Come On You Daggers!
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 May 2017
The Daggers will always be my home-town team
I grew up in Torrington Road, just off Whalebone Lane, and went to William Bellamy Primary School, then Robert Clack Comprehensive.
My first trip to Victoria Road was some time in the early 1980s. I don’t remember exactly which game.
But I know I was definitely at the FA Cup win over Peterborough with my dad, uncles and cousins, when the concrete wall behind the goal at the far end of the ground collapsed under a weight of bodies.
There was no Traditional Builders Stand in those days, just a grassy knoll, and I stood behind the goal at the opposite end as Joe Dunwell netted the winner against the Posh.
And I was back on the terraces, close to 35 years later, with my cousins and the next generation of Daggers fan in our family to see the first leg of the National League play-off semi-final.
It was good to witness the action from among the 2,208 fans once again, rather than from behind a desk in the press box.
A good start from Daggers helped settle the pre-match nerves, as Craig Robson and Jordan Maguire-Drew had chances blocked at a free-kick and Corey Whiteley’s shot on the turn forced a low save from the Rovers keeper.
Paul Benson then had an effort held from Whiteley’s through ball, as every misplaced pass from the visitors was greeted with a cheer.
“We could’ve been 4 or 5-0 up by now,” suggested one fellow fan standing nearby, around the 20-minute mark. Certainly 2-0.
But then with almost half an hour gone, Rovers took the lead, amid some controversy.
German-born Omar Bugiel burst into the box and as, Mark Cousins advanced off his line, fell to the turf.
With my impartial journalist’s hat on, my immediate thought was – dive. Hardcore Daggers fans around me were convinced, but referee Antony Coggins pointed to the spot. Liam Noble converted. Abuse rained down from the stands.
The man in black started to come in for a lot of stick. “Get back to Primary School refereeing!” was a personal favourite and the only print-worthy one too.
Frustration grew on both sides of the wall, among supporters and players. Fejiri “Dave” Okenabirhie was booked for a late tackle. Rovers appeared to be getting away with blatant time-wasting.
The growing consensus on social media was that it was a poor penalty decision. Video clips began appearing on Twitter. Dive?
Then, with half-time looming, Daggers were back on terms.
A long ball was played forward, the veteran Benson got up to flick on a header – as he does so often – and “Maggie” Drew stole in behind the Rovers defence to fire into the roof of the net.
Cue the scenes in the stands. “Dagenham, Dag-er-num.”
The equaliser softened the mood during the interval, although John Still looked pretty peeved as he approached the officials on the way back to the dressing room. A nice cup of tea in a styrofoam cup went down well.
“Score again, then get EVERYONE behind the ball on Sunday,” offered one observer.
Shaun Donnellan went close within minutes of the restart – to heading into his own goal – and Andre “Bobby” Boucaud (you need to have seen Adam Sandler movie ‘The Waterboy’ to get that) produced a hard-pressing sequence that was duly noted by: “It’s the most I’ve seen him run all season.”
“Dave” sent a low left-footed drive just wide of the post to a cry of “ooooh” before Forest Green’s Charlie Cooper, son of manager Mark, came in for some ear-bashing.
One particularly industrial, and unprintable, phrase got a good laugh. “Get your pyjamas ready” was another that drew a smile.
Villain of the piece Bugiel was replaced midway through the second half. “Don’t fall over on your way off Mr Tumble,” harked one wag, before Daggers went close to a second goal around 15 minutes from time.
Boucaud and Whiteley combined to put “Dave” into the box on the left and he flashed the ball across the face of the Forest Green goal, just beyond Benson.
It proved his last touch, as Oliver “The Hawk” Hawkins came off the bench, left arm still in a plaster cast, for the closing stages in a late push for a winner.
But despite some encouraging touches and plenty of encouragement from the home faithful, another goal would not come as Whiteley sent the best chance wide of the far post.
After five minutes of stoppage time spent huddled by the exit, the final whistle went and we trooped off to the car. One of us boldly predicted: “Guttridge to get the winner on Sunday.”
Having witnessed the 1997 FA Trophy loss to Woking from the old Wembley press box, less than nine months into my journalism career, but then missed the play-off final win over Rotherham in 2010, it would be great to see Daggers back on the hallowed turf on May 14.
Digger, Dagger, Digger, Dagger, Oi, Oi, Oi.