Dagger to the heart

The game: Dagenham & Redbridge v. Bury.
The ground: Victoria Road.
The conditions: torrential rain, followed by a Biblical eclipse at half three. Not conducive to great football.

Having pushed through the home-end turnstiles at Dag & Red’s Victoria Road, the first thing that caught my eye was the imposing bulk of the Traditional Builders Stand. Hulking at the far end of the pitch, silhouetted against the rainy, grey sky, the sight of it very much set the tone for the football I was about to watch; firm and resolute, yet far from attractive, this was going to be one for the old-fashioned tradesmen.

Finding myself a sheltered spot on the terraces with the untraditional non-builders, I warmed up with a Tetley’s tea (the terrace café was out of Earl Grey) and waited for the game to kick off. With the Daggers second-bottom of League Two and their opponents, Bury, in a somewhat disappointing eighth place, the 1,877 fans in attendance seemed a little muted, even as the teams came out onto the pitch; having turned out in numbers despite the weather, both home ‘Daggers’ and away ‘Shakers’ seemed to have their spirits dampened by the reality of a cold, wet Saturday afternoon’s scrapping – with no guarantee of a decent result.

The first half certainly didn’t lift any spirits. After the two teams exchanged early shots, both well saved, the game settled down into a to-and-fro pattern of head tennis, bonce badminton and forehead fives; the ball was in the air for the majority of the play. Bury were a bit more willing to pass the ball along the ground and, as a result, were more incisive at times, but really there was little between the sides; the conditions only made matters worse, as exemplified by the various slips, slides and saucy tackles that went on between the constant midfield headers. The Daggers’ fans’ frustration soon became audible, especially when their nervous-looking players tried to work the ball up the pitch purely by means of multiple throw-ins; when, in about the fortieth minute, a fellow luxury fan cried angrily for the team to ‘pass and move’, there was a ripple of exasperated laughter all around. Both teams were livelier in the closing ten minutes but, rightly, the sides went back to their respective dressing-rooms goalless.

I spent half time leaning on the red terrace railing, eating a rather delicious Cumberland sausage sour-dough bap (or ‘jumbo hot dog’, as it was advertised) and looking out on the sodden pitch, pondering whether I would ever see a goal again in my life; at this point darkness descended upon Dagenham, which seemed a bad omen. The teams were soon back out on the pitch. I did not have high hopes for the second half; nor did the Daggers’ fans, from what I could overhear.

Thankfully, our pessimism was quickly dispelled. The second half seemed to pick up where the first had left off, before a fiftieth-minute foul on winger Ashley Hemmings gave Dagenham a decent attacking free kick from the left. Though Bury cleared the first delivery with ease, the ball came back to Billy Bingham on the edge of the area. Punting a high ball over a static Bury defence he found Rhys Murphy nipping in behind; the Daggers’ striker (formerly of Arsenal – very luxury) then rifled a shot past the keeper and in.

The relief in the general celebrations said everything about the Daggers’ precarious league position. However, that relief was put on hold for the next forty minutes, during which Dagenham had to defend doggedly to preserve their lead. Bury were sparked into life by conceding, on the pitch at least – the travelling fans seemed justifiably underwhelmed by the scoreline. Still their team came at Dagenham, trying to get even; constant clearances and a succession of impressive saves by Daggers’ keeper Mark Cousins frustrated them. It may not have been vintage viewing but, as the Bury pressure mounted, as balls were zipped around the Daggers’ box before being committedly cleared out into the carpark, the game actually felt half-enjoyable as proper, lower-league fare.

By the eightieth minute, Bury were desperate for a goal. The tempo picked up considerably. In the eighty-first, controversy beckoned as the Shakers’ Danny Rose was booked for a dive in the Daggers’ box; the referee’s decision looked about right, while I found the whole thing quite comforting – it put me in mind of many a pleasant afternoon spent at Stamford Bridge. Cousins made a strong save from a Bury free kick in the eighty-third, much to the praise of the home crowd, now in full voice. When a shot was then cleared off the Dagenham line and the rebound again saved by Cousins, the fans were practically roaring their team on to the much-needed win; a couple of tense but well-defended corners later, and they got it.

A loud, proud and tense five minutes capped off a decent final forty; the game definitely improved as it went on. A dagger to the heart of Bury’s promotion hopes, and a genuine lift for Dag & Red; that was the conclusion of The Luxury Fan as he trundled out of Dagenham East, and along his endless tube journey back home.

Result: Dagenham & Redbridge 1 Bury 0.
My MoM: though Rhys Murphy got the Dagenham goal, Mark Cousins made several crucial saves and made sure of the win – the home team’s keeper is my man of the match.
Best fans: the Daggers. Wanted to see pass and move football in torrential rain. Fans after my own heart.

Dagger to the heart