Rochdale, home of the everyman supporter

ROCHDALE became the first club in the EFL to sack their manager in 2022-23, just a handful of games into the new campaign. Robbie Stockdale had been in charge for 13 months, but the season has started badly for the club and they are currently bottom of League Two. Rochdale is one of those clubs that epitomise the lower divisions of the EFL; surviving in spite of their situation, backed by a loyal band of fans but unlikely to ever see major success.

Against this backdrop, Rochdale, from a town of 200,000 people on the fringes of Greater Manchester that doesn’t always get particularly good press, represents the very essence of the “92”. This is a town that made its name as the birthplace of the cooperative moment in 1844. It has also given the world entertainers Gracie Fields, Lisa Stansfield and Bill Oddie, as well as political figures such as Sajid Javid.

There’s an awful long way to go, but the trajectory seems a little downbeat at Rochdale at the moment. They were relegated to League Two in 2020-21 and finished 18th in 2021-22, winning just 12 of their 46 games. There were some 15 points between the Dale and relegation but the alarm bells have already started ringing this term. In their first five league games, Rochdale have scored once, new signing Devante Rodney netting in the opening fixture.

Rochdale have spent most of their life in the bottom division of the Football League and have won promotion just three times: in 1969, 2010 and 2014. In addition to their playing record, Rochdale are also facing big challenges off the pitch.

There was some good news during the summer, though, when the club announced that it had repaid the mortgage taken out in 2016 when Rochdale acquired their Spotland stadium outright. In November 1987, the directors of the club at the time passed a special resolution under the Companies Act to ensure Rochdale enjoyed permanent protection against Spotland  ever being sold. In 2019, the stadium was listed as an Asset of Community Value. Chairman Simon Gauge commented: “As a sustainably-run club, building the club’s long-term future starts with ensuring complete security of our stadium…The annual cost savings achieved by being mortgage free are being redeployed into our first team playing squad.”

One look at the finances of Rochdale, indeed many other smaller clubs from the 92, demonstrates the chasm between the haves and have-nots in professional football. In the 2020-21 season, which ended with Rochdale being relegated to League Two, Rochdale’s income was just £ 3.3 million, largely due to covid-19, early cup exists and reduced transfer business. The club made a loss of £ 1.2 million. A year earlier, revenues totalled £ 6.8 million and they made a profit of £ 1.4 million. The loss of matchday income due to the pandemic clearly hit clubs like Rochdale far worse than the elite – there is no huge sum of TV money to bolster the finances. Rochdale don’t have to look far to see how a mismanaged club can hit the rails, Bury have long been one of the Dale’s local rivals.

It wasn’t long ago that Rochdale, a fan-owned club, might have been taken over. Morton House MGT and First Form Construction tried to take control of the club in 2021, buying a 42.3% stake for £ 1.2 million. This came after a search for new investors was conducted to no avail. Morton House acquired the shareholdings of six individuals, amounting to 220,000 shares, to reach a majority, they needed over 251,000. They never got there, partly due to director Andrew Kelly selling his stake to the Dale Trust, which became the second largest shareholder. Morton couldn’t achieve its objective of taking control and by mid-August 2021, announced it was withdrawing from the approval process concerning their acquisition.

The situation was clouded further in November 2021 when 400,000 new shares in the club were sold, raising £ 800,000. The price of £ 2 per share was a third of the price “paid” by Morton. The share issue diluted their holding from 42.3% to just 23%. Morton also claim they were not given the chance to buy more shares. Their response was to file legal action against the club, its directors and the Dale Trust – an unprecedented situation in a complex transaction. The EFL conducted an investigation suggesting Rochdale may have breached their regulations concerning acquisition, but nobody from the current regime was actually charged.

It would be sad if a club like Rochdale was to disappear from the Football League – recent events have only served to strengthen local ties. And if you want evidence of the homely aspect of the team from Spotland, there’s a statue of long-time fan David Clough, whose estate was left to his beloved Rochdale AFC when he died. Even in this age of billionaire owners and millionaire players, football still rewards the everyman and woman.

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