Dreaming of snow, plastic pitches and the England managers role

After a three week break, the daggers were back on home turf and of course Brian Parish was in his usual spot hoping for some crumbs of comfort. A couple of postponements in the league meant that Tuesday nights visit to Oxford was our first game in League Two since beating Rotherham on January 28th.

Of course, the recent bad weather has not just affected the Daggers, but it did meant that only three games survived last weekend, and one the weekend before that. It is perhaps then great timing by the Football League, as this week they announced a consultation period regarding artificial surfaces.

Most football fans in the UK over the age of twenty-five will remember the plastic pitches that were used at four clubs in England; Queens Park Rangers, Luton Town, Oldham Athletic and Preston North End. The pitches, although no doubt profitable at the time in that clubs were able to rent out their facilities with no damage to the pitch, were not quite as popular with the fans or players. The thirty-two page document produced by the football league for this consultation period does contain however, a piece of research that states that the amount of injuries sustained on these surfaces was not too different to those on natural grass surfaces.

After these were banned by the FA, the last “plastic” pitch was ripped up in 1994. Since then, there have been a few advances in the technology available, to the extent that now, certain types of artificial playing surfaces are authorized by FIFA. There are plenty of clubs now playing in the top divisions of Europe that have these types of pitches, including two in Serie A.

However, the advantages of an artificial surface are there. For example, there shouldn’t be any problems with frozen pitches in future, which is why our games at Morecambe and at home to Northampton were called off. Both Dagenham Dan and I have been to several lower division games in Spain, and all of the clubs that we have been to in the Spanish third and fourth division have artificial pitches. We’ve arrived at stadiums early, to find that the home club’s youth teams are already playing a game in the stadium. The markings for smaller sided games are also visible, but in a different colour to the normal white, and training goals are tethered to the stands alongside the pitch. Then there is the ability of clubs to use their own stadium as a training ground, thereby cutting this cost from a clubs budget. If the Daggers had owned an artificial pitch, perhaps we wouldn’t have had the injuries that blighted pre-season.

UEFA and FIFA both sanction their use, and while they have to be at a certain standard, World Cup qualifiers have been played on artificial pitches, and even the under 20 World Cup Final in 2007 was played on an artificial surface, in Toronto. But, as the document points out, it is for individual competitions to permit the use of such surfaces. The Premier League and Football League both have regulations which state that no game can take place on an artifical pitch, while the Conference seems to allow them, although they must be approved by the board. Neither can anything but a natural grass surface be used in the FA Cup, League Cup or JPT. If there is to be a change, then a lot of competitions are going to have to amend their rules.

There is though, the other side of the coin. Set up costs and such mean that, by the Football Leagues own reckoning, that the initial cost wouldn’t be recovered for six years. Given our league position at the moment, we might not be in the league another six months. There is also a fair amount of prejudice about artificial pitches (probably born of the original experiment in the eighties), but given some of the ploughed fields that resemble football pitches come January or February, wouldn’t it be better to have a surface that could stage a proper game of football, rather the hoof-fest that many of the games become?

Unsurprisingly, the most support seems to have come from clubs in League One and Two, but this is only in a consultation phase at the moment. It may be some time before any clubs start to play on an artificial pitch.

Saturday 18th February, Dagenham & Redbridge v Cheltenham Town, Victoria Road

Those people who work out the fixtures clearly aren’t romantics at heart, given that there was a full programme of fixtures on Valentines Day. A 2-1 defeat at the Kassam meant that this was going to be a game that pits second from bottom against second from top.

With a visit from the “Take it like a Fan” programme on Sky, there was speculation as to who had been selected to take part. Prior to leaving, we discovered who it had been, and although he had got to £90, had gambled and lost when not being able to identify the Dunfermline crest.

As we made our way to our regular place on the terraces, we notice that it’s not actually that busy. We had thought that it had been that way in the bar prior to the game, but looking around as kick off approached showed that as the teams results start to falter, then so do the crowds.

Trying to work out how to best describe a terrible 0-5 home defeat is not easy. Cheltenham already seemed to have an upper hand in the game when they took the lead after 20 minutes. A corner from the right was not cleared properly, and fell to Luke Summerfield on the edge of the area, who promptly lashed the ball home from just outside the box. It was a quality strike which gave Lewington no chance. The second came two minutes later, and finished the game as a contest. Another corner, but this time we didn’t even get the ball out of the area, as a defensive header from Mark Arber just went about six yards across the box to a waiting Steve Elliott, who slotted the ball past the outstretched legs of Lewington.

Most of the Daggers efforts at goal seemed to be headers, and the closest was on the half hour, from Brian Woodall. With little attacking threat in the first half, we were hoping to get to the break only 2 down.

Instead, the players trooped off to a chorus of booing, a deficit of three goals and one player. With five minutes to go, a ball played over the top meant that Scott Doe was trying to shepherd the ball back to Lewington, while being challenged by Mohamed. Either there was no shout, or one (or both) misjudged the flight of the ball, but Doe attempted to header the ball back, only for Lewington to be fractionally outside his area. Lewington did instinctively what all keepers do, and saved it, but being outside the box, meant a straight red card, his second of the season. Our back up keeper, Dave Hogan then had to get ready in a hurry to face the free kick, which he saved, but the rebound fell to Mohammed, who scored. The first half is so bad, that at the interval, the announcer apologises for the scoreboard not working (perhaps even that has given up?), but one fan shouts back at the speaker placed nearby, going nuts in the process. This does at least bring a smile to a few faces, from a half that has done nothing to lower the blood pressure.

Half time discussions bring back memories of Hereford and the 0-9 home defeat, and many fear the worst. The only bright spot was that the joint managers of our supporters team have applied for the England managers job, and have got the letter from the FA to prove it. If it happens, we’ve all asked for free tickets. The campaign to get Tim Weymouth and Steve Wilson into the post starts now. Tim has even worked out the pose for the statue that will inevitably follow if he gets the position.

With the attendance of just over 1500 announced just after the resumption of the second half, the rain gets heavier, and just after the hour, Cheltenham get a fourth goal which prompts the first group of people to depart the stadium. Ilesanmi misjudges the spin of the ball and just deposits the ball at the feet of James Spencer, who blasts the ball high past Hogan.

Ten minutes later, and Cheltenham get a fifth. Mohamed attacks Spillane down their left hand side, and his cross takes a huge deflection off of our right back. To sum up the day nicely, the deflection is big enough that it loops high over Hogan at his near post, hits the far post and goes in.

Frankly, we have by now all seen more than enough. There is still time for Spillane to pick up arguably the stupidest caution of the season, by booting the ball away after he had over run the ball. The rain continues to fall, and gets very heavy as the game wears on, bringing the optimistic request to call it off, but it goes unheeded, and it’s probably a good thing as I don’t think anyone would want to watch this again. Thankfully for us, Cheltenham elect to declare on 5, while we are lucky to get zero.

Today’s referee was Dean Mohareb, who according to the notes in the programme, is an emerging talent. While most of the decisions were correct, (and therefore, by default enraging many home fans), there was one that puzzled a few of us. A free kick has been awarded to Cheltenham outside the Daggers penalty area. Ok so far, as he has even measured out the ten yards for the wall to go back. But while he is talking to the players in the wall (and with his back to the ball), an attacking player moves the ball forward a yard. Cue those players to point this out to the referee, who promptly produces a card and asks the wall to move back another yard. While not exactly in the Stuart “lets give a goal despite the ball not actually going anywhere near the net” Atwell class, it highlights that referees do need a bit more help from their assistants, who clearly wasn’t watching at that particular moment. It also begs the question, that if he had positioned the wall in the first place at their correct mark, what was he thinking when he then had to move them further back after the ball had been moved?

In the end though, this one moment doesn’t matter a jot. This was abject. Poor. Awful. Describe it whatever way you like, it was just absolute rubbish. The audacity in trying to name a Daggers man of the match was staggering; after a “performance” like that, no-one emerged with any credit. In the bar prior to the game, March was being described as a “do or die” month. For a club that has an undertaker as the main shirt sponsors, the boxes must be being measured up already.

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