Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
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 in 2015 Rochdale, under ex-Dale defender Keith Hill, finished 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 also enjoy the six-figure sponsorship deal that renamed Spotland the Crown Oil Arena in 2016.
Arriving in town, local transport and tips
Rochdale is at the terminus of line I of Manchester’s Metrolink tram network, directly connected with Manchester Victoria station (every 12mins) but it’s far quicker by train (£6, every 10-15mins, 15min journey time).
From Manchester Airport, take the hourly train to Victoria (30min journey time) then change for Rochdale, or get the more frequent service to Piccadilly (15mins), change onto the Metrolink for Victoria, then Rochdale, overall journey time 1hr. A single the whole way to Rochdale (Combined Travel – Tram Bus Train and Railzone 3) is £8. Buy your ticket from the machine at the airport.
From London Euston, change at Manchester Piccadilly then Victoria for Rochdale (cheapest advance singles £80, overall journey time 3hrs). A PlusBus supplement for Greater Manchester including Rochdale (£4.20) allows you to use all local bus services for the rest of the day, but not the Metrolink tram.
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) quotes £40 to Rochdale from Manchester Airport.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
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 unveiled by the Mayor of Rochdale in 1938. A more recent opening is D’Ale House on Drake Street, a haven of regularly changing craft beers with occasional discounts for ticket holders on match days.
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 film The Rochdale Pioneers, about the birth of the revolutionary Co-operative Movement through fair and affordable retail, gained the pub and museum attention.
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.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the ground and around town
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.
Another town-centre hotel is Broadfield Park, a cosy three-star in an 18th-century building. Again, it’s a short stroll to buses for Spotland. On the edge of the town centre near the Rochdale Leisure Centre, the Molesworth Hotel is a recently renovated, family-run hotel with comfortable en-suite rooms.
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, spa and restaurant. Each is on the 17 bus route that runs into Rochdale every 10mins.
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, hourly bus 435 runs to Rochdale Interchange.