Having enjoyed Mark Hodkinson's previous books, it came as no surprise to find that he couldn't pass up the opportunity of documenting his beloved Rochdale AFC's first promotion in his 36 years as a fan. His summary of their 2009/10 season accounts for the first 60 pages, with the remainder of the book made up of articles that he first contributed to The Times - as a fan of his writing, I'd not seen many of these pieces before and it's great to have them all in one place.
The season review (I use the term loosely, a stats book this is not - what makes it interesting is Hodkinson's inimitable and often hilarious way of documenting the team's progress) is split into short month by month chapters. August finds Dale making a slow start and the author giving up on hope. As a fellow fan of a perennially underachieving club, I chuckled and related to his justification for not attending the Port Vale and Rotherham away games. The month ends on a high with a local derby win over Bury and a controversial celebration by Tom Kennedy which is highlighted on the Football League Show.
September sees the team on fire, with a second half comeback against Morecambe followed by four straight wins. The October highlight is a 4-0 win over league leaders Bournemouth, while November brings win over high flying Dagenham & Redbridge and `moneybags' Notts County.
With December results continuing in the same vein, club chairman Chris Dunphy issues a plea to "anyone stopping at home to come to Spotland and BE PART OF IT!" By Christmas they are 7 points clear at the top. Other highlights of the month include the author delighting in finding a shack selling old football programmes at Crewe, and the Dale fans coming up with the chant of the year!
The New Year sees the run continue, and by March they are 11 points clear. Along the way, Hodkinson endures the lack of away packing at Shrewsbury, and his car breaking down on the way to Chesterfield (he pays an extortionate amount for a taxi - the team rewards him by losing!).
April brings a major stutter with a 5-0 annihilation at Torquay, followed by a shock home defeat to basement boys Darlington. Promotion is finally clinched with a win over Northampton - they certainly achieved promotion the hard way with their "collapse over the line". Subsequent poor form saw the one-time champions elect eventually finish third, with one forum poster commenting that "only Rochdale could make promotion feel like a wake".
The final passage finds Hodkinson pondering how the team will fare in the forthcoming League One season - I, for one, will certainly be keeping an avid eye on their progress. The first part of the book concludes with two pieces about Dale's season that were originally published in The Times.
The remainder of the book consists of other articles from The Times, split into five chapters. Some of these feature fresh insight from Hodkinson. The "Interviews" section includes features on former players Paul Moulden, Colin Bell, Mike Doyle, Richard Jobson and Tommy Gore (these all give a fascinating insight into life after football - Moulden, for example, now runs a chip shop), along with broadcaster Stuart Hall and author Barry Hines.
The poignant "Broken Idols" chapter traces former players who fell on hard times - a mixture of the well known (Gary Charles, Paul Gascoigne), and those best remembered by fans of the clubs they played for (Jason Ross, Pedro Richards, Bobby Stokes). "Close to the Edge" looks at clubs who have either lost their League status or had grim financial struggles (Accrington Stanley, Barnsley, Halifax Town), while "The Beautiful Game?" includes a number of book reviews, along with articles on the use of cortisone and racism.
Final chapter "The Business of Football" deals with topics as diverse as being part of the press pack at matches, boys' football and Subbuteo! The "Football Match Made In Financial Heaven" piece from 2000 shows just how much football has changed in the years since - at the time, the average weekly salary of a Premier League footballer was said to be only £8,000! The book concludes with Hodkinson finally tracking down his former Rochdale hero Bob Mountford shortly before he passed away.
Hodkinson's hope in his preface is for "someone 10, 20, 30 years from now to pick up this book and view it as a literary time capsule: this is how it was when Rochdale won promotion for this particular bloke, his dad and his kids." With the added bonus of the other articles, this is a book that football supporters should enjoy for decades to come.