Dale on the Wembley trail

NOEL Gallagher has definitely got one up on Lennon and McCartney this time. (Not to mention Neil Innes.) After all (you’re my Wonderwall), the Beatles never helped Rochdale get to Wembley.

Rochdale manager Keith Hill is very keen on his indie music. So much so, that when he was once asked in a radio interview if he was a big fan of cup final songs, he responded: “No, I prefer a bit of Stone Roses, myself.”

So when Hill was looking for a pre-match tune to inspire Dale ahead of today’s League Two play-off game against Darlington, he asked for Wonderwall; Britpop’s response to “Simply The Best”, if you like.

Given that Rochdale’s public address announcer is Dave Sweetmore, a tour DJ for the Inspiral Carpets, there was never going to be a problem getting it played.

“We want every single Dale fan in the ground to join in with Wonderwall,” said Hill before the match.

“To hear the whole of our support banging it out would give the players a massive boost.”

Hill’s approach could be considered unorthodox – although it’s perhaps a sign of how backward the football world can be sometimes that anyone who listens to Oasis could ever be considered “out there”.

And in any case, the north east corner of Greater Manchester is something of an indie enclave, fighting a brave battle of musical resistance against the incessant tide of Kylie Minogue, Britain’s Got No Talent and The Wombats. Just down the road from Rochdale, Oldham radio station The Revolution continues to party like it’s 1989, and often seems like the only place to hear any other Stone Roses track apart from Fools Gold. They even play Northside sometimes.

In that context, Wonderwall actually seems quite a conservative choice of track. With a place at Wembley at stake, perhaps Shall We Take A Trip would have been a better choice. Although, admittedly, Northside weren’t thinking of a trip to Wembley when they wrote that one.

Rochdale have been stuck in whatever Division Four is called these days since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. And despite the fact that they have played some of the best football in the division this season, they have still almost managed to cock up their promotion bid several times in the last couple of weeks.

The most bizarre incident saw striker Lee Thorpe break his arm in three places during – wait for it – an arm wrestling match on the team bus heading for last Saturday’s first leg at Darlington.

As if that hadn’t thrown them enough, Dale somehow lost the first leg – a game they dominated – thanks to a late goalkeeping error from Tommy Lee.

And so, 2-1 down from the first leg, the last thing they needed to do today was concede an early penalty. But they did. Rene Howe was harshly judged to have tugged Jason Kennedy inside the area by referee Richard Beeby, and Clark Keltie blasted in the penalty.

“I don’t think Richard Beeby will be top of Keith Hill’s Christmas card list,” said Sky commentator Bill Leslie. No Bill, that’s because no one sends out Christmas cards in May.

Chris Dagnall’s scrambled goal gave Dale hope, but Darlington tightened up in defence and looked set to see the game out. That was until David Perkins – a tigerish midfielder who could pass for Boris Johnson from a distance – scored a wonder goal from nowhere to force extra time.

Maybe he was gonna be the one that saved them? Not quite. Perkins got sent off in extra time; perhaps for a reckless challenge on Ricky Ravenhill, perhaps for squaring up to a couple of Darlington players in the aftermath, perhaps for giving Beeby an Eric Morecambe-style tap across the chops; perhaps for a combination of all three.

Rochdale’s wonderwall, as it turned out, was goalkeeper Lee. He saved Kennedy’s penalty, allowing Ben Muirhead to fire in the winning spot-kick. Monday, May 28: Rochdale will play at Wembley. I don’t believe that anybody feels the way they do. Not even Noel Gallagher.

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