The defeat at York on October 20th was our first in the league in a month. Despite a below par performance, we had got to within one goal of somehow getting something from the game.
We followed that up with two home games within a few days. First up was a 1-1 draw at home to Exeter, and then came a 0-0 draw at home to Aldershot. Quite comfortably one of the most boring games I think I have ever seen, it was two hours of my life that I will never get back.
Even allowing for the fact that the Aldershot game was one of those designated as “kids for a quid”, the attendance was still around the average of 1700, which would no doubt have been a disappointment for those who work hard at the club to try to encourage those in the local community to attend and support the club.
Last weekend saw us exit the FA Cup at the first round, following a 0-4 defeat at Bournemouth. Neither Dagenham Dan or I were actually there though, attending Borussia Moenchengladbach with Neil Shenton instead. Nor did I get to Oxford in the week; pessimism following the Bournemouth defeat turned out to be totally misplaced as the team managed a 3-2 despite being a player light for the last twenty minutes. The win pushed up to fifteenth place, which is almost nosebleed territory given our start to the season. Having said that, the league form is now just one defeat in nine games, which is not bad given that it took us until the end of September to register our first league win. Oh ye of little faith and all that…
Today’s visitors are Rotherham United. This may not register on the national radar too much, and why should it? As far as most are concerned, this is just another game in League Two, but for certain Daggers fans of a certain vintage, this is more than just a simple league game.
Today sees the first return to Victoria Road of a person who could be compared to Satan, Steve Evans. Leaving Crawley just before the end of last season bought out an unexpected reaction from his former players when it was confirmed that he had gone, leading to a video on YouTube which showed them to be quite pleased he had gone.
It’s hard to describe just how loathed the person is, and at Crawley last season, our travelling support made its feelings known quite vociferously, with brown envelopes (Evans was found guilty of making illegal payments to players during the 2001-02 season when in charge of Boston United, the team that beat us to the Conference title on goal difference) much in evidence, as well as chants that attracted the attention of the local stewards and police, it’s fair to say that if this is repeated today, this could be a long, long afternoon.
Saturday 10th November 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Rotherham United, Victoria Road
I normally get to the club house at around mid-day, but I am about an hour later than usual. Just as I get to the top of Victoria Road, I see the Rotherham team coach approaching the ground. For most of the week, I am not sure if I have been looking forward to this game, especially with the Evans situation. I’m hoping that I am wrong, but I just want anyone to do anything stupid and embarrass themselves or the club.
As Victoria Road is a touch on the narrow side, especially as the residents cars are parked in the road, it takes a bit of time for the coach to reach the car park. As I get there, one of the homeowners is moving their car so that the coach can traverse the last few metres. Walking through, there is a welcoming committee ready to greet the visiting team, or more likely just the manager. I let them carry on, and hurry on in to the club house, and there are more standing at the windows of the upstairs bar as well. From the higher vantage point, it looks as though they are refusing to leave the coach while the reception committee is in attendance. Eventually they do disembark the coach, and head towards the players entrance.
Although we are doing well at the moment, Rotherham are coming into the game in seventh place, and although could be considered favourites for the game, their away record shows just one win on the road this season, although that also contains just two defeats. This might be a long afternoon on the pitch as well as off it.
While it may turn out to be a long afternoon, it certainly isn’t for the home fans. For the first time in a while, the ground isn’t like a morgue, and there is an atmosphere in the sieve that is loud enough to attract more stewards than normal, although that may have something to do with the frequency of certain words being used. It takes just five minutes for the first goal, and Dwight Gayle is on hand to score past Andy Warrington. The Rotherham goalkeeper will have a fine game, which is strange when you concede five; without him, it may have been more.
While the home players are playing with a loud support behind them, the Rotherham team look very subdued. Why that is, I’m not sure but there is the thought going round at the back of my mind that when they wake up, it could be more difficult that the opening fifteen minutes have shown. To emphasize the point, Lee Frecklington’s effort from twenty yards is well saved by Chris Lewington.
The ever improving Femi Ilesanmi will play a large part in the second goal. Femi has certainly split opinion since he got into the team around two years ago, and at one point last season seemed to be on his way from the club. A particularly dreadful performance (although he was by no means the only poor one that day) seemed to be the end for him at the Daggers. This year though, he has been excellent, and looks to be benefiting from a run in the side. Now, he takes the ball on a forty yard run down the left side, beating a couple of backtracking United defenders. He reaches the edge of the area, where he plays in Luke Howell, whose shot eludes Warrington and provides another excuse for celebration and Evans goading in equal measure.
The second half brings no real improvement in the away performance, although text messages emerge that Evans didn’t want to bring the team back out for the second half, allegedly because the referee had been swearing at his players. They are slow to emerge and as the half continues, they are restricted to shots that really don’t test Lewington. For a team in seventh place in the league, it’s a poor display.
Not that we care, of course. The last fifteen minutes of the game provide further joy to those of a Daggers persuasion. On seventy-five minutes, Luke Howell gets his second following more excellent work on the left by Ilesanmi and Elito, which prompts the first Rotherham fans to fold up the flags and put them away for the trip home. Within six minutes, Elito is on the scoresheet as well, and just as the fourth official holds up the board to announce three minutes additional time, Brian Woodall is allowed to get his cross in from the right, finding Dwight Gayle who is able to slot the ball home from all of about a yard.
There is a firework that explodes in the sky at the time of the fifth, which is visible from the sieve, and sort of sums up a strange kind of day. As Rotherham leave the field, some Millers appear to dish out varying degrees of opinion to their team, although what it is, isn’t audible from our section. We’re just pleased with the three points, although it is certainly more satisfying that we got them in such a manner, and given the history with the manager as well. In the bar afterwards, several are calling it justice for what happened in 2002. I’m not sure I would agree with that; justice would have been a place in the Football League ten years ago, not a 5-0 win in one league game.
For all the bluster about the situation all those years ago, it wasn’t like we didn’t have another chance; we lost a play off final twelve months later on a golden goal as the Conference finally got a second promotion place to the league. Given how things turned out, I wouldn’t have missed our title win in 2007 for anything, so things can work out in the end. It is a pity though that the 2001/02 team didn’t get a chance to play at a higher level, as it was certainly one of the best teams ever to wear the Daggers kit.
As we leave the ground, long after the Rotherham coach has left (complete with send-off committee as well), it has, as Arkwright used to note at the end of Open All Hours, been a funny old day. There have been rumblings of discontent in the supporters club, a thumping great win which has got everyone smiling and united in praise of the team, and for the first decent atmosphere in the ground in ages. Some days, I loathe football, Others, I enjoy it, and then there are the occasions when it’s absolutely brilliant. Today definitely falls into the brilliant category, and then some.