As I arrived at Wembley Park Station yesterday I was nervous about the game. Nervous we wouldn’t score, nervous we would get beaten, nervous that our players would freeze on the day. It was the biggest game in Dagenham and Redbridges history, I was as nervous as hell!
As I left the station with my Dad and Daughter I was met with an amazing sight that took my breath away for a moment. A sea of red and white moving as one up Wembley way, great you may think, well not really you see I was dressed in a bright yellow curly wig, bright yellow t-shirt with Dagenham and Redbridge all over it and a daughter in a blue and yellow jesters hat with bells on it. We were surrounded by Rotherham supporters and no Daggers fans in sight! Where the hell were they all, they couldn’t have been in the ground it was 2pm an hour before kick-off.
My mobile ringing woke me from this thought, it was my father-in-law who I had arranged to meet outside the station. “Where are you?” he asked and before I could answer he said “Oh I see you the idiot in the bright yellow wig standing amongst all the Rotherham fans!” yeah thanks for that.
We started to walk nervously up Wembley Way and all I could see was Rotherham fans. There was a huge electronic board directing us to the right side of the ramp and another directing the Rotherham fans to the left. I looked ahead and their side was rammed, ours was empty, I was beginning to think I had the wrong day….and then I heard it quietly at first then getting louder and louder.
“Digger, Dagger, Digger, Dagger Oi! Oi! Oi! Digger..Dagger..Digger..Dagger..Oi!Oi!Oi” a sea of yellow was coming up behind me. Here they came the mighty daggers….they had been in the bloody pub! Swarms of them now in good voice mixing and joking with the Rotherham fans, handshakes, photo’s being taken of both sets of fans, and well wishes from both supporters for the game ahead.
We entered Wembley and made our way to our block. We were in 131, as we went up the stairs towards our seats the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, as I left the damp, darkness of the inner building and burst out into the bright sunshine. I was surrounded by yellow daggers supporters all singing and laughing as we awaited the start of the biggest game in our history. Huge flags of both clubs crests hung over the pitch attached to giant inflatable balloons, the noise was a mixture of hope and anticipation at what may lay ahead. Songs about both clubs could be heard swirling around the ground. Would we win, more importantly would we score, we hadn’t beaten or scored against Rotherham in our two previous meetings this season so the omens weren’t good.
The stadium announcer then spoke and drew my attention to the left hand side of the pitch ” Please welcome the teams onto the pitch”. Fire blazed from black cylinders by the side of the pitch, fireworks went off, tik-a-tape blew around the ground as John Still and Ronnie Moore led Dagenham and Redbridge and Rotherham respectively onto the pitch.
Guess what I did? I blubbed like a baby. Yes that’s right I cried, the emotion of the moment got the better of me as I swelled with pride as the Pub Team from Essex entered the arena. They lined up along the red carpet as the national anthem was played, each captain then led the dignitary of the day along the line of players, introducing each player and shaking hands as they went along, as is the tradition on these occasions. All to soon it was time for kick-off and the anticipation grew as we awaited the shrill blast of the referee’s whistle to start the game.
The first ten minutes we attacked the Rotherham goal with our direct way of playing, get the ball down fast and quickly to the wingers and get those crosses in. To no avail unfortunately as Rotherham stood strong. The game then began to turn Rotherhams way and they created a few chances, the best of these being a glancing header by Ryan Taylor that crept goal wards. From where I was behind the goal it looked like it was going in and I held my breath expecting the net to burst into life as the ball hit the back of it, yet somehow it just missed the bottom hand corner. It seemed to happen in slow motion. I began to breathe again. The game began to ebb and flow, us having chances then Rotherham attacking our goal but neither team would bow to the pressure.
Until, what could only be described as a flash of brilliance. The ball came in from the right and Romain Vincelot launched himself into the air, his back towards goal he performed a scissors kick, I leapt up ready to shout goal…..but alas Andy Warrington produced a fine save in the Rotherham goal and pushed the ball out….but only as far as Paul Benson who stretched out a leg and made contact only for the ball to be diverted away for a corner from the challenging Rotherham defender.
We had turned the corner, we now believed that this could be our day, we began to dream a little that perhaps we could beat them after all. A few moments later Josh Scott burst through the middle dancing his way towards the penalty area, only to be fouled on the edge of the area, by Ian Sharps the Rotherham skipper, and a free kick was awarded. Up stepped Danny Green our young number 7, his first season in the football league and having an excellent season so far with 13 goals and as many assists, he placed the ball on its value, stepped back waited for the whistle, then started his run and let fly…..it went under the wall and was going in, we got ready to celebrate, but an outstretched glove appeared from nowhere and that man Warrington saved the day again. We would have to be more patient for the breakthrough too come.
We didn’t have to wait long though, 38 minutes to be precise, Paul Benson (above) received the ball in the penalty area, he took one touch to control it, swiveled and then BAMB!!! the ball hit the back of the net. I leapt with joy hugging anyone who was close enough, complete strangers and friends, yelling YES!YES!YES! over and over again. I couldn’t believe it the Pub Team From Essex had scored at Wembley this was the stuff dreams were made of!
It didn’t last long though as Rotherham worked the ball down the right hand side, the cross came in and oh no………they equalised from a Ryan Taylor header!!! We had, had the lead for less than 1 minute! Disaster! The players looked at each other, some shouted at each for not picking the man up, but the damage was done, it was time to re-group. A few minutes later and the half-time whistle blew. I sat there stunned at what I had seen. Why couldn’t we have hung on till half-time, what did the fickle finger of fate have in store for us now? Only time would tell.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity the players emerged from the tunnel for the start of the second half. We would be attacking the end with us in and the players Rotherham would be attacking the end with their supporters in. The stage was set for a hero to score in front of their own fans. A bright start to the second half by us led to a brilliant piece of individual skill and goal. The ball was cleared from a freekick and fell just inside of the Rotherham half. Danny Green picked the ball up and headed towards the penalty area. We were all awaiting the cross….when all of a sudden he shot from the just outside the edge of the penalty area at an acute angle and the ball nestled into the bottom right hand corner of the net(bellow)…..cue bedlam in the daggers end! Once again I grabbed the bloke next to me….don’t know who he was but he didn’t seem to care though….and then turned and grabbed my daughter shouting YES GET IN THERE! as loud as I possibly could.
We held the lead for a while longer this time and to be honest we rode our luck as well. Rotherham missed a sitter, Danny Harrison with the goal at his mercy managed to hit the top of the bar from six yards, how he missed I don’t even think he knows, but lady luck now seemed to be on our side. Rotherham continued to press looking for the equaliser and we came under a spell of sustained pressure. Then it happened a cross from the left found Ryan Taylor in space in the penalty area and his header hit the back of the net, it was 2-2.
This time however I was more confident, our players seemed to believe that this was going to be their day, and to be honest so did I. It was just a matter of time before we got the all important 3rd goal and secured our promotion to League 1. It wasn’t a classic to be honest, but that didn’t matter though.
The ball came in from a corner and wasn’t cleared properly by the Rotherham defence, it fell to John Nurse just inside the area and…well I would like to say he smashed it into the back of the net but, sorry Nursey, what he did was slice it towards the goal in slow motion, a total mis-hit shot. It drifted towards the goal, a group of Rotherham players waiting to hack it clear, but there was lady luck again, out stretched a Rotherham leg and the ball deflected into the back of the net. (below)
Cue absolute bedlam for the third time that day. I didn’t grab the bloke next to me this time, he had jumped into the row in front, not sure whether he did this to get away from me or to celebrate the goal, the bloke he landed on didn’t seem to mind though as he kissed him on his head. Well football makes men do very strange things sometimes!
I grabbed my daughter and hoisted her onto my shoulder yelling and tears streaming down my face. We had taken the lead for the 3rd time that day but this time could we hang on, we had 20 minutes too find out. The clock seemed to take forever to tick down. we had one more chance but blew it, well it wasn’t really a chance but seeing as it was Paul Benson our leading scorer well call it that. The ball came over and he tried an overhead kick with the goal at his mercy but got his angles wrong and it went wide. Rotherham however never gave up. The clock ticked to 88 then 89 minutes and we waited for the referee to blow his whistle but he didn’t as the assistant had added on 4 minutes, for what I’m not sure but we now had to wait a little longer.
Ball after ball was pumped into the area by the ever desperate Rotherham players who could see their chance of promtion slipping away, however each attempt was met by the legend that is Tony Roberts, 40 years young and playing his first game at Wembley, he punched or caught ball after all….then we heard it….the whistle….we stopped for a second not sure it was the end of the game, surely we hadn’t given a foul away in our area…and then saw the Dagenham players race across to each other, hugging each other in a way that meant mission accomplished….the pub team from Essex was a League 1 team for the first time in its 18 year history!
The players made their way up the steps to collect the play-off trophy(below), and we stood their taking in the moment, trying to get to grips with the facts of what our players had achieved, promotion to League 1. Us a Pub Team From Essex, going to 3 ex Premier League clubs and competing on a level playing field.
We watched the giant screen as Mark Arber our captain was followed by the other players along the balcony, handshakes and slaps on the back by Steve Thompson the chief executive and then Dave Andrews our chairman. Men who live and breathe Dagenham and Redbridge day in day out. As the trophy was lifted high into the air it all became real for us, we were going up!. Finally there he was the man who had made all of this happen, John Still, a smile on his face the size of Blackwall Tunnel, we made sure he got the biggest cheer of the day. The mans a dream maker! He plucks players from non-league and makes them into Daggers, never standing in thier way if a better offer comes in, making them better players when they do finaly do leave.
Roll on August 7th when we start all over again…..this time in League 1. So what were your memories of that fantastic day? Let me know below.