the daggers voice
It had been over a month since my last Daggers game however it was well worth the wait as I witnessed one of the most dramatic matches I am ever likely to see.
The fact that I woke up with a tingling feeling in my stomach and sense of optimism could mean only one thing; it was matchday. It had been an agonising 33 days since I had last watched us play from the lofty heights of the TBS, when we thrashed Braintree Town 3-0 under the floodlights in a match that was televised live on BT Sport. But I was back and feeling very confident about the match. We owed Chester revenge for the 3-0 defeat inflicted in our first away game of the season and, having won every game in 2017 to nil, were likely to get it against a side that sat 10th.
In the morning I slowly got ready, before watching videos of the opposition on Youtube courtesy of a very good and entertaining channel called 'Chester FC Fan'. I watched a couple of the videos including one away at Dover where, to my amusement, they sing about being 'on our way to the Football League' - at least they're optimistic. Then, as the clock (seemingly slowly) ticks towards 12pm, I prepare to leave. I almost bounced down the ground; it might have just been a standard league fixture, but to me, it was something of a homecoming. I then meet Nan at the station and in almost no time we are exiting Dagenham East Stadium discussing various things, including our prospects for the upcoming game.
After getting what has swiftly become a staple of my Daggers matchday - a portion of chips (we now don't even have to order because the man has actually MEMORISED it) - we arrive at Victoria Road, otherwise known as 'home' or 'church', and I instantly buy my programme before settling down to Chelsea v Arsenal in the clubhouse. I then read the programme and we sit at a table and speak to a few regulars. A Chester fan then is then welcomed to our table. I love speaking to visiting supporters, and this was an enjoyable chat too. He told me about Chester's reformation and how they've enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in the last few years including triple promotions, which is just amazing. This season, he tells me, is going well for Chester, but he doesn't expect them to venture towards the play-offs. He also says that he travels away often, something I aspire to do more in the future, which is admirable considering that Chester is geographically very far away from us.
Then, we leave the clubhouse and enter through the turnstiles which, after almost 200 times, still makes me feel as excited as the first. The feeling of walking around the ground, smelling the grass, hearing the noise of the tannoy - it's one that even the most realistic of television coverages can't even begin to replicate. And so, I had around an hour before kick-off to speak to Nan and catch up with the people around me as the last time I had been in the terrace was 10th December, because I had to sit in the TBS for the last two home games due to an unfortunate collision with a bus! It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I enjoyed a perfectly unrestricted view of both matches, plus basked in the awayday-like atmosphere - but it lacked the friendliness and freedom you have in the TBS. Still, it's nice to have a change of scenery.
Gradually, the time whittled down, the ground filled up, and out strode the red and blue shirts of Dagenham and the bright yellow change strip sported by Chester. It was time. A lot of games this season have been defined by the first five minutes. I realised that something wasn't right in the Gateshead and Boreham Wood games, when we seemed badly off the pace, and so it proved as we lost both games by an aggregate 7-0. And here, the first five minutes were massive. We started the game well and had me roaring as we marched forwards in attack, but moments later my emotions turned to despair as Chester had a wave of cardiac-arrest-inducing attacks, one of which went tantalisingly wide of the post. Chester, backed by a relatively small but still noisy bunch of away fans, were cheering on their time, while we looked shaky in the opening stages.
But then, delight, as from almost nothing, the Daggers somehow earned a penalty due to the speed and brilliance of Okenabirhie, who breezed past his marker but was taken down. This was it, a glorious chance for Dagenham to take the lead. My heart was racing in anticipation but, to my utter dismay, Hawkins' penalty was saved and the ball was cleared. The disappointment was evident to all around me and, as Chester continued to pile pressure on at the other end, I knew it would be a chance we would be made to rue. The rest of the half was end to end and continued being a constant rollercoaster of emotions, and just before half-time an incredible piece of skill from nowhere finally woke the crowd up. As finishes go, it was a very good one from Sheppard on his home debut; the ball was drilled low and hard past the keeper, who was just as surprised as me. and Nan.
The discovery that Lincoln were ahead couldn't even dampen my emotions, even though it meant that my eagerly-awaited away game at Sincil Bank would be off. The rest of half-time was spent talking and discussing matters on and off the pitch but the teams re-emerged a few minutes later and thus started one of the most entertaining halves of football I would see. The Daggers didn't learn their lessons for the first half and just a few minutes in, to my immense frustration, Chester scored. It had been coming and I wondered why the team I loved seemed to play so terribly when I was watching them. The defending was horrible, with their defender smashing home in a packed box after a mistake from Hawkins, whose earlier penalty miss seemed to be affecting him. Then, as the warm weather aptly was overshadowed by a dark cloud, the referee constantly got on the nerves of the home fans, and then to compound our misery Chester scored again. Again I had called that the ball was going in, just as I did the first goal, and the atmosphere around me had turned sour.
By now I was almost consigned to another defeat and another underwhelming performance and it didn't seem to be our day. Two efforts were clawed off the line when they looked to be going in, such was our bad luck. John Still also withdrew Okenabirhie, who had been our best player until that point, but his replacements were a masterstroke. There were just five minutes left though and it seemed to be too late for a revival. But I was wrong as Daggers proved why they are promotion challengers. A corner was swung in, and yet another header was cleared off the line. But by a hand. It was hard to see from where I was standing, but thankfully the referee saw it, and issued a red card for the offender and a second penalty!
The nerves I had before the penalty were so strong as we'd already missed one in the match. Corey Whitely stepped up to take it, and ran up to the ball before.........burying it into the corner! Now the team was roared on to get the winner, the atmosphere dramatically improved and Chester were a bag of nerves. As the assistant referee indicated SIX minutes of injury time, another almighty roar echoed around Victoria Road, which was the noisiest it had been all season. The time ticked by with Daggers desperately trying to force a winner, then, the ball arrived to Shepherd. Shepherd delivered a cross to Benson. As if in slow motion, 'Benno' got his head to the ball and powered it towards goal. The ball though, agonisingly, cannoned off the bar, but only as far as Maguire Drew and.................
The next few seconds were sheer madness as bodies were flying and everybody was hugging eachother around me. I don't thing I've ever celebrated as hard in my entire life. It was an incredible, unforgettable ending to the match and one I am never likely to forget. It took me about three hours to regain my breath. What a game!
A huge thanks to Nan for taking me to the match. I managed to record some videos of both penalties, which can be seen below:
FEED THE HAWK AND HE WILL.........Oh. Thankfully, the miss didn't cost us.
You say that you love me,
all of the time.
You say that you need me,
you'll always be mine.
Cos we've got..............
So glad he's ours!
So two penalties; one scored, one missed, a red card and five great goals including a dramatic last-gasp winner followed by unreal celebrations. Safe to say, not a bad game.
Finally credit to the Chester fans who made the trip. I did feel very sorry for you after the game, but not enough to stop celebrating, of course!
One of the best parts of the win was getting to taunt Chester player Horwood, who was taunting our fans all game and deliberately celebrated both goals right infront of us. That sir, is karma.
The funniest moment was when fellow Blues' player Elliot Durrell hilariously responded to the jeers of one of our supporters, who when criticising the player for his weight and asking if he wanted a pie, was greeted with the response, ''ooh, can I have one then? It's just one of the reasons why being close to the players is an incredible advantage.
See you soon!
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.