August that it planned to withdrawn and divest from Rochdale AFC, the investigation into Morton House continues, although it is unclear when this will conclude. An EFL spokesperson said: “Regulatory investigations are often complex and take time and, as a result, we do understand the frustrations of Rochdale supporters. We will provide an update as soon as possible, but the matter does remain ongoing.”

It has been widely reported in the media that the failed hostile takeover was led by Andrew Curran and Darrell Rose, along with their intermediary Alex Jarvis.

In October 2021, Curran was charged by the Football Association with an aggravated breach of rule E3 after being accused of calling members of the Rochdale AFC board of directors “Nancy boys” and the people of Rochdale “small minded”. Curran was confirmed guilty by the FA in January 2022 and suspended from all football and football activity, which includes a ground ban up to and including Wednesday, 14 March 2022. Curran has also been ordered to complete a mandatory face-to-face education programme.

This writer reached out to Morton House for comment, but discovered Rose and Curran are no longer listed as directors. No response has been forthcoming.

The Supporters’ Trust works closely with the Rochdale board to help provide its members and the overall fanbase with the opportunity to have a better say in the running of the club and to help spread ownership among its members. Much of the Trust’s work benefits facilities within the club stadium, which extends into the wider community as well as RAFC.

In June 2021 the board of directors at RAFC was overhauled and a new Chairman appointed. In addition, the Dale Trust obtained representation on the board for the first time in its history.

Mr Cavanah added: “We expect that our supporters, magnificent former players and fans of every club up and down the country, will back Rochdale AFC. Our slogan in Summer 2021 was clear, and the message remains: Up The Dale Not For Sale.”

You can find out more about the Dale Trust and donate to the Dale Trust legal-fee crowdfund here.

Stockdale approach is perfect tonic for a League Two Dale

Robbie Stockdale

I have never subscribed to the idea that football has to be beautiful.

That’s not to say the game cannot possess beautiful moments between the first whistle and last, but, for me at least, it is a competitive sport where winning is paramount, not something to be ordered from an Avon catalogue.

Too much emphasis has been placed on aesthetics in the modern game. At the top level, it may even occasionally tally with success. But, down here in the bowels of the Football League, it more often than not leads to frustration and angst from supporters, as the players on the field lack the requisite skillset or polished refinement to pull it off week after week.

How refreshing it is then, that Rochdale AFC manager Robbie Stockdale has sought to move the club away from this approach and implement something that can equate more readily to triumph. I am still captivated by his comment at his first fans’ forum. “The right pass at the right time.” This is what we supporters are now seeing from our team. Gone is the apparent visage of passing for passing’s sake, and, in its place, is a more direct style that seeks to capitalise on any advantage as soon as it presents itself.

And let me be clear, while it may not always be beautiful, it certainly isn’t ugly either. Fans see beauty in goals – and winning. The beautiful game can live up to its moniker beyond appearance alone.

This approach may not always yield the right result after 90 minutes, but it will stop supporters leaving the stadium feeling frustrated as to what might have been. They will be entertained by the fact that they have seen their team compete in the simplest way possible – a style that marries skillset with desire. That’s what I mean by triumph. Perhaps I’m showing my age, but that’s why I watch football matches.

Stockdale had asked for patience on the fronts of recruitment and results. A very fair ask given the tumultuous months the club had endured prior to his appointment. On the field, Brian Barry-Murphy asked to be released from his managerial role, and, off it, the club was in the grip of a hostile takeover. Stockdale also had to deal with a squad that had lost key players Ollie Rathbone, Matt Lund and Stephen Humphrys – the propulsion and the shells of the howitzer.

He set about this task efficiently, bringing in no less than 10 players in a matter of weeks. Some already look like cementing themselves in Dale folklore (I’m looking at you, Corey O’Keeffe).

Corey O’Keeffe

Stockdale has also inherited some fine players too. Abraham Odoh, Alex Newby and Jake Beesley all complement each other to provide a nightmarish front three for defences to handle; Aaron Morley remains a successful product of the youth academy (if utilised properly); Conor Grant looks like he could grow into the club’s next big asset; and the versatility of Jimmy Keohane is a benefit to any team.

Add to that that there is a clear emphasis from Stockdale on the team playing to its strengths and you can really see we mix it up now. He may be a novice first-team manager, but Stockdale does appear to have a firm grasp of the ropes already. Be that all on himself, or courtesy of the watchful eye of LMA-funded Sammy Lee or his assistant Jimmy Shan, it matters not.

So, 10 competitive games in, what have we learned?

After a pre-season of 4-3-3, with the addition of the opening day defeat at Harrogate, we’ve since seen a change in how we approach games tactically. The 3-4-3 may have been partly borne out of necessity, with COVID impacting the squad in the opening week, but it’s gone on to be our familiar set-up and one which does seem to suit the players we have.

After the draws with Scunthorpe and Colchester, a very small minority pointed to the negative connotations of ‘five defenders’, only for this current run of form to illustrate that’s far from the case.

Of course, it could result in a side being outgunned in midfield if those five are pinned back or the wing-backs are too wide, and we need only look at the opening 15-20 minutes at Vale Park to see how that is a potential issue. However, the team and coaching staff demonstrated their awareness in the way they responded to this during the game, ensuring Morley and Dooley were less isolated, with the game then turning on its head.

Crucial to this, and the positivity leading up to the Mansfield game today, has been the way O’Keeffe and Keohane are producing on either flank, in subtly different ways. The former has become a League Two Kyle Walker, who has the ability to step inside, adding to the midfield ranks, while at the same time still contributing out wide. On the other side, Keohane sticks to his touchline more and is a real outlet, who often ends up as high up the pitch as the forwards when we attack. Identifying that the central two need some support has also seen Newby and Odoh − principally seen as ‘wide men’ − usually stationed 10-15 yards further infield than you’d usually see a winger. This is creating the illusion of a four-man midfield at times, that’s without O’Keeffe’s excursions into that area. 

Newby seems to be really getting to grips with the ‘in-to-go-out’ approach, as he drifts out should attacks require his presence to deliver quality crosses. Meanwhile, Odoh is tending to drift towards the ball with the aim to start runs from wherever he receives it. In combination, it’s quite unique to have two players in similar roles playing them totally differently.

Aaron Morley

The final addition that appears to be allowing Morley and Dooley to flourish when they could be exposed, is the regular appearance of a central defender stepping forward, usually the one stationed on the left. In fact, Max Taylor on the right is really the only one who rarely leaves his station as Eoghan O’Connell feels more than comfortable stepping in from his central role in the three. Jeriel Dorsett, despite a shaky last quarter against Tranmere, looks to have potential and he likes to channel his inner Jack O’Connell when joining attacks and swinging over crosses from the left-hand side.

Crucial to it all though, is the way Beesley is progressing to the point that it’s probably good Humphrys left for Wigan. They are different types of striker and what Stockdale’s Dale need are those Glenn Murray-esque qualities, where a centre forward can work across the opposition back line and occupy them all at once. That takes a certain level of ability and footballing know-how and it’s obvious Beesley not only grasps that, but looks to learn the role more each and every game. If he starts adding regular goals, our biggest problem will be fending off interest from other teams in January.

While it might be easy to be disappointed with the point at Mansfield today, especially having taken the lead, the fact that expectations are so high is a marker of how much Stockdale has achieved in such a short space of time.

I would say eighth in League Two, at this juncture, is progress that is ahead of schedule.

Rochdale AFC squad 2021/22

GOALKEEPERS:

Jay Lynch (28)

Joel Coleman (25)

Brad Wade (21)

DEFENCE:

Aidy White (29) LB/LWB

Corey O’Keeffe (23) (on loan from Mansfield until January) RB/RWB

Matt Done (33) LB/LWB

Jimmy Keohane (30) LB/LWB/RB/RWB

Joe Dunne (19) LB

Max Taylor (21) CB

Sam Graham (20) CB

Jim McNulty (36) CB

Eoghan O’Connell (25) (C) CB

Jeriel Dorsett (19) (season-long loan from Reading) CB/LB

MIDFIELD:

Aidy White (29) LW

Stephen Dooley (29) LW/RW/CM/CAM

Matt Done (33) LW/CAM

Alex Newby (25) RW

Jimmy Keohane (30) LW/RW/CDM/CM/CAM

Abraham Odoh (21) RW/LW/CAM

George Broadbent (20) (on loan from Sheffield United until January) CM

Aaron Morley (21) CDM/CM/CAM

Conor Grant (20) CM/CAM

Ethan Brierley (17) CM

Corey O’Keeffe (23) (on loan from Mansfield until January) CDM

Liam Kelly (25) CDM/CM/CAM

FORWARDS:

Matt Done (33) ST

Jake Beesley (24) ST

Danny Cashman (20) (season-long loan from Coventry) ST/IF

Josh Andrews (19) (season-long loan from Birmingham City) ST

Alex Newby (25) IF

Abraham Odoh (21) IF

A blueprint for the lower leagues

As I picked my way among the throng of fellow supporters, milling around the pop-up beer stall and inflatable penalty goals, it truly hit home what this football club means to me… to all of us.

The festival occasion Rochdale AFC had put on to mark its 100 unbroken years of Football League membership took on an extra resonance this Friday past. It wasn’t just a nod to a sentimental milestone, it was a nod to survival, against all odds. Never has this club been penalised for living beyond its means, nor has it ever sought to be more than the community-based hub it truly is. Yet, these past months, the fear of that being taken away from us has been all too real.

In a world of have and have nots, football has always been seen as an anomaly. At the top end of the spectrum, many clubs, let alone the players that pull on their shirts, have lost most of the roots which bound them to their communities. Lifelong fans can no longer afford the ticket prices to go to games.

And while some money slowly trickles through the system, the vast majority goes to the purchase of fake-Tudor mansions and super cars. Many of the highest achievers are bankrolled by sugar daddies and, for all intents and purposes, are insolvent.

This has never been an issue for Rochdale AFC, nor has the club ever sought to be part of that gang. It has always been an inclusive place, where aging supporters have easily been able to bring the next generation, hoping they will catch the bug (no, not that one!) and continue the legacy.

I fully understand why this notion would appeal to the football romantic, but not the hard-nosed businessman. We are perennial underdogs on the field and we revel in that. On the rare occasions we have punched above our weight, we have done so fairly and by sheer endeavour. We savour that too.

And yet, of late, we have become desirable, as a club, to people who share none of that affinity. There is no denying the club needs investment – what club doesn’t? But with the supporter-operated model we are so desperately trying to keep in place, that investment has to be achieved in the right way. An outsider looking to pump millions into the club will always be greeted with healthy suspicion because, at the end of the day, they are never going to make that money back, so why would they do it?

I’ll tell you this. If I woke up to discover I’d won the Euromillions – after paying for new vocal chords – I’d be right on the phone to chairman Simon Gauge exploring how I could help the club. If I did that, no one would bat an eyelid, as anyone who knows me, knows I’d do anything to help the club, as I’m sure we all would. It would be an altruistic act. I wouldn’t be looking for the money back. That’s an extreme example, of course, and Rochdale-supporting Euromillions winners are not currently queuing down Sandy Lane.

But, as the late David Clough’s generosity has proven, fans really can make a difference. A share issue is a much more realistic way of generating money for the club. It also gives supporters a piece of documentation that says they own a piece of their club. We don’t have to rely on the finance of an unknown element. We are now at the vanguard of providing a blueprint for how all lower league clubs could operate in a sustainable way that benefits the whole community.

There was palpable relief from both club and supporters when it was announced by the EFL last weekend that those behind Morton House Mgt and First Form Construction Limited had withdrawn their attempt to pass the EFL’s fit and proper tests. However, the saga is far from concluded. While the prospective investors say they now want to divest the shares they claim to have already purchased, which amounts to some 42% of the club, it is not clear how or when this will happen – or to whom. Vigilance is still required. And this is another way in which the supporters of our club have made a difference. In working to unearth and then promote the facts that have aided our plight, they have essentially helped ward off an unwanted takeover attempt. The Supporters’ Trust deserves huge credit here, but there are others, too, who will probably never receive the full recognition they deserve for their efforts, and that’s just the way they will want it. It wasn’t done out of vanity or for an ego boost, it was done, quite simply, for the love of the club.

On that note, while my primary concern will always be the safeguarding of Rochdale AFC, I am nothing if not fair. I reached out to Alex Jarvis, the man who has been fronting the share acquisition for Morton House, inviting a statement, a chance to answer the questions that have been raised by the diligence of supporters. None has been forthcoming.

Anyway, Friday past was not about fear or worry. It was a celebration of strength and durability. From the brilliant aesthetic created by programme editor Mark Wilbraham, to the team wearing the historic black-and-white-striped jerseys, it was a solid reminder of then, but in the now. Seeing heroes from my own youth and early adulthood as they joined in the celebrations – Shaun Reid, Kevin Townson, Lee McEvilly and Gary Jones – really hammered home how much this club has been part of my whole life.

And after the pessimism surrounding the relegation-football endured last season, Robbie Stockdale looks to have assembled a team that will excite the supporters and push for success in equal measure this season. I think the majority of us would simply settle for the former for the time being, safe in the knowledge we’ve got our club back.

Don’t forget, the Supporters’ Trust has launched a scheme where you can make a regular monthly donation that will be ringfenced in order to purchase further shares to help safeguard the future of the club.

New style, new substance

Stockdale mixes it up but Dale still a work in progress

If he didn’t know it before, he knows it now – Robbie Stockdale has a tough job on his hands.

But the Rochdale AFC manager is certainly equipped for the task. On the day the nation’s media was let loose, I was afforded some time with him. He won my respect and endearment immediately when he only half joked that he would rather be dealing with team affairs than talking to the likes of me. That’s what supporters want from their manager. It’s not a job in which the primary concern is a PR exercise where one can pose and preen and drop clichés like confetti, it’s a graft and one that is all consuming. I was left after that interview in no doubt that Stockdale was fully invested in the task ahead.

He said patience would be required on the fronts of recruitment and results. A very fair ask given the tumultuous months the club had endured prior to his appointment. On the field, Brian Barry-Murphy asked to be released from his managerial role, and, off it, the club was, and still is, in the grip of a hostile takeover. Stockdale also had to deal with a squad that had lost key players Ollie Rathbone, Matt Lund and Stephen Humphrys – the propulsion and the shells of the howitzer.

He set about this task efficiently, bringing in no less than eight players in a matter of weeks. It’s too early yet to assess how all of them will fair, but key positions have been filled with a mix of youth and experience, skill and brawn.

He has also inherited some fine players too. Abraham Odoh, Alex Newby and Jake Beesley all complement each other to provide a nightmarish front three for defences to handle; Aaron Morley remains a successful product of the youth academy (if utilised properly); Conor Grant looks like he could grow into the club’s next big asset; and the versatility of Jimmy Keohane is a benefit to any team.

Yet despite latter pre-season results and performances being encouraging, the opening League Two fixture, away at Harrogate, saw all pre-match optimism washed away with the spa town’s wastewater. A nervous, disjointed opening ensued, with new faces trying to find their place, but it was two familiar mistakes that saw Harrogate race into a two-goal lead, first from Jim McNulty and secondly from Morley. With both Eoghan O’Connell injured and Sam Graham looking the part after coming off the bench, you have to imagine the former’s return to fitness and the promise of the latter would limit the seasoned McNulty’s place in the starting line up going forward.

Despite the setback, Dale did find some rhythm and fluidity, and managed to get the game level again, thanks to Newby and Grant, before it descended into something more akin to the bottom division of old – scrappy and without flow. It was perhaps inevitable then, that the spectre that haunted Dale last season would rear its head here to spoil the day – the concession of an injury-time goal.

The defeat to Harrogate does at least instil some realism into the fanbase in that League Two will not be a cakewalk. The Yorkshire side are not even among those fancied to challenge for honours this season. There will be much tougher games to come.

In Stockdale though, we do have a manager who is prepared to take on the ugly side of the game, to make us difficult to play against, while embracing the art of scoring goals. I’m sure this week on the training ground will have been spent honing both in equal measure. As he said at the fans’ forum, “I don’t care if we score after fifty passes or three, just the right pass at the right time”.

While it would be easy to dismiss the mentality of conceding a late goal as “typical Dale”, it’s not entirely fair. There is a clear emphasis from Stockdale on the team playing to its strengths. We mix it up now. Take Beesley as a prime example. He wasn’t used effectively enough last season. He was always going to be a player in the mould of Glenn Murray. Someone who can win headers and link play, but last season players didn’t hit him like that. The evidence so far suggests that’s exactly what Stockdale has in mind for him. It’s encouraging.

Supporters will be able to attend a home league game at Spotland for the first time in 17 months when Scunthorpe come to town on Saturday. Let’s hope it is our visitors who leave disappointed this time.

Events on the pitch are a balm. They help soothe the worry of what is happening off it. We celebrate 100 years in the Football League when we play Colchester United at the end of the month. I sincerely hope future generations see at least 100 more. The Dale Supporters’ Trust has been incredible during the past few months and has launched a scheme where members can make a regular monthly donation that will be ringfenced in order to purchase further shares to help safeguard the future of the club. Definitely worthwhile taking part.

Up the Dale, not for sale.

Rochdale AFC squad 2021/22

GOALKEEPERS:

Jay Lynch (28)

Joel Coleman (25)

Brad Wade (21)

DEFENCE:

Aidy White (29) LB/LWB

Corey O’Keeffe (23) (on loan from Mansfield until January) RB/RWB

Matt Done (33) LB/LWB

Jimmy Keohane (30) LB/LWB/RB/RWB

Joe Dunne (19) LB

Max Taylor (21) CB

Sam Graham (20) CB

Jim McNulty (36) CB

Eoghan O’Connell (25) (C) CB

Jeriel Dorsett (19) (season-long loan from Reading) CB/LB

MIDFIELD:

Aidy White (29) LW

Stephen Dooley (29) LW/RW/CAM

Matt Done (33) LW/CAM

Alex Newby (25) RW

Jimmy Keohane (30) LW/RW/CDM/CM/CAM

Abraham Odoh (21) RW/LW/CAM

George Broadbent (20) (on loan from Sheffield United until January) CM

Aaron Morley (21) CDM/CM/CAM

Conor Grant (20) CM/CAM

Ethan Brierley (17) CM

Corey O’Keeffe (23) (on loan from Mansfield until January) CDM

Liam Kelly (25) CDM/CM/CAM

FORWARDS:

Matt Done (33) ST

Jake Beesley (24) ST

Danny Cashman (20) (season-long loan from Coventry) ST/IF

Josh Andrews (19) (season-long loan from Birmingham City) ST

Alex Newby (25) IF

Abraham Odoh (21) IF

Is it time for the poison pill?

Hostile takeover fears relayed to supporters at RAFC fans’ forum

Somebody clearly didn’t get the memo that was sent out to the footballing world on 1st June from the collective majority of shareholders at Rochdale AFC. Its message was clear enough – we have the final say in who runs OUR football club.

After an historic night of AGMS and EGMs, where the then board of directors saw its proposals thwarted – proposals that would have issued shares to an unseen party, and thus awarded them a controlling stake in the club – a new threat has emerged from the shadows.

The fallout from that night, which also saw chief executive David Bottomley and Graham Rawlinson removed from the board of directors by democratic shareholder vote, has been festering like an open sore. Initially, the night was hailed as a victory for supporter power (which you can read about here), with new board members put forward from a cohort of long-time supporters. Chief among those was Simon Gauge, who was swiftly appointed the club’s new chairman. His vision was to unify the club and supporters once again, instead of a board working in a silo, where secret first-team manager contract extensions are awarded. Things were looking positive.

But behind the curtain, a plot thicker than a frozen bowl of Lancashire hot pot was thawing. One of the parties interested in acquiring a controlling stake in the club prior to the EGM, launched a campaign of their own – to target those shareholders with the largest holding and acquire them at any cost!

This was relayed to supporters by the board of directors at tonight’s fans’ forum. Their fears were real.

You see, the ownership of Rochdale Association Football Club is broken up into 502,957 ordinary shares which are owned by 337 different parties. If any one party ever achieves ownership of 251,479 ordinary shares in their own name or by consortium, they would control the club and it would no longer be independent.

Suspicions were raised that a hostile takeover was afoot when the club and fans became aware that a certain Alex Jarvis, of Blackbridge Sports Limited, had been contacting shareholders asking to purchase shares on behalf of a Darrell Rose and Andy Curran.

Jarvis claimed to shareholders that deals had already been done for the holdings belonging to former RAFC chairman Andrew Kilpatrick and former directors David Bottomley and Graham Rawlinson. Rose and Curran are also believed to have agreed to buy the shares of US businessmen Dan Altman and Emre Marcelli, which would provide a combined shareholding of somewhere in the region of 42%. There are serious questions as to how the personal data of shareholders beyond those five have been obtained, information that only those who have ever worked within the club would have access to.

We also know that Rose and Curran have been actively pursuing the shareholding of current director Andrew Kelly, who has 58,250 shares. However, the Rochdale AFC Supporters’ Trust has since issued a statement saying it has struck an agreement with Kelly to take his shares, although it was revealed at tonight’s forum that this is now subject to a legal process.

The hostile takeover bid is being run via a company called Morton House Mgt and First Form Construction Limited. The company is a payroll services company.

Morton House has three listed directors in Darrell Rose, Faical Safouane and Denise Courtnell. 

Based on its last published accounts in July 2020, the company has a net worth of just £121,000.

Ambiguity also remains around the actual progress of the share purchases Rose and Curran claim to have made.

As it stands, the club says it has received no share transfer forms or evidence that the shares have been properly and legally sold. To be regarded as a valid transfer, the club must receive signed transfer forms from the selling party transferring ownership to the buyer, and then the transfer must be ratified at a club board meeting. None of this has happened, yet the EFL seem content there is cause to give the prospective purchasers an audience.

And what do we know of the three main antagonists?

Darrell Rose has a family-run used-car showroom and paint shop in Worksop and is also involved with a family-run housebuilding company. While a limited ownership of things in his name, members of his direct family have an extensive history of running limited companies for very short periods before they are dissolved.

Andy Curran comes with very little digital footprint. Very little information regarding his history is available other than one involvement with a construction company back in 2009. The only other information involves a link with Swindon Town FC last season, where his son, Taylor, was a member of the first-team squad before being transferred to Maidstone United earlier this summer.

Andy Curran is known to have visited Spotland for the evening of the Swindon Town game on 13th April 2021, presumably to watch Taylor, as his car was seen in social media pictures of fans protesting against the board of directors prior to that game.

Alex Jarvis is listed many times on the internet in relation to his previous deals. He has been involved in takeovers and attempted takeovers at Barnsley, Hull City, Peterborough and Woking. He is not expected to be part of any future involvement in the club, and it seems his role is simply to try to acquire sufficient shareholding for Rose and Curran.

So, the question from me is, why do these two men, with no obvious affiliation to the town of Rochdale, or visible heritage of any business-generated wealth, want to take control of its only professional football club? They have candidly said to the Supporters’ Trust that their intention is to come along on match days, enjoy a beer or two, and help the club financially where they can. Perhaps a lifelong Dale fan who had won the Euromillions could afford to indulge in such extravagance. However, someone with no emotional tie to this football club, the tie that we all have as supporters, would surely not be prepared to sink money into it through sheer altruism?

So, what’s the next plausible motivation? It has to be some form of financial return on investment. That would make sense for a non-Dale supporter. However, we are a small League Two club that has survived for years by selling our best players to pay the bills or via the benevolence of board members who themselves have been lifelong supporters. With the best will in the world, there is no real money to be made from this football club while keeping it viable.

Are the assets owned by the club of some appeal? It’s not hard to glance across the town’s border and feel a shiver when you remember Bury too, up until very recently, had a professional club representing it. The same fate cannot be allowed to befall Rochdale, can it?

The integrity of those proposing to buy the club must be beyond reproach. Yet a Governance Manager at the EFL has already contacted the club to highlight a Supporters’ Trust statement, issued after a meeting with Andy Curran, was factually incorrect. The Trust’s original statement had read that the prospective investor had stated he had purchased over 40% of the shares and had provided the proof of funding to the EFL. The EFL demanded the statement be changed as they had seen no evidence of the shares having been acquired nor, it said, had Curran provided evidence of funding to the EFL. The Trust duly changed the statement, having originally taken what they were told at face value.

Then there is Morton House Mgt and First Form Construction Limited itself. It is a company that states it is “a fully compliant umbrella company” and “offers a wide range of dependable payroll solutions to both recruitment agencies and contractors”.

The Company was formed on 28th May 1999 and was owned by Ana Sacco and Darren Sacco – a couple from Barking in Essex. On 30th April 2019 they sold their shares to Denise Courtnell and since that date until last week, she owned the company. Darrell Rose joined as director on 1st May 2021.

Darrell Rose has retrospectively filed paperwork that states he is the true owner of Morton House, via a transaction that completed on 1st May 2021. The filing of the paperwork at Companies House completed on 28th July 2021, noting that Rose now owns 51% of Morton House, with Denise Courtnell retaining 49%.

All umbrella companies should be registered with HMRC under the money laundering supervision rules as ‘payroll agents that provide accountancy services and/or tax advice’. The register at the date of this article shows that Morton House is not registered. In addition, all credible umbrella companies are a member of the body FCSA. Morton House is not accredited. Morton House has not registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office either, despite a payroll company being a processor of personal data. At the time of writing, all of this is correct and in the public domain, if one knows where to look.

The board also admitted, when asked at tonight’s forum, that they have submitted a complaint to the FA regarding discriminatory comments made to the EFL about them and the people of Rochdale by the prospective purchasers.

Things really aren’t pleasant at the minute.

Unusually, the prospective purchasers remain completely silent and have yet to make any form of public comment despite being on manoeuvres since the removal of the two directors at the EGM. The club, supporters and Supporters’ Trust, however, are vehemently opposed to the proposed takeover. We must remain strong. Everything else at the club looks promising – together we can keep it that way.

A bolt from the blues

Brian Barry-Murphy left his post as first-team manager.

There was a strange feeling of shock when it was announced that Rochdale AFC manager Brian Barry-Murphy had left the post last night.

The shock being that, while such a thing may have been expected months ago due to the team’s form, the vast majority of supporters and the newly formed board of directors were now very much accepting of him leading the team in League Two this coming campaign.

Despite enduring a relegation campaign last season, the late rally of the side gave cause for some optimism. There was a feeling that Barry-Murphy would go into this season no longer carrying the tag of an inexperienced manager, with his newly acquired UEFA Pro Licence, and put the battle scars he accrued last time out to good use.

Any internal issues of the old regime that hampered the manager last season, the new directors had promised to remove, so that he may flourish to the best of his ability. A clean slate.

In addition, several of the players we expected to lose this summer signed new deals, citing Barry-Murphy as a key reason for doing so.

He himself had a new deal until the summer of 2022.

So yes, it was a shock when his representative contacted the club and asked for him to be released.

If the media speculation around him now going on to head up Manchester City’s U-23 set-up is correct, then good luck to him. That is a job I believe he would flourish in. He recently gave a radio interview where he admitted his greatest joy in football is derived from developing players. He will certainly get that fulfilment at the elite end of the game.

So, it now only remains to look back wistfully at Barry-Murphy’s time as manager with Rochdale AFC.

My memories of him as a player were his ship-steadying appearances as a holding midfielder in the first team and reports that he was used in bounce games as a guiding hand for the youth players. I had no idea he had blossomed into a highly regarded coach in the interim.

Given the high praise given to Barry-Murphy, I was optimistic when he stepped into the shoes of Rochdale AFC’s greatest ever manager, albeit initially on a caretaker basis.

He had 11 games to keep Rochdale in League One. The bounce was instantaneous. Gone was the ponderous football that had cost Keith Hill his job and instead a steely resolve was evident – a must-not-lose-at-all-costs mentality that saw the side eek out four vital 1-0 victories, among other notable results, on the road to safety.

Installed as permanent manager, Barry-Murphy outlined his vision for the future. There was an acceptance that the style of football needed to keep Rochdale in League One in those final 11 games was not his preferred modus operandi. Instead he would want to play a possession-based, passing game that should be both pleasing on the eye and allow our youth academy graduates to develop into saleable assets to teams higher up the football pyramid. This business model is not a new one. It was definitely the way former chairman Chris Dunphy wanted the club to operate during his time, albeit the execution may have been different.

With Barry-Murphy’s permanent appointment, the atmosphere around the club felt good, too. His good character was evident in the way he engaged with the supporters. His communication was embracing and we were seen as part of the machine, whereas previous managers had viewed us as an irritant ranging from a tiny flea bite to a full-blown rash.

The way he talked about developing players made his coaching prowess evident. It’s been an education listening to him via the various platforms on which he has appeared.

No game better exemplifies Barry-Murphy’s preferred style of play as the oft-cited away trip to Southend United in August 2019. Yes, the hosts had lost all of their opening league fixtures and would eventually be relegated, but the old adage ‘you can only play what’s in front of you’ rings true here. Barry-Murphy’s Dale put on a masterclass of Champagne football, of which one of the goals in the 3-0 victory became a viral social-media clip drawing comparison with Barcelona or Brazil.

Then there are the cup games against Premier League opposition. A magnificent home game against Newcastle United, which earned a replay, and a phenomenal display against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which ended only after defeat on penalties.

The issue is, however, to use those above examples again, that they were performances in isolation. The brand of football just wasn’t consistent enough to ensure long-term success or even safety.

This, for me, is where Barry-Murphy came unstuck last season. While we achieved safety on a points-per-game basis in 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world and ended football for months, the approach proved unsustainable over a full campaign and we paid with our place in League One second time round.

There are always mitigating factors. Always. Last summer we lost Ian Henderson, for example, who had become almost as talismanic to the club as Keith Hill. Henderson’s goals had been vital in getting Rochdale to, and keeping them in, League One. The club offered him a new deal but he declined to take it, instead moving to League Two Salford City. Following him out of the door was Callum Camps, who found the offer of Fleetwood Town preferable to remaining at Rochdale. Of the two, Henderson was the significant loss, as Camps, superb player that he is, was rarely used to maximum effect in his time at Dale. Then there was the return to his parent club of goalkeeper Robert Sanchez. The fact he cracked Brighton’s first team last season shows what a talent, and loss, he is. Both full-backs also departed – the incredible Rhys Norrington-Davies back to Sheffield United, and our own Luke Matheson to Wolves.

Those kind of holes in a squad would give any manager nightmares with a new season to prepare for – and, given it was to be a season like no other thanks to the pandemic, it really didn’t make ideal foundations for Barry-Murphy’s groundwork.

Yet the early evidence I saw on the pitch told me that the players he had assembled were more than good enough to survive in League One. Slow start aside, we certainly didn’t look like the relegation fodder the bookies had us down as.

Again, in immediate defence of Barry-Murphy, he then had to endure a rough hand of luck when it came to injuries. His two main strikers barely spent any time on the pitch together (and looked good when they did), and his defence and midfield installed a revolving door in the treatment room, making consistent selection difficult. But it is up to a manager to deal with injuries as best he can, especially at a club like Rochdale, where small squads are de rigueur.

For me, the dismay stems from the relentless persistence with a tactic or formation, which was so obviously failing, for clusters of games. We seemed to take the attitude of, “well, it will come good eventually”, as opposed to making the best use of who we had available for who we were facing.

The resounding wins at Plymouth and Wigan actually served to impede progress as we stuck to 4-4-2 and, all of a sudden, insisted Matt Lund was a forward, rather than a player who could arrive late to great effect. It wasn’t so much that one formation was better than another, more that we needed to adapt week-on-week and, crucially, mid-match, to gain points.

We didn’t, so we slipped inexorably into the bottom four, despite it being quite preventable. With a simplistic approach to set up in the best way, with whoever we had available, and by sticking to getting the ball through midfield into the opposition half quickly, I believe we’d have steered clear of trouble in a similar manner to Shrewsbury or Burton.

Seventeen home league games without a win is a club record and not a desirable one. Add to that the Salford and Stockport cup games and it was 19 home games without a win. That beats the previous record of 16 from November 1931 to September 1932.

We also have the ignominy of achieving our joint-second lowest number of home league wins in an entire season and the lowest number of home points in a completed season under three points for a win – 21 points. In fact, last season, we won the least amount of home games of any team in the EFL.

It’s unfortunate that this will now be the legacy Barry-Murphy leaves behind. There were no guarantees he would have cracked League Two, of course not, but he had a chance to try if he wanted it.

We are now into pre-season, managerless and a good few players short of a competitive squad. The newly formed board of directors face one of the most important decisions they are likely to in their tenure – who to appoint next? I don’t envy them one bit.