Friday 26th December 2008 CCL2. Dagenham & Redbridge 2 Gills 0.
Well we all expected this to be tough what with all the goals Dagenham have been scoring at home this season but if the Gills are to be serious about making the play-offs, let alone the automatic places then “performances” like this are simply unacceptable. Why we can go from looking half decent one week to a wretched, shambolic mess is a mystery to us the fans, perhaps the management and players have a ready explanation because it really is a bit of a conundrum – so come on chaps, let‘s have some feasible answers please!.
Christmas in Dagenham never promised to be much fun, the place is a bleak, flat, ugly, desolate and forlorn combination of post-war blitz-assisted slum-clearance housing estates, giant car factories, wasteland, electricity pylons, dual carriageways to oblivion and rubbish-strewn dereliction. You couldn’t question the friendly welcome in the boozer round the corner before the game, but with a Frankenstein club cobbled together from the remnants of half a dozen old non-league teams slap bang in the middle of West Ham’s hinterland where the fringes of the East End merge with the grubby badlands of Essex, you get a weird dislocation whereby the inhabitants of Dagenham appear oblivious to the fact they have a League club all of their own in their midst.
Credit to Dagenham for getting in the League and making a challenge for promotion despite modest attendances and even more modest wages. The self styled self-depreciation “we’re just a pub team from Essex!” suggests the fans that they do have haven’t let consistent success go to their heads, the non-league ethos still pervades the place and that goes for their Victoria Road stadium too with two small open terraces at either end, a low main stand with adjoining modern extension and an old fashioned rusty cowshed down one side.
The Gills fans turned out in force, over 1,100 in total despite match day sales being publicly “stopped” on police orders because not many were left except of course they weren’t and in actual fact you could pay cash on the day. Clearly Dagenham aren’t used to loads of away fans coming to town, they sheepishly made their club house home only and the queues once inside the away end terrace for food and drinks were horrendous stretching virtually back out the ground by half-time.
The official attendance was also a mystery, with 1,100 plus Gills in a packed out away end and with virtually every seat sold and the side terrace well populated the final figure of 2844 would mean the stadium less than half full – poppycock! Either the attendance was 4,000 plus or the capacity is nowhere near 6,000…
As to the game, well it should be quickly and quietly filed under the category “whoops!” and left in a draw somewhere away from prying eyes. Suffice to say it was an unmitigated disaster from first minute to last. Julian came in for Royce and had a wretched afternoon of flat-footed indecision, but the whole team should hang their heads in shame after a humiliating display in a game of such poor quality it made your ears bleed. Not one moment got close to being even humdrum, well done to the Daggers for trying but between the two teams the end result was the worst game many of us had seen since the early 90’s. The ball was master, nobody seemed capable of passing, controlling or dribbling with it. Time and again it sailed out of play or bobbled away from careless feet. It was painful to watch. This wasn’t League Football, it wasn’t even Conference standard, it was shoddy, muddled drivel. We hardly got off to a flier either, with a decent away turn out there was scope for the Gills to enjoy some dominant vocal backing but we were only half way through the opening chorus of the afternoon when it got stuck and died in our throats. Eighteen seconds from kick off and the ball was nestling in our net, a straight forward move, a routine hopeful long ball over the top, we were sluggish to respond and before you could shout “oh bugger!” Richards had been left flat footed, Julian exposed and Strevens nipped in to poke a slightly lucky first time effort onto the far corner. We were stunned and so too were the team who never really recovered their composure. The passing was nervy and unravelled painfully, each sliced hack and scuffed shank drew more and more groans of resignation from a sullen, solemn away end. Dagenham weren’t that much better technically but had more confidence, tempo and passion. Miller did have a goal chalked off (28) but the flag had long gone up before his header from a Southall cross had found the net. Barcham also smashed one other chance over but to be honest our moments of anything other than shambolic had been sporadic.
Any hope of a revival were gone five minutes into the second half, again Julian was culpable getting his angles all wrong and being slow to react to an early cross shot but credit too to the Daggers striker Benson for being direct and placing his effort into the only available space albeit via the post. The temperature dropped and so did our chins. There were no leaders out there in a Gills shirt, nobody grabbing his team mates literally and metaphorically by the scruff of the neck and demanding a reaction. We had the odd flurry of promise in their half but the final ball was often woefully careless Southall‘s free-kick a rare moment of quality. The Daggers then had a goal of their own ruled out for offside but the mood wasn’t lightened as the Gills contrived to spurn two late chances which rather summed up the day – Mulligan (meekly into the side netting) and Lewis (rashly wide) being the culprits. Gills fans were streaming out long before the final whistle the remainder remaining only to boo them off and quite right too. Gutless, toothless and ultimately pointless.
Champagne Moment:- Getting home again to the warmth of Christmas with the family and pretending this didn‘t just happen.
The Frozen Binman.