The fat lady loses her voice at the right moment

The final day of a league season brings a mix of emotions. There could be the heady excitement of promotion or even a league title, or a comfortable mid-table finish. There might be the chance to relax on the final day, having escaped from a tense season, or the disappointment of a season that hasn’t quite finished in the way that supporters would have liked.  Dagger’s Diary’s Brian Parish tells us of the story at Victoria Road, where relegation back to the non leagues was very much on the agenda.

Of course, you could be in our position, of going into the final day with the chance of being relegated. Last weekends defeat at Aldershot has prolonged the agony, and also meant that, combined with other results, that two teams will lose their league status on the final day. With nothing yet decided, the last week has not been great, and although work has been there to take the mind off of the impeding agony of the last day, the nerves have been slowing building.

After the game 270413 pt2 - CopySimply put, Aldershot’s win, coupled with other results meant that, as we head towards 3pm on the last day of the campaign, there are still seven teams that could fill the two relegation places. While our visitors today, York City, are still in with a chance of going down (along with Torquay and Plymouth), it’s generally reckoned that any two from four will be the most likely to go.

Aldershot start the day in last place, and with forty eight points, need to win at Rotherham to have a chance of staying up. Wimbledon, just above them with fifty, are at home to Fleetwood, whose chances of the play offs disappeared last week. Then we get to Barnet. Having won their last game at Underhill (saving a last minute penalty, which darkened the mood on our coach ride home from Aldershot last weekend just that little bit more), they travel to Wycombe.

Which leaves us. A home game against an improving York City is not ideal, but then I don’t think that any game would be ideal, not at the moment. With the points situation as it is (our goal difference is better than those around us, leading some to suggest that this worth an extra point), we are in a decent position to retain our league status. However, with the week just gone, I am not sure if we will do it or not. There have been almost wild swings between optimism, and pessimism, and by now I just really don’t know what is going to happen.

Saturday 27th April 2013, Dagenham & Redbridge v York City, Victoria Road

There are more than a few nerves jangling as I get to the clubhouse, just as the lunchtime game starts on the television. Like many, I’ve woken early, and even a ten mile run hasn’t settled the nerves. Clearly the only way they will disappear will be for the game to start.

Peering out of the upstairs bar, there is a queue developing for the turnstiles, which suggests a bumper crowd for the last game. When the gates finally open, the line doesn’t reduce; as fast as they go into the ground, more appear at the back, like some kind of football fan production line. Production starts to slow, and when that happens, I leave the comfort of the bar and join the back of the queue.

Around the ground, there are varying degrees of pessimism. One person reckons Northampton will be saving themselves for the play offs, and rest half their team. Others reckon that Aldershot could win at Rotherham, who themselves need to win to guarantee promotion. The two teams are both preparing as I stroll round, and while they look ready for the game ahead, I don’t think I can say the same for my fellow supporters.

There is a decent sized crowd today, either here to watch the unfolding disaster that has become our league season, or to see us finally win at home and secure our stauts for the next season. There is a frankly magnificent turn out from our visitors, who have filled the away stand with almost twelve hundred fans, and are clearly determined to enjoy their day out.

As the game starts, there is also a good amount of noise from the home support, but this soon starts to subside, as the need to find out what is going on elsewhere begins to take precedence. The first phone is visible just under five minutes after kick off, and there is already news that Barnet have kicked off late.

The first half is tense, but while there is some news from elsewhere, we are continuing in the same vein as the last few weeks, with nothing happening in front of goal. The half ends scoreless, and while there are no goals either in the Wimbledon game, Barnet are apparently still playing, and with their game also at 0-0, it’s all exactly the same as it was at the start of play.

Of course, it’s not going to stay that way, and as the hour mark ticks round, it all starts to change. Firstly, Wimbledon, starting the day in 23rd, go one up at home to Fleetwood. That moves them out of the bottom two, and us, as well as Barnet drop down one spot. Three minutes later, Aldershot are all but relegated, as they go one down at Rotherham, which produces one small moment of relief as it means that now, one spot has more or less been sealed. Then news comes through that Wimbledon have conceded an equalizer, which pushes everything back to where it was only five minutes before.

While there is much attention on the game happening in front of us, it appears that more energy is being focused on what is happening elsewhere and what it all means for us.

Our hopes take a hit on sixty eight minutes, when having failed to clear a cross into the penalty area, Chris Smith takes the opportunity to put the ball through the legs of Jordan Seabright and give York City the lead. There enough time to register the enormity of what has just happened, as it puts us back into 22nd place, and now just a goal away from going down.

As the mood turns to the realization that we could now be heading out of the league, a goal is scored at Northampton that raises the mood, as now Barnet are losing. We’re safe, and now Barnet are only ahead of Wimbledon on goal difference.

By now, Torquay are also winning, and barring a collapse, will be safe for this year. But then, Wimbledon score again. This leapfrogs them over both ourselves and Barnet, which drops Barnet into the relegation places.

Another Northampton goal now means that Barnet are facing an uphill task to get back into the game, and although by now the news has provoked something approaching joy and relief in the home support at Victoria Road, the team still don’t look like scoring. The crowd are still anxious, and while as the game unfolds towards its conclusion there are a few that allow themselves to relax, others maintain the uncertainty until our game finally ends. Wimbledon have held on for a 2-1 win, while Aldershot are finally beaten at Rotherham and are relegated. The two teams leave the field, and there follows a horrible few minutes while we wait for the final whistle at Northampton.

When it finally comes, there is a small cheer from the first to hear the news, before the rest of the crowd find out that Barnet have lost, and will drop back into the conference. The noise is the loudest the home crowd have been all day.

The Daggers players remerge, and are still a football league team. York City also emerge to the cheers of their support, and as our lot make their way round the pitch, the away end starts to empty out. When it is deserted, the home fans that have remained are invited onto the pitch to watch the presentation of the clubs player of the year trophies.

After the game 270413 - CopyAs some take pictures, and some watch the presentation, there is a moment on the field to reflect on what has been a long and trying season. From looking to be in a comfortable position in February, the descent into the relegation battle has been painful to watch. With just ten points collected from the final twelve games, it’s not hard to work out how it all happened. The lack of a goalscorer has also been a major issue; after all, how can a club hope to be successful, if the third highest scorer for the season left the club in November.

While almost all of the players have got another year of experience behind them now, the lack of almost anyone (Kevin Maher excepted) over the age of thirty means that the team is almost still too young. While experience isn’t everything, it certainly helps, and there have been too many times when a mistake costs us, and we are unable to get back into the game because the heads have dropped. There is no lack of effort, and that is to be commended, as too many teams appear to almost give up when things go against you, but a drop in confidence levels will finish you at this level.

It’s been a tough year, and although there is relief that we have retained our football league status for a seventh year, I also feel that I am just glad that it is all over. The last home win (on February 9th) seems like an age ago, and going to Victoria Road for home games has not been anything like as much fun as it has been in the past. Even when results haven’t been going our way, there has still been a reason for going. Now though, it seems to have gone missing, and it’s almost got to the stage of becoming a chore. Having said that, I will still be renewing my season ticket for next year, although whether it’s on the terraces or in the seats, I haven’t yet decided. The temptation to have a year of doing a random game each weekend is there, but I’ll be back when the season starts all over again.

When it appears, the report of the game on the club’s website is fairly damning as well, which makes a change. While it may not alter anything in the near future, it is at least refreshing to read a report that doesn’t put a positive spin on things. The need for change though is there, but the big question is how can we do it? Funds are no doubt going to be tight, and with crowds that are generally amongst the lowest in the league, revenue from tickets is not likely to be able to change much for us. We do have a hardcore of support, but it is not a huge number of people, and while we don’t want to be going through this misery again for a good long while, a number of people that I spoke to after the game feel that we have only delayed the inevitable relegation for only twelve months. I hope we’re wrong.

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