Saturday, April 30, 2016

Living for the Weekend: Dagenham and Redbridge

The match day programme and tickets. Which was more expensive though?
Dagenham and Redbridge. I remember seeing their name appear, albeit heavily abbreviated, on the videprinter on BBC’s Grandstand as a child. Teams like ‘The Daggers’ to a boy raised in the Midlands were a little bit mystical; much like Rushden and Diamonds, Stalybridge Celtic and indeed my current local team Leyton Orient.

Having discussed my idea to get around a few London grounds (and I know I’m stretching that criteria a bit with the recent trip to Southend United) with my friends Gareth, Dave and Keith, we had been mulling over the idea of a trip to Dagenham for a while. Eventually we settled on the visit of Yeovil Town on Saturday 27th February 2016.

The biggest shock of the whole experience was actually to happen about a week before the match. When I called to reserve six tickets, helped by the operative on the phone to choose the most ‘lively’ area of the ground, I was mortified by the price. 

“So, that’s six tickets in the terraced stand on Saturday,” the booking office operator started, “and it will come to £15 plus a booking fee.”

“Each?” I asked getting my bank card out.

“No, sir, that’s the total.”

At this I could only laugh. I’d just spent that much on a bowl of Nachos in a Fulham pub, yet for the same price you could get you and five of your mates into a football match. [Note: two of our group dropped out beforehand which is why only four of us are mentioned.]

The history of Dagenham and Redbridge is a mildly winding one. The club, officially speaking, came into being in 1992 following a merger between Dagenham FC and Redbridge Forest FC. This was roughly two years before I would even take an interest in football; an awakening brought about by Jack Charlton’s Ireland team beating Italy 1-0. 

The club, though, can trace its history, via various lineages (Ilford, Leytonstone and even Walthamstow Avenue), all the way back to 1881. The club’s website explains that the previous clubs “had proud histories as amateur clubs in the past but due to dwindling attendances, had fallen on hard times.”

Travelling at first on the C2C from Fenchurch Street to Barking, and then switching onto the District line to Dagenham East, we had a bit of time to assess how The Daggers’ season was unfolding. Keith and Dave, in role as chief researchers, informed us that times were again not great. The club were in the relegation zone and a few points away from safety. They needed to beat Yeovil, who were just above them, to have any chance of fighting relegation to the National League – which will always be known as the Conference to me!

Exiting Dagenham East station, we took a left and wandered along towards Victoria Road. The area is reminiscent of the Foleshill Road in Coventry and is a residential-industrial edgeland. It’s not a pretty area, but turning onto Victoria Road there is something quite warming to the soul about seeing this small stadium nestled in between houses and an industrial estate.

Victoria Road, or the Chigwell Constuction Stadium as it is currently known for sponsorship reasons, has existed as a football stadium since 1917 and originally hosted matches for a local works side. Dagenham FC moved there in 1955, making a few improvements to the pitch and stands over the intervening years. It wasn’t until Redbridge FC moved in during 1990 that any further improvements took place.

Currently there are two seated stands, an open terrace and a covered terrace. For today’s match, I chose tickets for the North Stand that runs along the side of the pitch. It’s a small, cramped affair and, conscious of our heights, Dave, Keith and I elected to stand towards the back of the terrace to prevent upsetting any locals.

View from the North Stand as Dagenham and Redbridge have a rare moment in attack.
When the match started, it didn’t take long to realise why The Daggers were propping up the table. They struggled to string many passes together and it wasn't long before supporters in the terraces, some of whom seem to be wearing West Ham beanie hats, were getting on the players' backs in all the colours of the English language.

Yeovil, attacking the goal in front of the Bury Road End, the open terrace, slowly started pinning The Daggers’ defence back. No one in a red and blue shirt seemed to be willing to commit to a challenge and at half time we were amazed that they hadn’t conceded a goal.

Early in the second half, with the incessant chorus of “Everywhere We Go” coming from the Yeovil Town fans getting louder, Brandon Goodship scored the game’s only goal. In typical fashion, I was busy talking to Dave and looking the opposite direction when the goal went in, meaning the only clue I had about a goal being scored were the deafening boos of The Daggers’ fans.

As an Aston Villa fan, I could completely empathise with the feeling of complete helplessness of seeing your team concede and then capitulate on a weekly basis. I kept those thoughts to myself though.

All in all, as we made our way out of the side gate, feeling ridiculously cold away from the huddled masses of the North Stand, we reflected that, although the game was for the most part dire, it could have been worse.

“I would say that wasn’t the worst game of football I've ever seen,” Gareth declared.

“Really?” I asked.

“It was better than that match at Barnet,” Gareth comments by way of a veiled compliment of The Daggers' playing prowess, before adding: “but only just.”

In reality, having watched Aston Villa against Wycombe Wanderers on TV in January, I would say that it was perhaps the worst game in my recent memory, but only just.

Aside from all this, the fans were friendly, the atmosphere on the terraces (until the goal) was lively  and the experience was worth it to check another ground off the list. Oh, and remember, we did only pay £2.50 each.

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