Last weekend saw the return to Dagenham of probably the most hated man in the history of the club, Steve Evans. With a welcoming committee ready and waiting to meet their team coach as it arrived at the car park, the day itself saw quite a fair amount of abuse aimed at the former Boston United manager whenever he ventured into the technical area surrounding the Rotherham bench.
As it turned out, Saturday 10th November will go down as one of those days when just about everything went right. A an excellent 5-0 win saw each goal celebrated like a World Cup final, and a reminder of just how much everyone hated Evans after each time the ball hit the net. Rotherham, on the day, were awful, and had Andy Warrington to thank for keeping it at just the five. After the game, Evans described it as the worst performance of his managerial career, so that was nice. There was even the threat of him not sending the team back out in the second half, but they eventually emerged and were just as bad in the second half as they were in the first. Perhaps it would have been better just to pack up and go home at the interval.
Despite the win though, Saturday just seemed a bit of a strange day. There was an atmosphere, partly stoked by the situation regarding the visiting manager, but there was also a bit of a dispute regarding the supporters club. For as long as I can remember, they have been staffing the match day club shop, so now that it has moved from inside the stadium to outside, there was probably the expectation that this arrangement would continue. Except that it hasn’t, and so standing outside the old premises prior to the game were a few of the “former” staff of the shop, complaining about the situation, and that they would need to have a word with those at the club who had seen fit to dispense with their services. This created more than one edge to the atmosphere, which helped make the noise in the ground last week the loudest and most sustained for some time.
Then, in the early hours of last Sunday morning, there was a fire at the club. First reports on the forum reckoned that it was the club house that had gone, which wouldn’t have entirely surprised me. That was then corrected, and it was confirmed that it had been the programme shop that had gone up instead.
As a club, one of my biggest moans is that we don’t seem to celebrate our history enough. As Dagenham & Redbridge, we were formed in 1992, out of a merger between Dagenham and Redbridge Forest. Forest themselves were formed out of mergers before that, but like Sky and their Premier League era, we only came into existence in 1992. It just seems that anything that happened before that isn’t of as much importance.
In the programme shop were loads of items that related to our predecessors, and now thanks to this, they are now gone forever. A quick look at the picture posted on the club’s website in the week showed the almost total destruction of what was inside. If anything is salvageable I’m not sure, but from that picture, it didn’t look like it. If there is nothing left, then it’s an opportunity to celebrate the history of Walthamstow Avenue, Ilford et al that has gone. How long it takes to get the shop back up and running again is anyone’s guess.
All of this has sort of cast a long shadow over what had been a brilliant day on the pitch. Winning any game by five goals is a cause for celebration, but given the nature of the win, and then adding in the history with the opposition manager, it just made it so much sweeter.
All of which sets us up nicely for today’s trip to Burton on Trent and the Pirelli Stadium. Our visit last season sparks a mini-revival, following nine straight league defeats. Michael Spillane’s free kick was enough to get us a point, and set us on the way to a four game unbeaten run. While not massive, at the time and as the season panned out, it was crucial.
Saturday 17th November 2012, Burton Albion v Dagenham & Redbridge, Pirelli Stadium
Today’s game is a personal anniversary, being twenty-eight years to the day since my first ever game. On that occasion, as an eleven year old, I was taken to West Ham v Sunderland at the Boleyn, and although I don’t remember much of it, I do know that West Ham won 1-0 and that Tony Cottee scored the only goal. There was so much to take in, and clearly I didn’t on the day, but I do remember the noise, which was nothing like I had experienced up until that point.
There was a time when going to an away game followed the same routine. Leave home about an hour or so before the coach was due to leave, meet everyone in the car park of the club, and then when the coach left the club with all of us on board, sitting back as we made our way to wherever we were playing that day. A few years ago, this was repeated twenty-odd times a season. Now though, it’s all changed.
For example, this is only my third away game of the season. It’s also the first time on the supporter’s club coach this season, on which myself, Dagenham Dan, and others used to be regulars. Now, we’re not, and I feel like one of the occasional travellers that we used to see in the past. Whereas in the not too distant past I would know about eighty per cent of those on the coach, today it’s probably less than half.
One thing that I notice about the population of the coach today (aside from not knowing some) is that it’s a lot quieter than previous journeys. Having said that though, we are barely an hour into the journey, when the first Christmas tune is played on the radio, which prompts a bidding war for my iPod.
The pit stop at the services is a taster of how cold it will be once we get to Burton. Not only is it cold, but we are told a few miles from the ground that the terracing behind the goal will be closed to the visiting fans, and instead we will be put in the seats in the corner of the main stand. This isn’t met with universal approval, but we clearly have no say in the matter so we will just have to lump it.
Just before we get to the stadium, several of the coach travellers are deposited at the nearest pub, and once disembarked, we are able to continue for the remaining minute or so on to the stadium. With the fire has come offers from several clubs to help restock the shop, and here we are meeting one such person from Derby, who has several boxes of programmes for us. Once these are moved on to the coach, we can continue to the ticket office to purchase so that we can get in to watch the game.
The opening couple of minutes are good for the daggers, as we have a couple of early corners. The first really good chance though falls to Burton. A cross field ball is heading towards Ilesanmi, but he appears to make no contact with the ball at all, and instead of guiding it back to Lewington, Billy Kee is able to nip in and head the ball goal wards. It looks as though we are going to be one down, but the ball hits the post and into the arms of the now retreating Lewington.
It’s not the last Lewington will be called upon to rescue us in the half. A few minutes later, he makes an excellent double save to deny both Calvin Zola and Robbie Weir. Zola had been injured in a collision with Abu Ogogo, and half way through the half, he is replaced. From those closer to the incident, he appears groggy and not sure of where is actually is. As a danger player, we are obviously glad to see the back of him, although not in this circumstance.
As if to compound the loss of a dangerous player, the Daggers then take the lead. Jake Reed chases a through ball, and although it looks as though he might not get the ball after going round the keeper, he appears to be bought down by Dean Lyness, and the referee awards us a penalty. Spillane is given the responsibility, and this time his shot hits the inside of the post, although Dwight Gayle is able to score from the rebound.
Within a couple of minutes, it’s almost two; this time Medy Elito has a shot saved by Lyness, who then produces a double save of his own, to deny Matt Saunders with the follow up header, although the save looks like it is one for the cameras. As the half draws to a close, Ogogo is cautioned, but we are still one up.
With Sam Williams now replacing Jake Reed, we return to a little and large combination up front. And although the new pairing are not responsible for the equalizer, it is Williams who gets it, lashing home a shot from fifteen yards. This prompts (as it would) celebrations in the away end, as well as a few choice words in the direction of the kids next door.
The level scoreline lasts for all of fifty-one seconds. In less time that it takes to make a cup of tea, Burton score again. This time though, it’s not of our making, although from our distanced vantage point, it could be argued that Lewington may have been a touch too far off his line, as Bill Kee’s volley dipped under the cross-bar and into the corner of the net. It’s an excellent strike, and restores the bragging rights back to the other side of the divide.
Try as we might, there is no coming back this time. Burton employ a bit of keep ball in the corner as the game enters five minutes of stoppage time, but although the game may have been enjoyable for a neutral or the home support, it’s been anything but for those traveling from London. Unforced errors have cost us today, and when the referee puts us out of our misery, Burton claim a 3-2 win, and we have to head back to the coach having lost for the first time in almost a month.
On the way back to London, we discuss the events of the day and conclude that as long as we have played as well as we can, then if we lose, we are not going to get too annoyed about it. While this performance wasn’t as good as last week, we weren’t awful. Mistakes cost us though, and while last week was one of those days when everything went right for us, today it didn’t and we paid for it. If we could cut out the errors, then perhaps they wouldn’t have scored the first two goals, but then we were lucky in the first half, so I suppose that on today’s game, it all evened itself out. A draw may have been fairer, but it wasn’t to be, and we just have to get on and prepare for next weekend.