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.

The fans who shaped a revolution

An upstairs room at the Cemetery Hotel formed the base of operations.

The Crescent pub in Salford is world-famous for being the venue where philosophers Karl Marx and Frederich Engels met to shape their Communist Manifesto ahead of it being published in 1848.

The upstairs room in Rochdale’s Cemetery Hotel may well one day become equally renowned within the borough it resides after it was used to form a very different kind of revolution. There, representatives of the Rochdale AFC Supporters’ Trust and other likeminded fans – which included solicitors, accountants, managing directors, teachers, journalists and retired police officers – pooled their resources, knowledge and sheer desire to ensure the long-term future of the club was safeguarded from a sale to a buyer lined up by the board of directors.

It’s not that there wasn’t a realisation from the group that investment was needed, more that the very future of the club had been decided by four men who held a combined shareholding of just 15%. The board planned, via an EGM, to ask existing shareholders to approve the issue of new shares to a volume that would allow the buyer to acquire a controlling stake in the club, while forfeiting their own right to purchase any for themselves.

Upstairs in the Cemetery Hotel, there was a genuine fear that the wider fanbase and shareholders might not grasp the gravitas of what the board was seeking to do. It was clear that the sale of the club to a party who was unwilling to be named at the EGM could not be allowed to happen, so a commitment was made to embark on a campaign of education and enlightenment. The objective was simple: save Rochdale Association Football Club.

Football’s modern history is littered with the carcasses of deceased clubs, or those who have had to call in the life-support of administration. You need look no further than just down the road and the fate that befell Bury when supporters passively accepted the handing over of their club. By the time a challenge was mounted, it was too late. Now, there is no suggestion that the buyer the RAFC board lined up had intentions anything like those of the party at Bury FC, but the risk was there nonetheless, and it had to be mitigated.

The group, having acquired a list of the club’s shareholders, embarked on a tireless door-to-door exercise that took them well beyond the town’s boundaries. There, they sought to outline the board’s proposals and simply ask if the shareholder agreed with them. If they didn’t, the Supporters’ Trust offered to act as a proxy for votes cast at the EGM. The support they received was overwhelming and, in conjunction with a plethora of former directors whose shareholdings remained significant, it was, ultimately, enough to force the board to withdraw the plans at the meeting itself.

Chairman of the Supporters’ Trust, Colin Cavanah, said at the time: “I am personally delighted that the club’s share proposals have been withdrawn this evening. Had they been approved, we’d have been giving authorisation to sell the club to a board consisting of people with a combined shareholding of less than 15% of the club. We are not averse to the club asking shareholders to approve the sale to a named individual or group, but it cannot be acceptable for shareholders being asked to approve a ‘blind’ sale.”

We are not averse to the club asking shareholders to approve the sale to a named individual or group, but it cannot be acceptable for shareholders being asked to approve a ‘blind’ sale.

Colin Cavanah, Rochdale Supporters’ Trust Chairman

But it wasn’t just the proposed sale of the club that was an issue for the collective group of supporters. The overall governance of the club had cause to come under scrutiny too. It was revealed at the club’s fans’ forum in March that the contract of first-team manager Brian Barry-Murphy had been extended for a further year. The kicker here is that it was done so in November of 2020! The lack of formal announcement at the time, and subsequent revelations that not all board members were aware of the extension until later, quite rightly, caused mass consternation among the fan base. It was so completely unnecessary. Debating the merits of whether or not the manager deserved the extension aside, the primary issue was the secrecy surrounding it. If members of the board thought Barry-Murphy deserved it, it was felt they should have said so at the time, publicly.

Then there was the statement issued by US-based shareholders Dan Altman and Emre Marcelli, who had been invited to join the board of directors, accepted, and then performed an alarming U-turn. Their subsequent statement was as damning as it was disturbing, claiming their decision had been based upon “serious internal issues” at the club and their dissatisfaction at the club’s handling of those concerns.

This led to the Supporters’ Trust calling for an EGM of their own – and for the removal of two club directors, namely CEO David Bottomley and Graham Rawlinson. To ensure that any such boardroom changes were well-founded, the group of Cemetery Hotel-gathered supporters began to work forensically, gathering testimonies of those close to the situation and unearthing new, eye-opening facts along the way. They agreed to assemble at the upcoming EGM, each entitled to attend via a proxy vote gathered in advance, and ask pertinent questions of the directors, where they were joined by former director Trevor Butterworth and other members of the Rochdale old guard.

The upshot was a series of meetings the like of which hasn’t been seen for decades. Rochdale AFC shareholder meets usually see all proposals passed through on a show of hands with not one item of disquiet (well, perhaps the odd tough question), and with most eyes on the buffet. In fact, not since a certain Edward Lord OBE stepped up to oust Tommy Cannon in the late 1980s has there been such dramatic change at the club. Lord’s return on the night, strength of questioning and the irony of his involvement many years ago is worthy of note.

Ex-Chairman David Kilpatrick and former director Graham Morris, who famously saved Rochdale AFC from extinction in the 1980s, felt compelled to add their weight to this fresh supporter movement, too. They were familiar with several members of the group and had remained in constant contact with some for many months. Many meetings were had, social distancing observed, naturally, and a shadow board of directors was formed in just seven days, ready to replace any of those current members who may depart. This shadow board consisted of long-time Rochdale supporters who had the hours, wherewithal and inclination to dedicate themselves to the club.

As a result of this supporter-led movement, the club now has a new chairman in Simon Gauge, and two new directors – Jamie Sarsfield and Richard Knight – with more likely to be added in the coming months.

The feedback received by the Supporters’ Trust since the AGM/EGM has been overwhelmingly positive. One such receipt shared with me simply read: Thank you for giving me a voice in the room at the EGM. I trust the Trust to do what is right for the club.

There are many fables in football, most of which relate to events that have unfolded on the pitch. This one, however, will long be remembered and used as an example of what supporters can achieve at a club if they work together collectively. Rochdale is a town famous for founding the co-operative movement. Never has it felt more apparent since, than right here and right now.

Three wise men who aim to give Rochdale AFC back to the fans

For a good while, Rochdale AFC appeared, from the outside at least, to be as vulnerable as that poor goat tethered to the T-Rex paddock in Jurassic Park.

And, much like Dr Alan Grant and his car full of dino-bait, us supporters had looked on feeling somewhat helpless, waiting for some external force to perhaps come along and gobble us up.

That is until the Supporters’ Trust and other likeminded fans pooled their resources, knowledge and sheer desire to ensure the long-term future of the club was safeguarded from potential razor-sharp teeth, metaphorical or otherwise.

Following a tumultuous set of AGM/EGM meetings on June 1, there was an impression that, finally, the ‘top table’ realised supporters are the lifeblood of the football club and that their collective opinion matters and cannot be ignored. A proposed plan to issue shares to enable an outside party to acquire a controlling stake in the club was met with vehement opposition from shareholders, the vast majority of whom are lifelong fans who had rallied behind the hardworking resilience of the Supporters’ Trust.

What transpired was an acknowledgement that there was another way of doing things. A way that involved supporters who possess the necessary resources and expertise to effect change in a positive manner.

Graham Morris, a man who once donned an overcoat to save our great club, sought to do so again, albeit this time with a suggestion rather than via direct action. This has led to three long-time and well-known supporters joining the board of directors – Simon Gauge, Jamie Sarsfield and Richard Knight. Simon was good enough to afford me some of his time and share his future vision of a supporter-led Rochdale AFC.

What I got from him was an offer of hope where previously there was none, encouragement where there was discouragement, and a sense of, once again, “we’re in it together”.

“It is probably more a case that this moment has chosen me rather than me it,” Simon said, when I asked him why he had waited until now to get involved.

“I would have been quite happy buying my season ticket and continuing as a fan if the recent chain of events had not unfolded. The first factor is that I had retired from my career as an airline pilot and have been working on doing other sports projects locally, so I have the time and energy to give to the role. The second factor is that, like many other Rochdale fans, I wasn’t happy with what had gone on at the club over the past season, so, when the opportunity came along to get stuck in and hopefully change one or two things for the better, it was a challenge that I felt passionately about and could not turn down.”

Simon explained that the idea of joining the board was initially put to him by a close friend of his late father-in-law, Peter Stock.

“Trevor Butterworth got in touch,” he said. “He was not at all happy with the situation at the club and asked me if I would be prepared to talk to one or two people about it. That led me to talking to Graham Morris, somebody else I have known for a long time, and others, about formulating an alternative plan should the club’s proposals be voted down at the EGM.

“Graham had done all of the hard work and found another three local supporters and businessmen who were happy to commit to joining the board if required. This was essential because it would have left the shareholders with little credibility if they were to block the club’s proposals without any alternative plan on the table.”

But does Simon think local supporters with the wherewithal and business acumen is a better alternative to an outside investor?

“I can’t honestly say if this is preferable to the sale of the shares to a wealthy investor, as I have not seen the state of the present finances of the club,” he said. “However, I have been given an indication. We have a plan with the existing board members to stabilise the club, to try to get more directors onboard, especially those with the skillset to help us maximise revenue. I want to re-engage shareholders and supporters so that everyone has the opportunity to pull together and make this a successful, stable club that is the envy of the EFL.

“If we achieve all of that, and still cannot make the finances work, then we may have to accept defeat and find a wealthy investor. There are ways of doing this and, if this is a road that we were forced to go down, then it is important to be as open and honest as possible with the shareholders, giving them all the facts, so that they can make an informed choice about the direction of travel.”

Simon wants RAFC to be the envy of the EFL.

Simon moved to the town from Bramhall 18 years ago, although his wife and her family all hail from Rochdale. He started watching games at RAFC from the off.

“It was only when I started bringing my youngest son about 10 years ago that we came week in week out though − we both loved it,” he said.

“I had taken him to a couple of Premier League games but he didn’t like the travelling, the large crowds, the noise and the fact that you are so far away from the pitch. We came to watch Rochdale and his passion for football was ignited − it is the game in its purest form and not ruined by money. He could stand by the tunnel and high-five and have photos with players as they finished their warm ups. You were close enough to the pitch to feel part of the action, you could hear the managers shouting instructions (which was not always a good thing). You get to know the people sat around you and it is a real social afternoon. I think recognising these strengths and building on them is the way forward in the future.”

Simon confirmed that, while there are no shares to purchase at the moment, all of the directors joining the board will put an initial investment into the club’s holding account.

“We plan to call an EGM to give the board the ability to create further shares that can then be issued,” he added.

“The first task is then to stop looking backwards at the well-documented problems of the past year, but learn the lessons from that, and start to look forward. It is important that the new board of directors earns the trust of the shareholders and supporters alike and I see that as a big part of my role.

“I have this vision of us being a model club that is the envy of the EFL, where fans, shareholders, staff and directors all come together as a central hub of the community. To achieve this, we need to engage fans to buy season tickets and casual fans to come more regularly, we need to recruit directors with skillsets to increase revenue for the club and we need to see if we can attract potential and existing shareholders to invest in the club. It is not going to be easy but it is the challenge that lies ahead.”

Simon described his relationship with his fellow directors as “very much in its infancy”.

“Although I have known one or two of my fellow directors previously, most I have only met in the past couple of weeks,” he said. “One thing I do know about them, though, is that they all are passionate supporters of the club and are determined to make it a success. They have all been successful in their own right and want to come together and pool their knowledge for the benefit of Rochdale Association Football Club. I am looking forward to further developing my relationship with all the new and existing directors at the club.”

On a personal level, Simon wants to see success on the pitch as well as off it.

“I would like us to become a sustainable football club, making a profit each year in the upper reaches of League One and dreaming of getting to the Championship,” he said.

“My personal view is that the board has, over a number of years, not been sufficient in number and needs to increase in size. By changing that, it gives the diversity of opinions and skills to really move the club forward. As for the day-to-day running of the club − there are staff to do that, but I would not take on the directorship unless I intended to take an active role in what is going on.

Simon knows a lot of work is required to win back supporter trust.

“I think the past year has been challenging for everyone. As a board, we will obviously look closely at the whole club’s structure, including off-field and on-field personnel. Personally, I was very encouraged by both the finish to the season and the quality of some of the signings that we have made. If we can add to them this summer, then hopefully our stay in League Two will only be a temporary one − and for the right reason.”

However, when considering the team’s performance over the course of the entire season, and off-field incidents such as the clandestine extending of Brian Barry-Murphy’s contract, Simon knows there is a lot to be done to restore the supporters’ trust in the football club.

“Words from me will not restore trust,” Simon said. “Actions by the whole club, the board of directors and all of the staff will. We are a community club and everyone involved in it has got to be open, honest and accessible. I can’t promise that we will get all of the decisions right, but what I can promise is that we will always act with integrity and with the right intentions.

“We have got to really understand the club and stabilise it financially to ensure we are around in the short term. Once that is done, we can set about seeing if it is possible to run the club profitably in the long term, which I would very much like to be a part of.

“It may be that we come to the decision in the short or long term that selling the club to an investor is indeed the best option − if it is, then we will go about this in the right way, ensuring shareholders and supporters are informed of how the investor wants to run the club, where the money is coming from and how they want to structure any purchase. It is then up to shareholders, many of whom are fans, to make that decision.”

Major decisions made at Rochdale AFC shareholder meet

The Rochdale AFC board of directors has withdrawn the four resolutions proposed for releasing new shares in the club and has agreed to instead explore alternative ways of generating new investment.

The decision was made at tonight’s host of Annual and Extraordinary General Meetings.

Rochdale AFC shareholders also voted to remove club chief executive David Bottomley and Graham Rawlinson from the board of directors during the five-hour marathon event.

The collective shareholders expressed concern at a proposed resolution that would have seen them waive their rights to purchase new shares for the next five years, as well as those to issue unlimited, 697,042 and 397,042 shares respectively.

Should the resolutions have been passed, it was revealed that the board had already identified preferred investors for the club, who intended to acquire a 51% stake. The identities of these investors were not revealed due them having signed Non-Disclosure Agreements.

However, after several compelling presentations from shareholders, the board agreed to withdraw the resolutions and explore alternative ways of raising funds and attracting investors.

It was then down to the other business of the evening.

Part of the Supporters’ Trust’s call for an EGM concerned the reversal of shareholders Dan Altman and Emre Marcelli’s decision to join the board of directors, claiming this was based upon “serious internal issues” at the club and their dissatisfaction at the club’s handling of those concerns. The attending board members were grilled by attending shareholders on key issues such as the extending of first-team manager Brian Barry-Murphy’s contract by a further year, and not informing the supporters, as well as questions around pay rises awarded to unnamed executives.

Afterwards, the two members put forward prior to the meetings, David Bottomley and Graham Rawlinson, were voted off the board of directors. This leaves only interim chairman Andrew Kelly, Tony Pockney and the newly elevated Nick Grindrod as full board members. Bottomley does, of course, retain his employed position as chief executive.

What remains now is for the shareholders and remaining board members to collectively decide on the future of the football club. Investment is desperately needed and that is not up for debate, but not at the risk of the club’s long-term future. Fresh leadership is needed too, with Kelly stepping down in the coming months.

Chairman of the Supporters’ Trust, Colin Cavanah, said: “I am personally delighted that the club’s share proposals have been withdrawn this evening. Had they been approved, we’d have been giving authorisation to sell the club to a board consisting of three people with a combined shareholding of less than 15% of the club. We are not averse to the club asking shareholders to approve the sale to a named individual or group, but it cannot be acceptable for shareholders being asked to approve a ‘blind’ sale.

“Under no circumstances should any of the outcomes from tonight’s meeting be considered personal or a vendetta, and it is both hurtful and offensive to the Dale shareholders to even suggest that. You only have to look at the number of people who have voted the same way as the Trust tonight.

“Dale fans share a common concern about the governance of any football club, and it is without doubt that there is a genuine pride among the fanbase that we remain the one EFL side in the Greater Manchester area to have never been in administration. Tonight’s outcomes indicate a real need for the club to engage with the fanbase and ask what supporters want from their football club.

“We will provide a full update to our members and fellow supporters via our website on Wednesday.”

The club has also been approached for comment.

The sun sets on seven-year relationship with League One

In AD 64, the great city of Rome burned while the Emperor Nero sat in his quarters and played the fiddle.

Okay, so historians have since pointed out that the fiddle would not be invented for another millennium and Nero was actually out of town that night, but, while the legend may not have stood the test of time, the analogy has.

As the 2020/21 season comes to an end for Rochdale AFC, I am minded of the story of Nero. The damage will not be done tomorrow, in our final game, nor was it done last weekend when relegation was confirmed. No, the fire has raged over the course of an entire season.

I am left with a pervasive feeling that the powers-that-be could have done more to prevent the club’s seven-season stay in League One coming to an end. If they did indeed focus on other issues as ‘Rome burned’, I don’t think they did so out of self-interest. I still genuinely believe that the board – a small band of four local men – want what they believe is best for the club. But here’s the rub – it is what they believe is best. That is their right, of course. They’ve paid for their seat at the table and that’s fair enough. But while it is their right, it doesn’t always mean they are right.

My take is that there have been irrefutable mistakes. Extending first-team manager Brian Barry-Murphy’s contract by a further year, and not informing the supporters, is chief among them. Never in my time following football has that happened at any professional club in this country. We, the supporters, have since been offered some form of words by way of explanation, but, despite the tokenistic purple hyacinth, we still don’t truly know what happened. We probably never will.

It’s not even the fact that Barry-Murphy was overseeing our worst home record in the club’s entire history at the time, or cup exits to lower-league opposition. It is the fact that a decision was taken by a person or persons unknown and then kept secret from the external world. For three months!

The way the news was eventually revealed to supporters had the air of a Monty Python sketch about it – except it wasn’t supposed to be funny. I fear the board members involved will be eternally haunted by the memes and recollections of one of the most memorable fans’ forums in living memory.

Perhaps the biggest chain reaction of the season occurred in February, however. Our chairman of some three years, Andrew Kilpatrick, stepped down out of the blue, citing personal reasons. He remains the club’s major shareholder – a gift from his late father – but, like during much of his chairmanship, remains very much in the shadows, leaving others to carry the burden.

This prompted director Andrew Kelly to step up on an interim basis. A long-serving board member in various stints, Kelly was even part of the club’s youth set up as a player many moons ago. Now, at 78 years old, it is only his unflappable love of the club that led to him answering the call in a time of great need. God knows, he didn’t need the added stress. I still believe it is no coincidence that he was taken ill a short time later. Upon recovering and taking the hotseat once again, he reiterated his desire to find a suitable permanent replacement, so that he might step down and take life easy.  He cannot alone bear the brunt of responsibility for what has happened this season, given the limited time he has sat in the top chair. To use the Roman analogy again, you have to imagine the boardroom is analogous to a senate, where a consensus is found but not necessarily to the entire satisfaction of all within. A numerically small board concentrates power – and that’s not always a good thing.

Despite the tokenistic purple hyacinth, we still don’t truly know what happened. We probably never will.

More starkly delivered than the news of the manager’s contract extension, was the revelation that the pandemic has hit the club hard from a financial point of view. No punches were pulled here. I have complete sympathy. The club is a business forced to operate at full cost with no paying customers. Our cash reserves built on years of selling players with lucrative clauses have been, we are told, unavoidably battered.

This led to former chairman Chris Dunphy declaring his interest in returning to the role in a bid to help the club he loves. His claims were bullish and gave hope, but they were also perceived as antagonistic to serving board members. The turkeys refused to vote for Christmas and the required support Dunphy needed from key shareholders waned. This is a shame. While Dunphy might not have brought millions to the table, his leadership and experience would certainly have been invaluable in these uncertain times.

Then there is the duo to which Chris Dunphy effectively sold his power – Dan Altman and Emre Marcelli. The US pair, who I revealed last summer had purchased Dunphy’s shareholding (as well as that of Bill Goodwin and Paul Hazlehurst), had accepted an invitation to join the board upon Kilpatrick stepping down, only to then perform an unceremonious U-turn. Their subsequent statement was as damning as it was alarming, claiming their decision had been based upon “serious internal issues” at the club and their dissatisfaction at the club’s handling of those concerns.

Chris Dunphy was prepared to return to the club as chairman.

This prompted the Supporters’ Trust to canvass support of shareholders and call for an EGM. Instead, the club announced a cavalcade of AGMs for June 1. The 2020 AGM, the 2021 AGM and the previously adjourned club EGM that was originally called in early 2020. This will be followed by the EGM called by the Trust. With me so far? Good, because my head is spinning. If you like your general meetings, June 1 is the date for you.

The board of directors have now also made public that they are working to secure outside investment for Rochdale AFC and, as a result, have met with several “serious investors” over the past few months.

They say they have reached a key stage with a number of “highly interested parties”, including a group of investors who attended Rochdale’s home game against Swindon Town last month. The club confirmed Nik and Eva Speakman, the TV life coaches who reside in Littleborough, were at that game, although it is unclear whether or not this was in the capacity of potential investors.

I understand one particular party stands out from the others, however, and shareholders can expect to hear more at the AGM. Either way, we are at a major fork in the road in the club’s history. There are only two ways this can go and this is when supporters need to wield the power they have – legally and with civility, of course. You only need to glance down the road to see what can potentially happen if trust is betrayed. Don’t get me wrong, change is very often good. It is certainly needed at Rochdale AFC right now, as the status quo is not an option, but questions must be asked, scrutiny applied and two-way communication enforced. Don’t forget, when we talk of unconditional support – this is it. We collectively put money into the club rather than take it out and we challenge for the greater good – no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us in the short term. We are not in this for personal gain. It is very much a labour of love and a collective responsibility to safeguard the future. Like a church is not a building but the people within, so too is a football club.

And then there is the product on the pitch – the marketable product, if you like. I’ll just get this out of the way now. It hasn’t been good enough – pandemic or no pandemic, supporters or no supporters. Overall, for all the plaudits we are told we have received from directors at other football clubs, it has been poor. Yes, there have been flashes of brilliance, a peek into what this squad could have been truly capable of if handled correctly, but, in the end, form simply reverted to type. I don’t blame the players for this. I can think of very few games where a lack of effort has frustrated me. In the main, it has been down to how the team has been set up, the direction of play within a game and a frustrating failure to adapt over a number of games.

I do not for one second buy into pre-season bookie predictions of impending doom. We have defied those odds fairly steadily since 2008. The ability of the players on the whole is not in question either. The vast majority of our current squad is good enough to play in League One. Nor do I subscribe to the finances defence. Despite a budget to reflect the pandemic, Barry-Murphy has been given funds to get every player he has wanted this season – and that included paying fees for two very good strikers. Much has been made about missing out on a left-back and not having a plan B, but the excellent Jimmy Keohane, and, to a lesser extent, Matt Done, have mitigated that area of weakness. Injuries, we’ve had a few, as Frank Sinatra might have sung, but so has every other club in the land. While I do allow for some extenuation here, it’s a particular prerequisite of a Rochdale manager to manage a small squad. That’s just the way it is.

Matt Done has filled in at left-back and up front this season.

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. It didn’t even need to be that big of a concern.

These flaws can probably be best summed up by AFC Wimbledon’s third goal at their place on April 27 – a last-ditch equaliser in a key game which cost us two vital points and all but confirmed our relegation.

It illustrated three things: poor use of substitutes, tactical inflexibility within a game (or over a period of games) and a lack of defensive structure.

I know tactical breakdowns are not everybody’s cup of tea – and I don’t usually indulge in them – but this is an important illustration of the above theme. The picture below shows the ball in mid-air en route to the third goal. Wimbledon’s No. 7, Cheye Alexander, has crossed it. Our left wing-back is too high, leading to one central defender being too far left.

The midfield three are all on top of each other and the back line is disjointed. If we had gone 5-4-1 for the last five minutes, and the left wing-back stays back, all three central defenders are in the middle. This means the midfield is stretched across the pitch, which prevents their No. 7 crossing it. If we had gone 5-4-1, the crosses in this image show where our players should have been.

We would be five-10 yards higher up, with a wide player in midfield preventing the cross and all defenders in a line rather than resembling a fragmented jigsaw like they are. This has been a systemic failing in many of our games this season. It leads to last-minute goals, which in turn undoes any previous good work in a match and leads to accusations of players bottling it – which just isn’t true or fair. I think this will be the legacy of this season, as much as it saddens me to say. We lost eight points from goals conceded in injury time alone.

Let’s put this under the microscope. 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, this season, we have won the least amount of home games of any team in the EFL.

I am pointing all of this out because somebody who hasn’t witnessed every single one of our games this season is inevitably going to ask what the rumpus is all about. Well, there it is.

The manager himself, after relegation was confirmed last week against Doncaster, admitted, in so many words, that he thought things would eventually come good this season. It sounded more like in hope than in expectation. Barry-Murphy will go into next season no longer carrying the tag of an inexperienced manager. He needs to take the battle scars he has accrued and put them to good use. We simply cannot afford a similar fate this time next year. It’s frustrating, because his player recruitment, in the main, is sound. If he could just marry that with a game-to-game approach, we may just have something to cheer again.

Barry-Murphy will go into next season no longer carrying the tag of an inexperienced manager.

But while the external recruitment is something to be largely lauded, recruitment from within doesn’t seem to be a priority. The one ray of light that has penetrated this season has had the blinds pulled down upon it. Our Academy side won the EFL Youth Alliance Cup and narrowly missed out on the league title, yet we learn the entire tranche of second-year scholars is to be been released. The fact a number of these players have already secured trials with clubs higher up the football food chain makes this all the more eyebrow raising. Are none of these boys really deemed not good enough to progress at RAFC, or is this a financial decision? Are there internecine politics at play here? A schism between the Academy and first team management? I’m not suggesting it’s one thing or another, by the way, but without a statement from the club, these are the questions supporters are left asking. God help us if first years such as Peter Thomas don’t get a deal, that’s all I can say.

Anyway, it is what it is. Providing we can navigate the summer off the field, we face a League Two campaign on it. What can we expect? There will still be local derbies to be had, a chance to visit grounds for the first time in nearly a decade and some for the first time ever.

How we will fare is more difficult to assess. Of the current squad, we face losing a great many. Those who are out of contract may fancy more lucrative offers elsewhere and, of those under contract, well, the vultures are already circling the carcass of relegation. It looks as if a complete rebuild job is on the cards and the success of that will depend, to some extent, on how much budget is put forward. I say ‘to some extent’ because it’s not the be all and end all. Team spirit and sound management can carry you to great heights at this level, as Keith Hill proved with us once upon a time, and Derek Adams has with Morecambe during this season.

Come rain or shine, we will be behind whoever takes to the field wearing the colours of RAFC. But my overriding plea to those in charge is this. Never have I felt so disconnected from the club I have supported since I was a boy (and that’s, sadly, a long time ago now). I’m not alone in this. That has taken some doing. You need to start listening to supporters and, not only that, communicating with them with honesty. I mean, you wouldn’t even know we’d been relegated from the club’s official channels alone. There is no place for abuse and there never will be, but those who convey their dissatisfaction in a fair way, should be heard. We used to be a team – supporters, those in the boardroom, those working at the club and those on the pitch. Team Rochdale. A family. We are so far away from that right now, it hurts. There are deep wounds that need to be healed and that process can only begin when you acknowledge this fact and act accordingly. Not simply with words, but with actions too. Being back in League Two we are, essentially, back to square one. Let’s take that opportunity to build something together again – supporters and club as one – so that we may dream again of one day competing at the best level we possibly can.

See you at Harrogate. Hopefully.

Chris Dunphy set for Rochdale AFC return?

Chris Dunphy wants to return to Rochdale AFC as chairman.

Former Rochdale AFC chairman Chris Dunphy has unveiled plans to make a sensational return to the role in a bid to “save this great club”.

Dunphy stepped down as chairman in 2018, and left the board altogether, leaving majority shareholder Andrew Kilpatrick to fill the position. Kilpatrick announced his own decision to abdicate the role last month, citing personal reasons, with long-time director Andrew Kelly agreeing to step up on an interim basis only.

However, having watched an extraordinary fans’ forum, where it was revealed Kelly had become ill and the board were in dire need of fresh leadership and funds to keep the club going, Dunphy decided he could no longer stand idly by.

Dunphy’s plan to return as chairman involves long-time associate Bill Goodwin rejoining the board, as well as Francis Collins and Richard Wild, both of whom are executors of the late David Clough’s estate, which has been left to the football club. The pair say that using Clough’s legacy to purchase shares in the club would be a fitting tribute to the superfan and play a major part in achieving eternal supporter partial ownership.

Dunphy had previously sold his own shares privately to American businessmen Dan Altman and Emre Marcelli. At this point it is unclear whether Dunphy intends to buy these back or eventually work in tandem with the pair as fellow directors.

The former chairman now hopes shareholders will call an EGM to put forward his plans in order to garner support, ready for when Andrew Kelly steps down from his interim position.

Chris Dunphy was chairman during the most successful period in Rochdale AFC’s history.

Dunphy said: “As a former chairman and director for more than 30 years, I cannot stand on the sidelines and watch the club, which I have supported all my life, simply disappear without a fight. I can’t imagine having no football club in the town for my children and grandchildren to support.

“While I was chairman, I did all I could to ensure the security of the club, as well as develop the business, and now I feel I have to step up to the plate again, knowing in my heart that I did all I could to help save this great club.

“I have put a plan together that I feel would help secure the short-term survival of the club and safeguard the future.”

Dunphy said his first task would be to review the club’s finances via an audit and help find additional revenue following a season of no matchday income at Spotland.

He said: “I have experience in this role, as you know. I left the board in December 2018, so the last year I was responsible for was 17/18. The club lost £306,000, but that was on the back of a profit in excess of £1.3m the year before and these figures can be corroborated by Companies House.

“When I left, we had money in the bank and massive assets on the field in the form of Ian Henderson, Callum Camps, Joe Rafferty, Luke Matheson, Daniel Adshead, Andy Cannon, Harrison McGahey, and a huge sell-on fee due from Craig Dawson. In addition, there were property assets in the Ratcliffe Arms and the stadium itself.”

Chris Dunphy was chairman during the most successful period in Rochdale AFC’s on-field history, overseeing a first Wembley appearance and two promotions.

He added: “Supporters are the vital part of the club and they need to be treated as such, we need to find a way to make them feel more connected and there is a definite need to improve communication.

“This is my intended starting point. I want us to regain our credibility and get on the road to the club’s recovery.”