One season, ten (10) different kit combinations.
To begin to unravel this complex web of blue, black and white, there is a requirement to return to the very beginning. Well, last August, when the three strips nominated by Rochdale were established as follows:
(1) Blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks at home (all with necessary black trim as the club retained its uniqueness using them as home colours);
(2) Black-and-white striped away shirts which were a nod to the club’s first-ever outfit and one worn successfully in their centenary season when the club reached Wembley in the play-offs. These were allied with black shorts and socks;
(3) The third shirt was frustratingly straight out of Erreà’s catalogue – a black number with a random streak of yellow that was able to be worn with the black shorts and socks of the away kit.
The first deviation away from the three norms was an expected one, something witnessed in the last campaign against sides who wear white shorts, as the black away shorts were worn to create an aesthetically wonderful (4) blue/black/blue ensemble.
Pre-season aside, it was initially seen in competitive action at Stoke in the League Cup but didn’t last long as (5) blue/black/black was required at blue-socked neighbours, Bury, in the Checkatrade Trophy.
The subsequent 4-0 victory at Gigg Lane may have created some sort of superstitious tidal wave within the depths of Spotland, as it was this combination that became the first alternative against teams in white shorts for the next couple of months.
In the midst of this, there was a league trip to Southend, whose navy/navy/white strip would require some clever kit chicanery to avoid a blue-navy or a black-navy clash.
Dale’s black-and-white-striped away shirt was dominated by the latter colour, plain panels on the side and on the back for numbers, so there were no issues with the Shrimpers’ navy tops, however the black away shorts were eschewed in favour of the white home versions, resulting in an overall (6) stripes/white/black look.
Being drawn away against Slough in the FA Cup meant sock-obsessives everywhere were positively anxious at the thought of the non-league side’s navy clashing with either of Dale’s blue or black versions.
The possible stress of watching this unfold live on BT Sport was averted when a pair of plain white socks appeared from nowhere; the (7) blue/white/white kit helping Keith Hill’s men to a 4-0 win.
These white socks would then re-appear in round four as Championship side Millwall also wore navy socks, but their navy shirts meant Dale changed to their away shirt and shorts.
Result: (8) stripes/black/white, a creditable draw on the way to a memorable victory in the replay and a remarkable 2-2 draw with Tottenham in the next round.
In between the Spurs games, there was a trip to Wigan and a quite obvious attempt to capitalise on the magical powers contained within those white socks. They had already appeared with the away strip when not necessary in a win at Northampton, so although the third shirt would be required against Wigan’s blue and white stripes, it probably wasn’t much of a surprise to see players take to the field in (9) black/black/white.
The problem was that nobody had read the superstition rules properly: the white socks only work when worn with the correct home or away shirt and shorts, third kits break the spell. It’s similar to when Aslan comes back to life in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
Much like the White Witch (named after her favourite socks, presumably) , Erreà hadn’t checked the laws of kit magic properly. With the lucky socks firmly part of the club’s identity on the road for the remainder of the season, an impressive record was assembled when the aforementioned rules were followed.
In either stripes/black/white or blue/white/white (at Bury in the league this time, when black could have been used as previously), Dale had a record of five wins and two draws. Unfortunately, they pushed it too far once more for the final away game at Oxford, strangely deciding to wear the away shirt for no reason even though the home side’s navy shorts and socks would mean black could not be used.
Thus (10) stripes/white/white appeared for the first time but, with an away shirt/home shorts bucket of water being thrown over the mystical fire of the white socks, it was never going to work and Hill’s side fell to a disappointing defeat.