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Madden's Mercenaries

15 April 2020

Former Dale manager, Peter Madden, died on Monday, aged 85. He took over the club in the summer of  1980 when Bob Stokoe walked out saying the ‘job was too big for him’.

The previous season, Rochdale had finished bottom of the Football League. Madden assembled a squad dubbed ‘Madden’s Mercenries’ by local freelance journalist, Jack Hammill, and as good as saved the club from impending closure. The author, Mark Hodkinson covers this period in his book, The Overcoat Men. Below is an extract, courtesy of Pitch Publishing.

A shortage of money at Rochdale AFC had been a theme covered ad nauseam in the Rochdale Observer, back to the club’s formation in 1907. The articles in the summer of 1980, however, had more urgency, more anxiety, than ever before. The opening paragraphs in front-page lead stories running over two consecutive issues, told it straight: ‘Rochdale soccer club’s precarious hold on Football League status slipped nearer the brink when Bob Stokoe quit as manager on Monday’ and ‘A question-mark hangs over the club’s ability to survive without the support of Rochdale people.’  Elsewhere, Rochdale was referred to as a ‘crisis club’ and ‘debt-ridden’. Rochdale, the town, was similarly on its knees. Round-the-clock working in the mills had become a four-day week, to three, two, one, gone. The town’s other main source of work, the engineering industry, was just a few years behind textiles in its sharp spiral downwards. The men in blue overalls no longer did overtime and there were constant whispers of redundancies. The club, with its various if fluid board members, had already mined the handful of people in the town with enough surplus wealth and interest in either football or Rochdale. There was no more to be had.

      Within days, a replacement for Bob Stokoe was announced. Peter Madden, who had assisted Doug Collins and Stokoe, stepped forward. The rhetoric matched the size of the man. ‘There is no question of us not starting the new season in the Football League,’ he insisted. He was a fighter, he said, and determined to ‘have a real go’. Madden, born in October 1934, had been raised in a deprived area of Bradford. One of six siblings, he was streetwise and as a teenager had hustled at snooker halls, passing on winnings to his parents. His father, a mill worker, suffered stomach ulcers and was often unable to work, so his mother did three jobs to support the family. Madden joined Rotherham United. On one of his first days at Millmoor he mistakenly walked into the first team’s dressing-room. He was told to clear off but, as he did so, he told them to save a peg for him because he would be back. He made his debut in April 1956 and played more than 300 times, mainly as a centre-back, before closing his career at Bradford Park Avenue and Aldershot.

      Most match reports from Madden’s playing days make reference to his physique. ‘Tall and built like the side of a house’ reads one, and another, ‘he enjoys a hard game of soccer like most people enjoy a thick steak.’ Among the football fraternity he was regarded as a man of integrity, a gentleman, but still willing to stand his corner if picked upon. As a player he was regarded as much more than a mere ‘stopper’. He had good technique and was strong with both feet. During his decade at Rotherham United he had been linked with several top clubs. He had a deep affection for Rotherham United – which rankled with some at Rochdale who felt he expressed it too often – but still had regular disagreements with the board when his desire to move to bigger clubs was thwarted.

      Madden revealed that he would be shopping around for ‘free transfers’ but they would still incur a cost. The players would receive a £250 signing fee and another £250 was required for administration and insurance. He signed Eugene Martinez and Alan Jones from Bradford City; Peter Burke from Halifax Town and Barry Wellings from York City. Madden expected to lose Eric Snookes to Torquay United, who had offered £25,000 for him; money the board was keen to acquire. Snookes spent three days in Devon, meeting club officials and viewing potential houses to buy. He had asked for a £5,000 signing-on fee and £200 per week, almost double his wage at Rochdale. ‘It seemed a lot to ask at the time,’ he said. ‘But it was a different world down there. The houses were two or three times more expensive than they were in Rochdale.’ He was offered a signing-on fee of £2,500 and advised by the chairman to convert a room in the house to rent to lodgers or tourists; it would help pay the mortgage. Madden phoned him the next day and Snookes made a gentleman’s agreement to re-sign for Rochdale. The phone rang immediately afterwards. It was a director of Torquay reporting that the board would meet Snookes’s terms. ‘I told him it was too late and I’d agreed to sign for Rochdale. Well, to sign for Peter Madden. He was straight as a dye, Pete, and I had a great loyalty to him. He’d done things he needn’t have done, like taking me in his car to visit my wife in hospital after she’d given birth.’ 

       The main aim of the 1980/81 season – to avoid having to apply for re-election – was achieved with four games remaining. Madden had assembled the squad over a few weeks when, before the season began, there had been mention of Rochdale possibly not fulfilling their fixtures or fielding a team made up of amateurs. Attendances had risen to more than 2,700 per game and they finished in a creditable 15th place, seven points above the re-election zone. As recognition of his achievement, Madden was granted a three-year contract, an unusually high level of commitment in lower-league football. ‘What he did for Rochdale and with that side was genius,’ said Kilpatrick, the club chairman. ‘He deserves every credit. I did not realise at the time how well he did with just 14 professionals. He was fit and looked after himself and an honest, trustworthy guy.’ Kilpatrick can still name the regular team that turned out for Madden.


Copies of Mark’s book are available for £10 plus £2 postage from:

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