Unlike similar towns nearby, Rochdale does not have a football team who were original members of the Football League with periods of glory to look back on.
On the northern fringe of the sprawling settlement of Greater Manchester, Dale folk have always considered themselves Lancastrians rather than Mancunians. There may be few green fields separating Rochdale from the metropolis, but their town is nestled against the foothills of the Pennines and its wild moors.
It may share many of the characteristics of its neighbours – a small hamlet industrialised and transformed by the cotton boom – but Rochdale chose rugby.
Local men of good standing, soon to become Rochdale Football Club, started playing the oval-ball game here in 1866. It took 30 years before a soccer team was formed, Rochdale AFC, who joined the Lancashire Combination in 1896, then the Lancashire League.
One historical curiosity is that Herbert Chapman, later of Arsenal fame, played for RAFC around this time. They also competed in the FA Cup. Two qualifying rounds in to the 1900-01 tournament, they failed to raise a team to play Workington, and duly folded on New Year’s Day 1901.
Although this Rochdale played at the site later known as Spotland, then named St Clement’s, they have no link with the current Rochdale AFC, formed in 1907, and based at Spotland since it was built as a football ground in 1920.
This Rochdale are typecast as having not moved from the bottom two tiers since entering the Football League in 1921 – and for spending 36 consecutive seasons in the lowest flight. But this mediocre streak ended in 2014 and this Rochdale, the current Rochdale under ex-Dale defender Keith Hill, may well end up finishing higher up the league pyramid than any of their predecessors since League admission in 1920.
Although Dale sides managed third- and even second-place finishes before and just after the war, this was in a regionalised third level.
Third-level champions in rugby league in 2016, Rochdale Hornets, who can trace their lineage back to that first game in 1866, also have their tails up. Sharing hilltop Spotland with their soccer counterparts since 1988, the Hornets also have Oldham for a local rival, the same as Rochdale AFC.
Rochdale’s two main sports clubs will also enjoy the six-figure sponsorship deal that renamed Spotland the Crown Oil Arena from August 2016 onwards.
Rochdale is at the terminus of line I of Manchester’s Metrolink tram network, directly connected with Manchester Victoria station (every 12min) but it’s far quicker by train (13-20min, every 15min, £5).
From Manchester Airport, take the frequent train to Piccadilly (15-20min journey time) then change by Metrolink for Victoria, and then Rochdale (total journey time 1hr 20min). A single all the way from the airport to Rochdale is £4.80. Buy your ticket from the machine at the airport.
From London Euston, change at Manchester Piccadilly then Victoria for Rochdale (3hr overall, cheapest advance single around £30).
Rochdale station is south of the town centre, close to the Metrolink stop of the same name. Rochdale Interchange is by the bus station and Metrolink terminus of Rochdale Town Centre by the shopping hub to the north. Hop on a Metrolink tram one stop from Rochdale station to Interchange for the limited bus service to the ground.
The Crown Oil Arena is a mile or so north-west of the town centre, poorly connected to Rochdale Interchange and The Esplanade nearby. For details of times and tickets, see Transport for Greater Manchester.
Rochdale Town Taxi (01706 750 750/01706 750 750) quotes £30 to Rochdale from Manchester Airport.
There are no lodgings near the ground or many hotels in the town centre but, conveniently set near bus routes from town, a couple of pubs with rooms. Pick of the bunch is the historic Flying Horse Hotel, in the shadow of Rochdale’s magnificent town hall, offering 16 standard en-suite rooms with LCD TVs and WiFi. You’ll find cask ales, TV football and live music downstairs. It’s an easy walk to Rochdale Interchange/Newgate for buses to the stadium.
The only town-centre hotel is the Best Western Broadfield Park, a cosy three-star in an 18th-century building. Again, it’s a short stroll to buses for Spotland.
A mile or so south of town on Manchester Road, the Royal Toby is a superior choice, set in its own grounds, with a top-class restaurant. Further along Manchester Road away from town, the Mercure Norton Grange Hotel & Spa is an affordable four-star with a heated pool and restaurant. Each is on the No.17 bus route that runs into Rochdale every 10min.
Secluded, tree-shrouded Moss Lodge has a rural feel even though it’s only a 10min walk to Rochdale station. Alternatively, once you get to nearby Oldham Road, regular bus Nos.6 and 409 run to Rochdale Interchange.
Beyond Moss Lodge, by the M62 motorway, the Premier Inn Rochdale is, in fact, in Milnrow – but dead handy for Rochdale Interchange, Newhey on the same Metrolink tramline five stops away.
Traditional pubs still dot the town centre. Close to the Interchange, the Cask & Feather is as cosy as it gets, with real ales and great pub grub. Nearby, the Regal Moon is the town Wetherspoon, set in a pre-war cinema opened by the Mayor of Rochdale in 1938.
Part of the Rochdale Pioneers heritage museum on Toad Lane, award-winning pub and eaterie The Baum combines local history with seven alternating hand-pumped ales, a guest cider and more than 30 continental beers, draught and bottled. Decent food, too. The 2012 film ‘The Rochdale Pioneers’, about the birth of the revolutionary Co-operative Movement through fair and affordable retail, brought focus onto the pub and museum. From here, it’s a 10-15min walk to Spotland, or jump on hourly bus Nos.443 or 444 if one comes along.
You haven’t been to Rochdale if you’ve not been to the Tanners Arms Hotel, a stand-alone legend of a pub by the town centre at 24 Whitworth Road. There’s a selection of ales but that’s not you’re here for – it’s the people. Watch out for eccentric Irish Dale fan ‘Big Dec’ who stays here on trips over. Turn left and cross the dual carriageway for Rochdale Interchange.
Outside town, Waterside makes best use of its lovely location by the renovated Rochdale canal, a short walk up the hill to the local attraction of Hollingworth Lake. It’s more restaurant than bar but very happy to provide a glass of well chosen wine and view of the Pennines with it. It’s next to Littleborough station with a half-hourly service to Rochdale two stops away.
Right on Ashworth Moor, with views across Rochdale and Manchester spread out below, Owd Betts dates back to 1796. Real ale and home-cooked food are further attractions, plus its beer garden. It’s named after its Victorian landlady whose ghost is said to haunt the place. It’s about four miles north-west of Rochdale, on the same side of town as Spotland, past Rochdale Golf Club – there are no buses but a taxi wouldn’t break the bank.