Monday, February 23, 2009

A light of hope at Victoria Road

I took the Tube to Dagenham East station last Wednesday knowing what to expect on my arrival at Victoria Road. Though this was my second visit to Dagenham & Redbridge football ground, it would be (I hoped) the first match I'd get to see in its entirety there. That's because my first visit ended in farce back in December thanks to a floodlight failure during The Daggers' match against Exeter City.

Despite being a lifelong West Ham fan, Dagenham & Redbridge are nowadays my 'local' team although I've never before made the effort to go along and support them in person. That all changed last December when a friend of mine, Gary (an Exeter City supporter living in London) suggested we go along to cheer on our respective teams.

Back then, we braved the cold, wet conditions to arrive at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium (arguably the most cumbersome and needlessly long name of any ground in the country) on what was to be a frustrating afternoon. For a start, I arrived late (as usual) which resulted in Gary taking his place at the Away end of the ground and me at the other. Thanks to my lateness, there were only a handful of tickets left on sale and they were for the standing area at the opposite end of the pitch to Gary.

Then, with an hour and a half of isolation stretched out before me, the game was brought to an unforeseen and premature halt. With Dagenham and Redbridge 1-0 up thanks to a Paul Benson goal, the floodlight to my left popped after 35 minutes or so, plunging the nearby corner of the pitch into semi-darkness. After some on-pitch negotiations between the referee and both teams, the game laboured on to half-time but that, unbeknownst to us, would be the last of the action. Knowing that the result would stand if the game progressed well into the second half, Exeter declined the ref's offer to return to the field, and that was that.

The match was abandoned, although none of us in the crowd knew about it at the time. Apparently when the floodlight blew out, so did all the power to the PA system too. We were left to trudge off home in an air of surreal confusion, trying to make sense of what had happened.

Sadly I wasn't able to attend the replay due to illness but that was probably just as well, really. Exeter won the second match, 2-1 - a masterclass in using the rules of football to your advantage, you might say. Anyway, just last week I got the opportunity to watch Dagenham and Redbridge again and I could only hope I'd see a full game this time.

Luckily for me, I did. Last Wednesday night saw The Daggers play host to Wycombe Wanderers and my companion this time would be my good friend and fellow West Ham supporter, Russell. In a revolutionary move on my part, I arrived on time, thereby giving me the opportunity to sit next to Russell in the Carling Stand for the whole match. Genius, I think you'll agree.

Despite a determined approach to the game and some good passing moves, D&R were sadly found wanting up front where the Wycombe defence was solid. For their part, Wycombe weren't making too many in-roads at the other end of the pitch and their reputation as one of the best clubs in League Two looked a little shaky.

Fortunately for them, there was little need to worry. Jon-Paul Pittman fired in a very well taken goal just after the restart to give Wycombe the lead. Following that, The Chairboys returned to their largely defensive duties and managed to hold off the increasingly desperate efforts of the Dagenham & Redbridge forward line right to the end.

Wycombe remained in second spot in League Two thanks to their 1-0 win while John Still's men had to make do with staying on the boundaries of the play-off zone. Fundamentally, Dagenham & Redbridge are a good team that have played above people's expectations this year, but they might need to find that certain something extra if they're to push for one of those play-off places.

Wycombe Wanderers, while far from perfect, look set for automatic promotion this season. If manager Peter Taylor can grab a few more away wins like this one, they might even finish as champions too.

All in all, then, it had been a very enjoyable evening where I genuinely considered myself privileged to see two teams from the lower reaches of the Football League who were showing it off in its best possible light. And not just any old light either - it was a light that remained on for the full 90 minutes to the greater benefit of all in attendance, and for that I was very grateful.

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