Dagenham & Redbridge look a very different side to about ten or fifteen minutes ago when they were on the back foot, and here's Benson...BRILLIANT!
Eight years ago today, Dagenham & Redbridge were promoted to League One. That mere statement only scrapes the surface of what a remarkable achievement it was, and only begins to epitomise the determined attitude which was infectious around the club at the time. From mixing with minnows such as Canvey Island and Gravesend, the Daggers would be playing the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Charlton as their equal, after a breathtaking afternoon at Wembley, the home of English football. As we reach an incredible eight years since that monumental occasion, this is the story of a true footballing miracle.
To truly understand the magnitude of that accomplishment, you need to look at where the club currently lies. A non-league outfit, with that League 1 journey a lifetime away, the Daggers are where their fanbase and stadium indicates they truly belong. We were built on good foundations, thriving on a small budget and plucking talented players before developing them into great footballers. We've never had large crowds and attendances have always been on the low side, with most home figures just eclipsing the 1k mark, especially deteriorating since our non-league return. We're a small club from Essex who punch above their weight.
Compare that description to some of the teams we played in our League One campaign; clubs with illustrious pasts visiting the comparatively-tiny ground of an outfit just eighteen years old. Southampton, Brighton, Bournemouth - all now established Premier League outfits. Teams who frequently visit Anfield and Old Trafford amongst other notorious footballing outposts heading to a 6,000-capacity Victoria Road is an amusing thought but thanks to John Still and a tremendous group of players, it became reality. Even now I don't think it's sunk in. It's still remarkable, and the joy is as raw as ever.
This season, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played their part as Liverpool reached the Champions League final in Kiev. Who'd have known, when they were facing the Daggers at Victoria Road, that seven years later they'd be appearing on the biggest footballing stage of all? While our League One opponents had future Premier League and UCL players amongst their ranks, we had people such as Danny Green, Scott Doe and Peter Gain. That group of players gave all they had for this club, and it was that mentality which served us so well.
Even when you look at our Wembley opponents, Rotherham, you realise how big that victory was. The Millers are now readying themselves for a season in the Championship. They're a massive town, with a large support, but on the day they were thoroughly beaten. Against a backdrop of sun and clear skies, Dagenham were determined and battled to the very last minute. Unfazed, we took a while to find our stride but kept calm throughout.
Eleven heroes in yellow all played their part in the day. You had our French maestro Romain Vincelot, whose powerfully-saved overhead kick really outlined our intentions. Tony Roberts was a hero as he always was, sweeping everything up. When that first Daggers goal hit the net, it took a while for the surreal moment to register. Paul Benson, signed from the very depths of the footballing pyramid, had a Wembley goal and this led to an outstanding piece of commentary.
''Dagenham & Redbridge look a very different side to about ten or fifteen minutes ago, when they were on the back foot, and here's Benson.....BRILLIANT! Paul Benson...with the stuff of fairytales. We're talking about League 2, but that would grace the Premier League'' - that piece of brilliance was the catalyst for an incredible day, with excitement and nerves in equal measure. We'd twice been pegged back, but wouldn't give up and in the end it was Jon Nurse's goal that won it.
Cue chaos, celebrations and delight. The victory meant so much to players and supporters alike. But we'd done it. Dagenham & Redbridge were in League One. Things may be incredibly difficult at the club at the moment but when you think back to this day, it will always bring a smile to your face. This isn't a reminder of how far we'd fallen, it is a reminder of how far we came. There may be no players left at the club from that day, but the memories will be forever ingrained into our folklore.
30th May 2010, the greatest day in our history and for many of us, the greatest day of our lives.
I am Joel Page, an avid Dagger who travels across the country watching the club. Over the last few years, I've absorbed the turbulent rollercoaster ride that comes with supporting the Daggers and have seen us both at our highest and our lowest. From 'that' day at Wembley to watching us suffer a devastating drop into non-league, it's all a part of the journey.