THE last day of the season as it happened...13.00: The ground is empty, but somehow the tension in the air is already thick and palpable. Rochdale match-day staff go through their routines as usual, smiles on faces. The sun is out, though it is decidedly cold in Spotland. Just another day to a club that has spent the vast majority of its existence in this division, and will again next season. Their opponents desperately hope to do the same...
2.00: Already, the Willbutts Lane Stand is starting to fill with green, white and yellow. Mobilisation of the Green Army is in force.
2.05: Jake Cole, Rene Gilmartin and Romain Larrieu emerge to notable applause from the several hundred travelling Argyle fans already in situ. Some wear home kits, some wear away kits. Some, for reasons best known to them, are dressed as bananas. Who cares? They are all blooming marvellous.
3.00: We’re underway. Hold onto your hats...
3.03: Not much has happened at Spotland. Meanwhile, on my laptop I’ve pressed refresh on my Live Scores page approximately 14 times. Obsessed? Nothing yet….
3.08: Wayne Thomas poleaxes Joe Bryan, and receives a yellow card for his action. One of those tackles that, had the ref sent him off, you would understand it, but a caution was probably enough. The whipped-in cross causes havoc, bobbles about and looked threatening. However, when it finally settles at an Argyle boot, it is Maxime Blanchard. And it is his left foot. We love you Max, but it would have been nice to see that fall elsewhere. The danger ends, for now.
3.10: News filters through to us that Northampton’s game with Barnet kicked off five minutes late. Not strictly cricket, that.
3.12: Bryan bursts down the left side again, and fizzes a cross that smashes the hand of a Rochdale defender. Whether it was inside the box or not is debatable. The fact that it hit the hand seemed less so. The referee gave nothing at all. It ha’s been a great start by Argyle. They are clearly the team showing that they want, or maybe need, the result.
3.15: Everything changes. It had been crucial that we made our own luck in this game, and get at least a point to prevent matters falling out of our own hands. This became substantially more difficult when Maxime Blanchard was sent off. On one sighting, it really could gone either way. George Donnelly (yes, that one) nicked past the defence, and Max clipped him as he ran through. In the referee’s mind, this was preventing a goalscoring opportunity, and he had to walk. The expletive and the rip of the shirt as he left the field will resonate with all of an Argyle persuasion. We know how he felt.
3.20: Donnelly fires in a shot that Jake Cole saves well. You will not be surprised that, since the red card, it has been solid Rochdale pressure.
3.25: Reuben Reid finds a yard in behind Shane Cansdell-Sheriff, who appeared to lose the ball in the low sun. However, his clipped ball across the six-yard box is not met. No other yellow shirts anywhere near him, understandably.
3.28: Another major couple of decisions, and this time no-one is happy. Argyle and their fans seemed to call, to a man and woman, for offside against Henderson. No flag. He then cuts inside Durrell Berry, who goes to ground. As the ball enters the area, Berry grabs it with an arm! Penalty, surely? No. The referee says that Henderson fouled Berry before he touched it. Phew!
3.31: News from Plainmoor that former Argyle loanee Tom Hitchcock has put Bristol Rovers a goal up against Torquay. This will only become significant, though, to us, should the Gulls lose by three and we lose by one.
3.38: Michael Rose crashes a thirty-yard thunderbolt against the crossbar with considerable venom. This dashes the traditional song: “Michael Rose, the Boot’ll Score”. Hallelujah that he did not. Hearts were already in mouths. That’s put a few more internal organs higher up the oesophagus.
3.48: After three additional minutes at the end of the first half, the half-time whistle goes. 0-0, but no shortage of incident, talking point and cause for coronary. It is 0-0 at Northampton v Barnet, too. And at Wimbledon v Fleetwood. And at Dagenham & Redbridge v York. Seems everyone is too nervous to score….
4.04: We are underway. Biggest 50 minutes or so, ever...
4.07: Bristol Rovers miss a penalty at Torquay. Meanwhile, at Spotland, Argyle stand firm, but have to put in more blocks than a Lego factory
4.10: Elliot Benyon equalises for Torquay. Still no goals involving any of the bottom six teams, remarkably.
4.17: Rovers go back in front through a Jarvis own goal. Argyle, meanwhile, are digging in very manfully. There are furrows on the park where Reuben Reid has been. The big man might be about five foot four by the end of this game.
4.19: Joe Bryan goes down under pressure, a little like Reid did a few minutes ago, in the penalty area. Argyle fans are furious. To be honest, I am no Sigmund Freud (although his descendant was a Pilgrim) but I would say it’s a case of them WANTING a penalty so badly they cannot help but think it should have been one. Awarding either would have been harsh in the extreme.
4.20: Torquay come back to 2-2 against Bristol Rovers.
4.22: The most significant moment of the afternoon so far. Gary Alexander scores for Wimbledon against Fleetwood, and with Dagenham and York drawing, it means half of the four things required for Argyle to be relegated are happening at the moment.
4.22: Or, at least, they were. Fleetwood’s Mangan equalises, becoming an instant Argyle hero, and he does not even know it. Meanwhile, Torquay go 3-2 up, meaning Rovers have to score four more goals to make that game meaningful to us.
4.29: As Argyle prepare to take a free-kick in their own half, the away fans erupt. Are they that excited that we’ve got a free-kick? Of course not. News soon gets to us that York are winning at Dagenham, meaning now that NONE of the four cursed results are happening. Please, nothing change….
4.30: You know what, do not worry about that. Indications are confirmed that Northampton have scored at home to Barnet, prompting another round of crazed celebrations amongst the Pilgrims’ faithful.
4.32: Wimbledon go in front, which is not ideal, but, for us to go down, it would take Barnet to turn around a losing position to win, Daggers to equalise and for us to lose. This game in front of me has become oddly secondary.
4.36: “And now you’re gonna believe us….” The Argyle fans are rapturous again: Northampton are 2-0 up against Barnet. Edgar Davids’ side now have 15 minutes to score three goals...
4.38: Oops. Rochdale score via young substitute Joe Bunney, who converts a cross from the Dale left into the net with his head. No-one wants to lose a football match, so it is a blow, but the Argyle fans continue singing even during the home celebrations. They know the score: it many more ways than one.
4.47: Dale have gone close a couple of times. John Sheridan throws on Tyler Harvey; Argyle still want to try and get a point here. I wonder if the bench know what’s going on elsewhere? (I am sure they do)
4.49: The fourth official indicates that three minutes will be added on, but still the focus is elsewhere. This game is playing itself out, with more focus from the stands being on phones and radios updating important news from south west London, north east London and Northampton.
4.52: It is over at Spotland. 1-0 to Rochdale, but that is really academic. We are awaiting confirmation of the results from other grounds….
4.53: And it has arrived! The first vital game to be confirmed as all over is at Dagenham, with York winning 1-0, meaning Daggers did not catch Argyle. Time to breathe deeply for the first time since about 2.50pm this afternoon. Ach, who am I kidding? It’s the first time since about October!
4.54: Barnet have lost at Northampton, and, in truth, this was the big game of the day. Once Barnet had to get three, then every minute that elapsed thereafter became easier to bear. Strange things do happen in football, but any thought that Barnet would get three were evaporating rapidly as the half wore on. This defeat has condemned them to playing in the Blue Square next term. By this point, some Argyle fans were on the pitch: off you pop, lads, no need to be silly. Do not ruin it: and Semper was being played by the kindly soul on the decks at Spotland. To be fair, Rochdale were an utterly class act all day. Pre-match they indicated that they thought we’d be ok, and as I walked to pitchside at the whistle, a kindly old club steward stopped me only to shake my hand and say how pleased he was we had survived. “You’re a proper club,” he said. Thanks, mate. Right back at you, there.
5.03: The few that found themselves too over-enthusiastic and giddy to remain away from the playing area have retreated, and now John Sheridan and his players have walked over to the (we say this word often, but we absolutely mean it today) MIGHTY Green Army. It is hard to see who is showing their appreciation for the other the most. Is it the supporters acknowledging the players that hauled themselves out of the relegation zone? Or the players tipping their hats to the vast following that ventured north of Manchester for this game – and indeed trekked all over the country all season?
6.00: An empty stadium, bar a few people sweeping up debris. Interviews done, time for a look around and reflection of another long, hard, nervy, torturous season. The summer has been beckoning for weeks, months. How glad we are to reach it as a Football League club, still. But, and sorry to sound all corny here, it is another season that we have got through together and seen off adversity. We ought to be proud of that. Part of me would be so, so happy with a season in which we go no higher than 12th and no lower than 14th. Boring, boring safety. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But you never know, we could get a little bit higher. Maybe the summer is not all it is cracked to be. Maybe mid-season security is a little unambitious...
6.15: Time to go home. Roll on August 3. I can’t wait...