The laws of physics: Dagenham (h)

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Tony Butcher

16 February 2008

Grimsby Bicycle Shop 1 Dagenham Motors 4

The swallow may fly south with the sun and the plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land, unlike the Dagenham and the Redbridge. Hello Cock-er-nee people! Welcome to the land of make believe. And to think they've only ever dreamed of a cold Cleethorpes in February; we're probably the acme of their footballing life.

Town lined up in the fluid concrete of a 5-3-2 formation as follows: Barnes, Hird, Atkinson, Fenton, Newey, Hegggggggarty, Clarke, Hunt, Bolland, Till, North. The substitutes were Montgomery, Toner, Bennett, the preening pastel-shoed Bore and the Lump: built like a car with a hubcap diamond star halo. Hmmm, will a Boshless Town be a toothless Town, for who is going to bang a gong and get it on the ground, to pass and push and pull the strings? Hey, Hunt and Bolland together at last! Such vision and supple subtleness to behold; one of them may even control the football today.

Like a faux Crystal Palace, those cheeky Cockernees catwalked in blue and red stripes, whirling and swirling in pretty patterns, jumping over logs and through hoops and garters and lastly through a hog's head of real fire.

Oh yeah, it's Hird's last day at school. Has he brought some toys and cakes and a playful air?

First half

Town kicked off towards about one hundred Daggerboys at the Osmond end as the big bass drum beat out a retreat. That's all you need to know, for that's all Town did: retreat.

Swinging and dodging, Town made three passes, but Hunt dithered, sunk into the squidgy turf ‘neath Frozen Beer Stand and the Dags were away for the first cross of the day. Get used to it, it's the comedy of repetition and embarrassment – like a 90-minute episode of Mr Bean. That's right: it isn't funny and infants and imbeciles could enjoy it. Like middle-class parents in a council crèche, we were enduring it through gritted teeth.

A couple of minutes in, Strevens defenestrated Fenton 25 yards out. Fenton gasped and groped and grasped Strevens' hips and they did a little conga towards the Pontoon. Gentle Ben fell and the free kick followed. Barnes spent an age adjusting the wall and eventually it was tapped once, twice and thricely sideways for Gain, who bedraggled a shot through various legs and a yard wide of the left post. Town were a mess, and a half-paced mess at that. Warning number one.

Stop punting it over Till's head!

Dagenham crossed, crossed and crossed again. Where are Town? Dillying and dallying and huddling in the centre, that's where, as Nurse shot a little wide after a little run and little by way of a challenge. Town were standing away, watching as the big boys rumbled. Have we passed it yet? Ah, here we are: after twelve long minutes of silent shrugging, Newey roamed, exchanged passes and soared into the penalty area. As North peeled away Newey flicked the ball behind the defence and… you can all sit down again: North was offside.

Normal service was resumed; punting, shunting and no bunting today for the performance. What performance? As the ground hushed into mordant moping you could hear a lone voice railing against the collective failing. Listen up Town: Buckley's just gotta get a message to you. Hold on, hold on to the ball.

Nope, no good, your lips move but they don't hear what you're saying. Daggers this and Daggers that, ring-a-ring of roses, a pocket full of posers. Griffiths scuttled down their left unimpeded, ignored by the back-pedalling defence and he was allowed to phone a friend – cosine is indeed, as he thought, opposite over hypotenuse – so he licked a lovely cross over the hippopotamuses. Nurse, unmarked eight or so yards out, stood, stared and stuck his neck out as the ball struck Newey's back and fell into Fenton's path. Warning number two.

Don't come here expecting a bit of light relief, this is heavy going. Town's footprints leave no traces, only shadows move in places where they used to go. No passing, no movement, no nothing no more. We don't pass around here no more.

After about a quarter of an hour of incessant dreadfulness from those in black and white, the Daggers got a throw-in near the Police Box. It was thrown in and headed back out to the now unmarked chucker. He crossed into the middle of the penalty box and Smith, about six yards out, strolled forward, skipped and scraped a glancing header into the bottom right corner. Now, that was simple, wasn't it; just a little bit of pass and movement from Town: we didn't move as they passed by.

At this Jones replaced Hird, who raced off down the tunnel making funny gesticulations. Bye-bye Sam, you were adequate, no more, no less. We won't miss you, but we don't mind you being here again, that's all. Now Lumpy, we love your touch, thanks very much. We might even love your eyes and your chinny chin chin ‘cos you're the fella that the crowd loves. And Till moved to right wing-back.

The introduction of Mr Lump swung the balance of power, if not back towards Town, then not so much the visitors' way, as at least the Daggerfenders had to have a little bit of arm wrestling to win the hoofs and humps. Ah, sir, passing! The ball was passed! To North's feet, who scrimped a flick on for Till and the cross was blocked for a corner. Fenton rose at the far post and softly headed a little loopily towards goal. Arber stood next to the post and lazily lamped the ball downfield. It was not so much off the line as away from near the line. We'll take that as a copper-bottomed chance then: we'll take anything.

Shall I just pass over a few of their shots and breaks to save you the mental torture? OK, if you wish, I don't want you to cry, oh feathered reader.

And again, more Town passing, with one-touch wall passing down the right releasing the flying Till. He crossed high, high, high above all and Hegggarty chased after the ball, stopped it on the touchline and was sent into the stratosphere by a flying Foster. Forget the free kick, forget ‘em all, forget everything: all of ‘em arced gently into Roberts' unchallenged hands. Any that didn't will be reported in due course as they will be exceptional exceptions to the rule.

And then Newey limped off and was replaced by Bennett. It's all going horribly wrong and we've only been going 25 minutes. It's been horrible: Daggers plunged vertically as Town staggered horizontally.

Hey Jones, take a bad pass and make it better! Lumpy smoothed into the right edge of their area and flicked a return pass to Clarke about 20 yards out. Clarke swayed across a challenge and scragged a low drivelling shot a foot or so wide of the near post. Town's first shot, that; Town's first anything really. And the hint of a squint of a glint in the Town eye was apparent. There was a bit of movement, there was some passing. One, two, three flicks and tricks down the right and Bolland spun past a Cockernee, whose knee knocked him over on the edge of the area. Play on, said Macduff the ref, as the crowd and players bellowed in disbelief.

The Dagenhammers riffed upfield, with Town forced to crack the ball out over the top of the Police Box. Thrown in longish, the ball was quarter cleared, with Fenton then Hunt then Clarke all standing away, timidly avoiding the ball. Strevens plonked his body between Townite and ball and started to shake, rattle and roll out on the very left corner of the penalty area between Hunt and Clarke. Hunt dodged the ball and man, while Clarke gently collided with the striker, stumbled but stayed upright, while Strevens fell, but tried to get up. The referee blew his whistle for an extremely harsh handball against Strevens… surely he'd just fallen on the ball. Errr, eh? Errr, wha? Four thousand jaws dropped. A decision so astonishing the entire ground was speechless and struck dumb. The referee awarded a penalty, despite no-one anywhere appealing or even thinking that there was a foul. The contact was mutual, knowing and accepted, like wing mirrors kissing as two Vauxhall Astras pass each other down Welholme Road. Do mind the speed bumps; they make people go funny.

Dagenham Dave Rainford stepped up and steered the penalty low into the very bottom right corner as Barnes' fingertips pursued the ball in vain.

Shocked and stunned we were. Shocked and stunned.

After about five minutes of shocked stunned-ness Town managed a shot. A corner was cleared and, after a bit of huffling and puffling, Bennett careered forward and walloped a dipping volley from about 30 yards out way, way away on the right. The ball ducked and dived like a geezer in Walford market and landed on the roof of the net.

Town continued to press intermittently as the Daggerboys contented themselves with pacman shuffling. Wahey! Some more passing and Hegggarty twinkled down the left, into the area and crossed from the bye-line. Out came a red and blue arm and the ball deflected at an angle of 90 degrees into the Osmond stand. Would it surprise you to learn that Town were awarded a corner? It would! Ah, you expected an elephant on a tricycle with this ref, didn't you? Town had pressure, but it was just a football flying through the air without purpose, without any suspicion of a favourable outcome.

Ah, here we are again, a corner from the right, travelling light and high to the far post. Fenton rose and headed back across goal and beyond the other post. Atkinson headed back into the centre and the ball disappeared into a stripey swirl of black and white and red and blue, like a kaleidoscope going this way and that. There it is! No, it's over there: near the line, closer to the line, now further away. Hitting something, hitting somebody, the Frozen Beer Stand exclaimed about something and out the ball came again. The moment was over. Who knows where it was, who it hit and why it did or didn't do what it did.

As the half ended Dagenham attacked again, creaking a low cross to the near post, where Bolland dived and diverted the ball to Barnes from about six yards out. Oh the irony as, one of the few times Bolland touched the ball, he nearly scored. For them. Back Town not so much roared as squeaked. Hegggarty crossed, a Town leg swished and North, a few yards out, wrapped his left leg around a defender and swiped a shot way over the bar.

Somewhere within the couple of minutes of added time Nurse chased a punt down their left. He turned and turned and burned Atkinson into a charcoal engraving of a dying swan before hooking a surprising shot across goal from half a dozen yards out. Barnes held out his left hand and just managed to slap the ball past the far post for a corner. Nothing more happened, thankfully, and we could all get back to what we do best: grumbling about everything and nothing.

Grumble on.

Awful, absolutely awful. Virtually no redeeming features at all, with the penalty sealing the knot on this hangman's noose of a half, for Town had been merely the newly laid parquet flooring upon which the Daggers could jive. It was the exact opposite of one week ago: sublime then, and almost beyond ridicule now.

Second half

Bolly can go and get some sleep, there's someone bouncing on yellow toes. When Bore the ephemeral Eskimo gets here everybody's gonna wanna doze: yes, Bore replaced the invisible Bolland at half time. What formation Town played in is up for auction on e-Bay. Bidding starts in half an hour at 4-4-2 with Hegggarty at left-back, Till right wing and Bennett at right-back. Opening bid 97p.

The Daggers were temporarily discombobulated with North's channel surfing, causing Uddin to utter uncouth oaths, and Roberts to flap a back-pass wonkily into touch. Nearly, nearly and nearly again, but nearly's not enough. Town were tapping gently on the window pane: it's Heggy, so cold, let him in-at-your-window. Crossing lowly, slowly and carefully into a ruck at the near post the moment was now, the moment was gone as Hunt wandered near the flight path, unaware or unwilling to stretch his imagination or legs.

Ah, that's how you do it. Town backed off as Nurse and Strevens roistered freely. Town's sock had a hole in it: the old achilles heel of weakness against strength. Southam bustled into the area on their right and stretchily skewered a shot across the face of goal from a dozen yards out. They ain't done yet, these greedy gas guzzlers, they're just waiting for our pants to stretch beyond twanging point.

Incidentally, the referee has VPL, and he's well beyond twanging point.

Still Town appeared to be fighting for their right to lose with dignity. North suddenly spun on a throw-in and hooked a shot goalwards. Alas, Roberts was well placed and sighed to his left to pluck the ball safely to his cocky Cockernee bosom. Bore was released and won a corner, then released again but succeeded only in controlling the ball for the defender to clear. Bore, please jump with conviction, please run, please look at the ball and please put a bit more effort in. You can do it if you really try.

Ah yes, he can! Bore sprinted towards the corner flag to chase a cushioned pass, looked up and dipped a superb cross into the centre of the penalty area, North steamed across his marker and firmly rolled a header goalwards. Roberts leapt and levered the ball one-handed over the bar from above his head. It was headed into the one place Roberts could save it, but save it he did and rather spectacularly. Still Town pressed, with little method, but much froth in the coffee pot. Hegggarty raced infield and, from 20 yards out, swiped a right foot shot towards the top corner. Roberts sailed away and even more spectacularly fingertipped the ball away from the top right corner of the goal. The corner was half cleared and Hegggarty was baulked by the referee, the ball was returned and Clarke ended all that jazz with a unbalanced steered volley which went way wide.

At some indefinable point Town moved to a 3-4-3 formation. In theory Town were attacking with menaces; in practice it meant that Jones was man-marked by North and Bore. The movement he needed was on his shoulder.

And Town ebbed away as the tide changed, leaving more and more empty bottles and crumpled, soggy crisp packets on the shoreline. Bore welched out of a couple of headers; Hunt missed the ball, missed his man and trotted back disconsolately, while Fenton redeemed some of his past failures with a magnificent sliding, hooking tackle underneath the Frozen Beer Stand. The idiot referee gave the Dags a free kick. Idiot.

Whoo. Barnes avoided rolling over, around and under a bumbling shot from the edge of the area as Dagenham flung their arms out like a chicken and started to cluck and caw. Oh no, not more eggs. A cross from their right curved into the near post where Strevens stretched and hooked a volley an inch or so over the bar as Town watched in wonderment that someone could be bothered to do such things. Isn't stretching just something you do when you wake up?

As the game drifted away towards the end Town had one last hurrah of pressure. Perhaps they should vary the throw-in routine – leaving Bennett to hurl it towards Jones at the near post gets, and got, nowhere. Somehow, sometime, Town got another corner on the right. For once eschewing the big ball to Fenton, Town played a big ball to Bennett at the far post. He sprang above his mattress marker and dinked a header back over the gathering throng. Roberts stood and stared, all turned and waited for the ball to drop. It did, but onto the head of Griffiths, who bonked it firmly away from the goal-line.

Well, we're just waiting for it to end now. It can only get worse, as it sure ain't going to get better. I'll just skip over some of their nearly this and almost thats.

With about eight minutes left North was erroneously penalised for not fouling, just outside their penalty area. Roberts cracked it upfield, long and high down the centre. Fenton misjudged the flight, leaning backwards and simply heading it into the Town area. Strevens ran behind, turned back and from a dozen yards wrenched a low shot through Atkinson's legs and into the bottom right corner. Cue usual mass exodus.

In days of yore children down Dagenham way would climb up the slaughterhouse wall to take a look at cattle being pole-axed: now they just have to watch the Daggers when their dander is up. Town were cows waiting for the compressed air gun to be placed against the forehead. Moooooooooooooo. Fenton was mugged and hugged Nurse until the cows came home. And a yellow card was produced.

A free kick, perhaps 20 yards out just right of centre, saw the Daggerboys bring out another one of their three card tricks. Chase the laddie, Town. Is it under here? No, no, no. Is it under there? No, no, no. Ah, there it is. Southam ran up to take it but spun away, while Rainford feigned disinterest before reverse-passing to the now unmarked Southam. A dozen yards out to the right of goal, Barnes marvellously parried away from the near post for a corner. Head in the clouds, and a mouthful of pie Dagenham Dave rose unmolested at the near post and nodded sagely high into the net. No Town player moved at all, until someone shrugged after it had hit the net.

Cue an even masser exodus. It's a clear road home tonight! I'll be in Tesco's by five.

Town were drowned, washed up and left for dead.

What a waste of time the rest of the game was. Jones curled softly to Roberts; Heggggarty crossed to North, who headed benignly at Roberts. A cross was cleared to Clarke, on the edge of the area on the centre-left. He eventually controlled the ball and clipped it low vaguely towards goal. Bore, six yards out with his back to goal, laid off a cushioned volley pass to Jones, who carefully passed the ball into the centre right of goal. Nobody cared.

Bonnie and Clyde had begun their evil doin' one lazy afternoon down Blundell way. They robbed the store, and then high-tailed outa that town. Job done. Bish, bash, for there was no Bosh. If Hull need Windass in a wheelchair, we need Boshell on a bicycle. Where's Bicycle Repair Man when you need him?

Let's go home and pretend it never happened.