Rochdale - the 'Lazarus club' without an enemy prepare to take on Man Utd

Rochdale fans at Spotland
Rochdale fans will travel to Manchester on Wednesday to face Manchester United in the Carabao Cup

Old Trafford, here we come.

At the last count, 6,000 Daleys (that's what we call ourselves) will be jabbing 'M16 0RA' into our sat navs or clambering on to one of the many coaches making the same 21-mile journey.

We plan to make the most of this rare visit to another footballing world. We'll arrive at the ground ridiculously early. Photographs will be taken. Multiple copies of the match programme will be purchased. We'll buy those much-maligned half-and-half scarves.

Even worse, someone will bring a homemade tin foil and cardboard cup and wave it madly every time a television camera pans the crowd.

Win, or - more likely - lose, the match will still be a great celebration. We will sing about supporting our home-town team and exalt the brilliance of players barely known a few miles either side of Spotland. Most of all, though, we will be acclaiming our very existence, for Rochdale is the Lazarus club.

Long before the calamities that have recently befallen Bolton Wanderers and Bury, Rochdale teetered on the edge of extinction. I have covered, in forensic detail, this period of the club's history in my new book, The Overcoat Men.

Back in the early 1980s, we were in an almighty mess. We were bottom of the Football League, home attendances routinely fell below 1,000 and we were hugely in debt.

To grievously compound matters, Spotland had been sold to our departing chairman, whose company had gone bust which left five distinct parties laying claim to the site - on which plans had been drawn up for a housing development.

Mercifully, a few good men stepped forward and saved the day, principally David Kilpatrick and Graham Morris (the overcoat men of the book's title).

Graham Morris and David Kilpatrick
Graham Morris and David Kilpatrick - the 'Overcoat Men'

They joined the board and diligently addressed all the pressing issues, the most important of which was extricating the club from a legal quagmire and reclaiming ownership of the ground. Ever since, the club has flourished in a prudent but resolute way and among the songs we'll sing on Wednesday will be some about how we pay our bills, stand our corner.

It was not lost to Dale fans that on the day we drew United in the cup, Bury were expelled from the Football League.

Down the years, matches between us and Bury have been fervent, breathless affairs. Each summer, when the fixtures are announced, the two games against Bury are the ones circled with a felt tip pen.

The two towns abut one another, so it's a proper volatile, cheering, jeering derby. Vans are hired. Drink is drunk. Insults are traded. Chants are crude and coarse. And it's all good fun, pantomime style.

We'll miss Bury. Sure, we wanted to see them soundly beaten each week and perennially battling against relegation but no one wanted them banished from the EFL, their very survival in doubt.

When we take on partisan support of a football club, we also take on the anti-support of another, usually our nearest rival. Rochdale's dislike and disdain of Bury helps us define ourselves. The annual multi-generational gathering at Gigg Lane and the noise we make is a barometer of our passion. But we are now bereft, a football club without an enemy.

I have always appreciated Rochdale's long period of stability. It is an heirloom that has been handled with care and consideration for nearly 40 years, tended on a near-familial basis.

Mark Hodkinson
Mark Hodkinson has authored a number of books on football and music

I was a boy at the time of our crisis, new to my club, but heady in love with it. I remember the carousel of faces in the local press, men in ties and jackets - directors, chairmen, liquidators, lawyers, accountants - and while I didn't understand what they did or were up to, I knew my club was in grave trouble.

At some point in the lifespan of our support, many of us who are lengthy, one-club, do-or-die fans will most likely face this dreadful situation.

No matter what measures are taken, it seems our clubs, to varying degrees, will be disrespected, mistreated or, at worst, pillaged from within. Afterwards, we will still hold high the badge, the idea of the club, but the infrastructure may be devastated; several clubs, much like Bury, have been forced to start all over again.

We need to be on our guard and keep a look-out on who is passing through the reception area of our clubs and making themselves at home. Who are they? Why are they there? Where do they come from? What do they want?

A pattern soon emerges. Long-term directors, usually weary of the battle, are usurped or augmented in the boardroom. The newcomers, following standard business acumen, quickly realise that the ground on which the club stands is its biggest single asset. It is sold or leased and the money raised used to purchase 'better' players.

Such level of investment in routine, non-sporting businesses almost always guarantees success, but not in football. The team often starts to fail, attendances drop, pressure mounts and, off the pitch, matters can veer from complicated to impossible.

There will be protracted repercussions of Bury's demise. The EFL will be called to task. There will be calls for new regulations. All this will help but one of football's greatest assets, its parochialism, is also its principal weakness.

Clubs are sovereignties, where people pass through. Some are kings, others are pawns. Most, men such as Kilpatrick and Morris, are selfless and hold to the principle of club above all, but others are on the make and the take and if they know nothing of the heart of football, tearing it out comes easy.