Spare a thought for those fans who embark on marathon journeys to the other end of the country to watch their side at this time of the year. Who would be mad enough to make such a trip? Step forward the Daggers Diary Team.
The last Saturday before Christmas is a busy day. Whether it’s the last few (or all) of the presents to be bought, meeting friends or delivering to those you won’t see over the festive period, the last few days can be a bit of a rush. All this helps to explain why, as we set out from a still dark Victoria Road, there are only two dozen fellow travelers on the long, long journey up to the north-west.
There are probably several factors that can be attributed to the lack of people making the journey. For a start, the leaving time from Victoria Road is 6am, which means that we’ll be around ninety minutes into the journey before we see the sunrise. Another possibility is that, with a coach cost of £25 per person and money tight at this time of year, it’s just proved to be too an expensive a day out. Plus if people still need to do shopping, then this is a day that probably could be spent doing that instead. I have no idea what people used to do when we didn’t have shops open on a Sunday.
Last weekends win over Barnet pushed us up to twelfth place in the division, our highest of the season so far, and stretched our unbeaten home run to seven games. Away from home it has been a bit more difficult, but a win at Bristol Rovers a fortnight ago pushed them closer to sacking their manager (which was done after their defeat at York last weekend), and we have also collected impressive victories at both Chesterfield and Oxford in the last two months. While this can be offset with defeats at Torquay, York and Torquay, it still represents a fairly successful first half of the season. While Christmas is always seen as a time for looking back, the first half of 2012/13 is ending quite nicely for us, and so we can look forward to the rest of the season with a bit of optimism.
The fact that we can be sitting in twelfth place, three points off of a play off place suggests that this could be a very tight division for this season. With so many teams separated by a few points, all it will need is one team to hit a reasonable run of form, and it could propel them from nowhere (or perhaps twelfth?) to a place in the play off games or perhaps even higher. After last weekends games, an automatic promotion place is only eight points away; given it’s a time for miracles, do we dare to dream that another promotion to League One is possible this year?
Saturday 22nd December 2012, Morecambe v Dagenham & Redbridge, Globe Arena
At the request of the home club, today’s game has been moved forward to a 2pm kick off, which has necessitated the earlier start for the journey. For whatever reason, trips to Morecambe always seem to last forever. Yes, I know it’s a slight exaggeration, but it just seems that way. Perhaps it’s the pre-sunrise start that does it.
Not that we see the sunrise. We are an hour into the journey, and the darkness persists, with the heavy rain beating down on the coach roof and it just looks totally glum outside, with the only light being provided by cars coming in the other direction and the occasional service station that we pass.
At least the small travelling support means that we all have a double seat to ourselves. It is all very quiet on the coach for the first hour or so, as people catch on sleep missed because of the early start. Chatter prior to leaving centred on whether the game would be going ahead, and Dan isn’t too sure. He has been in contact with a Morecambe fan during the week, and there were already puddles on the pitch a few days ago. We all speculate that if it has continued over the past few days, would the pitch be able to cope with all of the water?
The likelihood of the game getting called off comes when we get text messages around 9.30am, informing us of a pitch inspection at 11am. The rain continues to fall, and it isn’t looking good.
At 11.15am, we leave the services at Knutsford at the end of our second stop. We’ve had a couple of further calls from those in the area saying that it is deteriorating, and that they aren’t confident that it is on. As we all board the coach, we get a call from the assistant manager Terry Harris, telling us that the game is now off.
Now, plan B comes into play. A few weeks ago, Dan had mentioned the possibility of doing a weekend up this way, with Blackpool on the Friday night, then Wigan and Morecambe on the Saturday. Although we didn’t end up doing the weekend trip, the idea of Wigan was resurrected with the possibility of our game being off. So now, with a majority of those travelling in favour of a change of game, and with the Daggers team now on their way back home after a wasted journey, we are making the short journey from our last service stop to the DW Stadium, and a pre-Christmas trip to see Wigan v Arsenal.
Saturday 22nd December 2012, Wigan Athletic v Arsenal, DW Stadium
At Dagenham, we have lots of people who support other teams. There are lots of West Ham supporters, as well as Spurs, Arsenal, and plenty of other teams. There is (rather handily for us) also one Wigan fan, and he just happens to be on the coach today. Having already rung the ticket office while at the services to make sure that we could get the tickets, Jakob now has to ring back, and sort them out. Luckily, they have the twenty- seven that we need, and so having sorted those out, we are heading to our new game.
Unfortunately that’s where our luck starts to thin out a bit. Although it’s only a few miles from the service station to the DW Stadium, the weight of traffic is enough to see us crawl along annoyingly slowly towards the retail park that the stadium is located in. From our coach, we can see streams of people walking and running in the direction of the stadium, either unaware of the 12.45pm kick off time, or just running late. As we get to within a mile of the stadium, a few of the fitter members of the coach depart to run the last bit to the stadium to collect the tickets for when we finally arrive. As they head off into the distance, we stay put and see more people going past us. It just looks like people have left their cars where they were, and gone to the game.
By this time, the game has already kicked off. We watch the first few minutes on an ipad, and from the initial moments, there appear to be plenty of empty seats.
Liam is good enough to wait outside the stadium with our tickets waiting for us to arrive, which we eventually do. It’s another five minute walk from the coach park to the stadium, and he looks damp to say the least. With (by now) just one turnstile open, the queue to get in is still about twenty foot long, and there are still people hurrying around the stadium, and by the time I get into the stadium, nearly half an hour has been played already.
With the game being on television, I’m not going to go into too much detail. Suffice to say though, that the referee didn’t earn himself too many Christmas cards from the Wigan area with an indifferent display. His reluctance to re-admit Di Santo onto the field of play prompted much fury from the home support. The penalty was probably correct, and although it looked a bit weak, you could see what was going to happen. It turned out to be the only goal of the game, and after the penalty, neither team really looked like they were going to score. Perhaps it was the rain on my glasses, but I don’t recall either team looking like they were going to trouble the scoreboard operator, and the last game for both clubs before Christmas ends 1-0 to the Arsenal.
As we make our way back in the drizzle to the coach, we suggest that (purely as a bit of a joke) that we try to get to Liverpool v Fulham. After all, it can’t be that far. Luckily the coach driver suggests the same thing, but the idea goes down like a factory full of lead lined balloons, and we are soon on our way back. Anyway, I doubt we would have been able to sort that out, although it may have been pushing our luck again.
Perhaps it’s watching the lower divisions for too long, but there are times when I get annoyed with the way that the game is going. For example, who builds a stadium next to a shopping centre? And which genius at either the league or the broadcasters thought that it would be a good idea to stage a game at the aforementioned stadium at 12.45pm, on the last Saturday before Christmas? Do fans really matter in the modern day game? I admit that, as a group that made a last minute decision to attend, we were always going to be prone to being caught in traffic, but the amount of people that we saw heading past us while stationary would suggest that we weren’t the only ones caught out. Not all of them can have been going shopping, surely?
Despite the moan, I think almost all of us enjoyed the game, or at least what we saw of it. I think a bit of credit must go to Matt in the Wigan ticket office (and whoever he spoke to in order to arrange our tickets) for getting twenty seven seats sorted out at such short notice. I’m wondering what on earth they thought was happening when Jakob made the initial enquiry, but they accommodated the request, so thanks to them for doing that.
As we make our way back along the motorway for the journey home, the radio is switched on for the commentary of the Manchester City game, and although it flickers in and out, there is also the opportunity to watch the cricket on ipads. At least the day hasn’t been completely wasted, and we’ve got to attend another game. I have often argued that many fans don’t want to go and watch anyone else other than their own team, and while there a few that say that they would have preferred to have returned straight home, I am hoping that most of those that went enjoyed the experience. Thankfully, our next two games over the Christmas period are at home, so at least if anything gets postponed, we don’t have quite as far to travel.