Position : Centre half
Played : 1988-89
Appearances : 28
Goals : 2
And so we come to the most colourful character associated with Dale in my time watching them. Dave was signed on a free from Bolton Wanderers having just helped them squeeze back into the Third Division through the play-offs (in my Stockport-supporting friend’s view they were the worst team ever to go up). Although born in Lancashire he began his career with Plymouth. After 61 appearances plus 9 on loan at Reading in 1977-78 he was signed by Huddersfield and was a vital part of the side that rose from the Fourth to Second Division in the early 80s. Manager Mick Buxton regarded him as one of his best-ever signings as a centre half willing to put his body on the line. In 1985 he signed for Bolton suffering relegation (and a monster perm) with them in 1986-7.
Dave gave us an early taste of what was to come by ludicrously over-celebrating his penalty in a Manx Cup shoot-out at Burnden Park but in the first few games of the season he was dreadful , knocking us out of the League Cup against Burnley singlehandedly with some schoolboy errors. Then we had an away game at Hartlepool which we won 1-0 and he was immense. After that he was by some distance our best defender and a key reason why we stayed out of the bottom four. However, early in the new year he was advised by doctors to give up playing or risk serious damage to his back . Apparently he was willing to see out the season but Danny Bergara persuaded him to retire and arranged for him to become club physio. He was caretaker for three games after Bergara left for Stockport , all of which we lost then returned to the physio role under Terry Dolan.
When Dolan left for Hull in 1990-91 he invited Dave to join him but Dave stayed put and became caretaker-manager. Despite Dale treading water for the rest of that season he was given the permanent job and allowed to spend the bulk of the money raised by the sale of Keith Welch on players like Andy Flounders. Dale just missed out on the playoffs in 1991-2 (having benefitted from the mid-season demise of Aldershot). The following season we fell back a bit after a bad injury to Andy Milner and finished 12th. In 1993-4 he further strengthened the squad with Mark Stuart and Martin Hodge in the summer and a good finish almost got us in the playoffs again. Those are the bare facts but we all remember the outrageous statements and predictions , the winding up of opposing managers and most of all the “spastic on the plastic” antics at half time at Deepdale in 1993 when he preferred orchestrating the crowd to giving a half time team talk.
However Sooty was already sowing the seeds of his own downfall. A persistent weakness throughout his reign was his willingness to relieve his friend Bergara of any troublemakers at Stockport and this culminated in the disastrous and expensive signing of Paul Williams. This was compounded by other poor signings - Darren Ryan, Chris Clarke, Darren Oliver – and meant a weak start to the 1994-5 season. Things looked even bleaker when Alan Reeves left for Wimbledon and the knives came out for Sooty from those he’d managed to offend with his big mouth. His last, fatal, mistake was the loan signing of goalkeeper Matt Dickins whose incompetence led to a run of heavy defeats in October 1994. Sooty was shown the door giving it some crap about how Bill Shankly had once been sacked.
Although he applied for a vacancy at Northampton he eventually turned up at then-ambitious Chorley but despite some relatively heavy spending he achieved very little there and called it a day after a couple of years to run his father’s garden centre on the road between Preston and Southport where he remains to this day.