Hope springs eternal is a familiar mantra of many football fans, but none more so this season than Brian Parish, our very own Daggers Diary author. After a great draw with Millwall last week in the cup, it was really the case of the Lord Mayor’s show leaving town as Hereford United game to East London.
If you buy a programme when you go to a game, then there will often be an article on one previous encounter between the two teams. Usually this takes the form of a crucial league win for the home side, or a memorable cup game.
The Daggers today entertain Hereford United. Mention Friday 27th February 2004 to anyone who has been following the club for less than eight years, and you will probably get a very blank look back. Mention it though to anyone who has been supporting the club longer than that, and the chances are that they will start to break out in a cold sweat, and shudder at the memory of a night that produced (for the Daggers at least) the game from hell.
In 2003, we had lost the Conference play off final to Doncaster Rovers, and during the summer that followed, most of the side that had reached the final at the Britannia Stadium left the club. There were big changes for the club at the time, not least the move to a full time playing squad. With many of that side unable to give well paying jobs, they were allowed to leave and almost a whole new team came in. Unsurprisingly, the new players took some time to adjust, but it soon became clear that we were not going to be reaching the heights of the previous few seasons, and that was most definitely a transition stage.
An early season highlight was a 1-1 draw on a Monday night at Hereford. Twenty one of us made the trip west, and were rewarded with a deserved point, and a brick aimed at the coach on the way out of the car park. By the time that the reverse fixture came round at the end of February, things were not as good, but nothing could quite prepare us for what was about to happen.
The original game at Edgar Street had been broadcast on Sky, and must have been good enough for them to decide that the return at Victoria Road would get the same treatment.
Within fifteen minutes of the kick off, the Daggers had been reduced to ten, following a red card for Danny Shipp. By half time, Hereford were 3-0 up, and the points were already in the bag. The one thing that we could console ourselves with though was that, although the game was gone, that our team would carry on the fight, and that while we might lose the game, that we would go down battling.
We lost the second half by 6-0. Yes, in the old vidi-printer style, that’s six. The team that wouldn’t lie down all decided to go for a collective nap, and seemed to let the visitors just wonder through on goal as if they really couldn’t care less what happened. I know that you have to be polite to your guests, but to let them win 9-0 is probably taking it a bit far. And all live on national television as well. The most gutless, inept team performance I have ever seen was displayed for all to see thanks to the wonders of sky. By the time of the final whistle, well over half the home crowd had gone, and those that were left just wondered out like extras from a bad zombie film. There were few comments on the way out, just stunned silence. A few of us attended West Ham v Cardiff City at the Boleyn Ground the following day, and the shock still hadn’t left us. We all agreed on the train to the game that the previous night must not be mentioned, and it wasn’t.
Within a few weeks, Garry Hill, who had led us from the Isthmian League to the upper echelons of the Conference was gone (telling us after an away game that he needed a rest, before pitching up ten days later at the newly moneyed Hornchurch), and John Still was appointed. The rest is history, but that Friday night is still our heaviest ever defeat (and Hereford’s biggest ever win), and although in some ways it may have been a freak result, a home game with Hereford always brings that fateful night floating back to the surface.
Saturday 14th January 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Hereford United, Victoria Road
Because of the excellent 0-0 draw with Millwall last weekend, we now have a midweek replay to contend with in the next few days. However, today we have a tough league game against a side that are in a similar position to us, at the wrong end of League Two. Hereford are only one place and one point ahead of us at the bottom of the division, but come into this game having lost at home to Bristol Rovers during the week, and collecting five points from the last eight games. Given our recent form, we should approach this with some confidence.
However, the discussion in the clubhouse prior to the game is that there is more optimism surrounding our trip to Millwall on Tuesday, than today’s game. Our home record against Hereford isn’t bad, with only two defeats in nine games and the other seven resulting in Daggers wins.
In truth, perhaps it would have been better had we stayed in the bar. Right from the kick off, there was a different atmosphere to the game than most of our recent matches, and it was soon clear that this was going to be a long afternoon. A disjointed half continued, and with a few minutes before half time, the only goal arrived. The visitors won a corner from their right wing, and following the cross by Colbeck, a header from Yoann Arquin found its way into the net. The only thing to happen in the remainder of the half is a Hereford substitution, as Simon Clist is replaced by Samuel Clucas, and at half time, the only meaningful attack of the half has resulted in the only goal of the game. In fact, before the goal, the most exciting moment of half was when one of the ball boys managed to kick the corner flag, instead of returning the ball to the player taking the throw. It really was that entertaining.
The second half isn’t a lot better than the first. The game trundles on as it had in the first, except that this time around, there isn’t the excitement of a goal. Neither goalkeeper is forced to make a difficult save, with them only having to deal with a few crosses each, either catching them or punching them clear. Any shots at goal (and the post match stats reckoned that there were only five on target for the whole game) are comfortably dealt with as well, and the crowd is starting to drift away as three minutes of added time is announced.
The final whistle is greeted by some booing from the home support, but the sense of disappointment is huge. Results have conspired to leave us in the same 22nd place that we started the day, but there is now a four point gap to 21st. While the trip to south London during the week will be a nice distraction, the trip to Crewe next weekend is far more important in the context of our whole season. This was a game played out by two teams that have comprehensively displayed why they are at the bottom of their division, but we have to hope that this was just the proverbial bad day at the office.