Football back for the Daggers

Last season exceeded most of the expectations of the Victoria Road faithful. Pre season favourites for the drop, home form played a big part in that apparent change of fortune, and as the campaign progressed to the half way point, we found ourselves in a comfortable mid table position. After three years of trying to avoid relegation, this was a very welcome change.

The second half of the season bought a complete reversal of home fortune. After beating Wimbledon on January 1st, it would be another two and a half months before we registered another three points at home. As the hangovers subsided that wet New Year’s Day, little did we realise that we had just witnessed our penultimate home win of the season.

It was fortunate then that our away form, disappointing up until December, came to our rescue. Just one defeat was sustained on the road after January 1st, and so when all the points were added up on the final day of the season, the daggers had finished a very creditable ninth place, and Wayne Burnett had been nominated for the League Two manager of the year award.

IMAG1312Despite the very good league season we had enjoyed, I felt nothing of the kind. In fact, apathy would be a very good way to describe the feelings I had as the season lurched to its conclusion. Home games now became something to endure, rather than enjoy. I can take the team losing, but if there appears to be a lack of effort or they just don’t appear to be bothered, then I get annoyed. The home game against Portsmouth on April 12 was awful. Cheered on by an away support that nearly matched the number of home fans in attendance, the visitors cantered to a comfortable 4-1 win.

That was bad enough, but the last home game topped the lot. Ok, we didn’t have much to play for, while Northampton Town needed the points to stay up. But the capitulation on the day (we lost 0-3 and it should have been more) meant that, as he team came round for their lap of honour at the end of the game, around 80% of the crowd had gone home. I had to think twice about staying but I did, because no matter what had happened that day, the campaign overall had been a success.

With the season ticket prices being announced prior to the game, I wondered if I wanted to sign up again. The terrace tickets were being sold at £179, which worked out at some stupid amount per game. As an attempt to get more people into the ground, it may work, but if anyone had gone along in the last few weeks to see what it was like, I doubt a free ticket would have tempted many back.
I still had to be persuaded to part with my cash. The idea of just doing a whole season of random games appealed a great deal, but in the end, and a few days before the offer ran out, I paid out my money and will be back on the terraces for the new campaign.

While I have paid out, I am still not sure about the future of my season ticket. I didn’t enjoy the last few months at Victoria Road, and I am more than a bit apprehensive about what the next few months will bring. I had switched to the seats for last year, and so perhaps being back in the bear pit of the terraces will get the enthusiasm flowing again. However, with plenty of plans not involving the daggers in the coming season, I am not prepared to speculate if I will continue past the end of this season.

Saturday 5th July 2014, Bromley v Dagenham & Redbridge, Hayes Lane

So, having said all that, why am I here? I haven’t actually missed being at football on a Saturday afternoon, and while the World Cup has already been declared by most TV pundits as the best in yonks, I still find myself wondering if I am all footballed out. The last game I attended was two months ago, and I was still in two minds as to make the effort today.

In the end, I have elected to travel. While the women’s final at Wimbledon is on, I am not really into tennis, and with repeats of some gentle crime drama no doubt littering the TV schedules, there isn’t anything better to do.

From home, it takes a couple of hours before I am strolling up the driveway to the stadium. Twelve months ago, we started our pre-season campaign in bright sunshine at Whitstable, but with ominously dark clouds overhead, the scene is a little different.
There are a few familiar faces in the upstairs bar of the main stand. Red Card Reid is there, along with Luis. Terry and Jenny have finished their holiday in Newquay and have come along on the way home. For some reason, Terry is now a season ticket holder at Albion Rovers, although how this came to pass is never quite revealed. There is a brief discussion about departures from the club over the course of the last few weeks, but as the kick off approaches, we leave the bar and head out to the seats behind the goal. As we make our way round to behind the goal that we will defend in the first half, we hear a low pitched droning noise. A look around at the sky reveals a model aircraft hovering over the centre circle, like those cameras that have been popping up at the World Cup. As the pilots make their way past us during the first half, there is no camera attached. What is going on though, no one knows, not even the cat that appears within minutes of the craft heading out of the gate.

As a club, we clearly like to recycle a lot, as the team emerge wearing a home kit not seen for a couple of years. There are clearly shirts missing though, as squad numbers are used. There must be quite a few missing from the kit room, as Ian Gayle will emerge to play the second half wearing a no.19 jersey from 2009/11, which is a different design to the rest of the team. I had seen us do this before, but that was ten years ago at Pitsea. Then, it summed up us quite nicely, but now it just looks embarrassing.

The first half starts with the home team most definitely on the front foot. For our part, we look a bit too relaxed with the ball, and give it away far too often, even at this early stage. The right side of the defence is looking sluggish, and midfield just isn’t in the game. Even at this early stage, it looks like we will be in for a long afternoon.

There is an early goal on twelve minutes, but it is us that score, not the so far dominant Bromley. Alan Connell finds himself facing an onrushing goalkeeper, and is able to prod the ball past him, and it rolls into net unchallenged. It is more than a touch fortunate, and completely against the run of play.

Bromley don’t let this bother them though, and continue in the same vein as before. Having lost both of our goalkeepers over the summer, we have drafted in Liam O’Brien from Brentford and Mark Cousins from Colchester. O’Brien has started this game, and Cousins will eventually play the whole of the second half.

It is plainly obvious that this is our first game since May, and while the game is not that inspiring, our chat within the seats behind the goal turns to the players that have left the club, as well as those that have joined. While we appreciate the Bromley performance, we are left concerned for now about our seemingly disjointed display.

Half time comes along and while Mark and Luis go off to test the catering facilities, I have been speaking to one Bromley fan, who tells me that Bradley Goldberg is a decent player, and that he hopes he does well with us. Half way through the interval, the rain starts, and so while he disappears to the bar, I track down someone seeking some more info for upcoming fixtures.

As with these games, there are wholesale changes at half time, and the “we’ve only just met” feel to our performance continues. Goldberg does look lively, but while he goes close, the game is still not holding our attention, and I take the opportunity to quiz our club photographer about his trip to Brazil for the World Cup.

The half does not hold our attention, and when the referee signals the end of the game, I am not unhappy that it is all over. It hasn’t been that bad, but the apathy clearly hasn’t completely disappeared just yet. Seb Brown in the Bromley goal has made a couple of decent saves as has Cousins at the other end. It is difficult to judge anything on one pre-season friendly, but it is clear that there are members of our squad that need to do some work before August 9th, and the start of the league season.

The two goalkeepers did well. O’Brien in the first half, and Cousins in the second looked ok, and appeared more than capable. With the rain lashing down for the second half, Cousins handling of the ball looked good, although what it will be like in six months time is anyone’s guess.  Bromley conduct their man of the match interview on the pitch after the game, we all walk round to the exit. There is a brief chat to RadioStu of BBC London, and then I start the long walk back to the station.

For both teams, this was their first pre-season game, and yet despite this, many of us would not apply the same criteria to each side. I thought Bromley looked very good, and based on today’s showing, should be challenging for a play off place in the conference south. I was impressed with their movement, and challenging for the ball. Without singling anyone out, they looked a good side.

For us, we gave the ball away too often, and far too many looked as though they were only just back in training. We looked sluggish at times, and the days on the training ground will need to be filled with hard work. But then again, nothing is decided after one game at this time of the year, and I will delay judgement for a while. We have tougher tests to come, but improvement is clearly a necessity.

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