The game is about the fans.
I have to start this week by talking about the fans. Last Saturday, 288 Dale fans made the 90-mile trip down our beloved motorway network to see Dale triumph 2-1 – our fourth consecutive win at Walsall. The fans certainly lifted the spirits of all connected with the Club.
To be constantly heard above the Walsall crowd, even though Dale only accounted for 5% of the attendance, really was a joy. We all wish to see that wonderful atmosphere recreated at the Crown Oil Arena today against Coventry City, who will be back by over 1,000 travelling fans. Incidentally, their Community Day last weekend pulled in almost 27,000 – food for thought for a well organised Dale Community Day next season.
On Tuesday evening I took in a National League North match – York City against Hereford FC. On a cold, wet night in York, the crowd was almost 2,500, in a league that is almost semi-professional, three down from our own tier. Yet, hope springs eternal with 2,400 York fans backing their side, who are battling at the wrong end of the table, with their opponents bringing over 100 fans on a 400-mile round trip, one of which was our very own Keith Hicks, a former Hereford player. However, both Clubs yearn for what we have, which is league status. It just shows the passion that fans in our country have for the great game that football is.
The rest of my week have involved lengthy negotiations to ensure Andy Lonergan joins the team today, along with a number of other meetings.
Planning has already started with the police and local authorities to ensure we have a great day when Sunderland visit the Crown Oil Arena in April, but also hopefully a brilliant Dale crowd to outshout the 3,500 Sunderland fans that will fill the away stand.
There was a constructive Community Trustees meeting where we are aiming to be at the forefront of, not just sport, but healthy activity across the entire community.
So many people work so hard behind the scenes at Dale, and have such great ties to the Club, which I will outline more about in the next few weeks.
I would also ask that you support the Curry On Up The Dale night, as advertised by the Dale Supporters Trust, who are working hard to raise extra funds required for the five-a-side pitch refurbishment plan.
Finally, Tuesday saw the announcement that our own Joe Thompson is to retire from professional football. We have already witnessed a week of great tributes to a man who will forever hold special affection in our hearts.
Yes, because he scored the goal that kept us up. Yes, because he was an integral part of our first promotion in 50 years. Yes, because he has served the Club with distinction as a player.
But mostly, I suspect by many, Joe will be remembered as much for the man he is and how he lives his life, and the way he has conducted himself in adversity, when life – to use a sporting analogy – threw some pretty nasty tackles at him.
He has twice ridden those tackle, and when put down by those tackles, his great achievement has been getting back up, and that for me is the measure of the man.
Let us warmly applaud and cheer Joe today. I know he is destined for a second career in the media, as he is such a natural. He is a great lad who made our Club better for being part of it, which is why I’m delighted to say that he will take up an ambassadorial role.
On behalf of all at RAFC, thank you Joe for all you have done, and good luck for the future!
To all Dale fans at the Crown Oil Arena today, or wherever you may be, Up The Dale and have a great weekend.