Everton FC vs Dagenham and Redbridge FC
FA Cup Third Round
Saturday 9th January 2016
Goodison Park, Liverpool, Merseyside
We’ve all been there. You’re travelling on public transport at 9.20am minding your own business when three blokes park up on the next table with a lager. They’ve listened to the government warnings, considered the recommended units per week with adequate rest days and have still decided to wash breakfast down with a lightly chilled alcoholic beverage.
As our train pulled out of Chesterfield station, the Underdog Blog’s three-strong contingent of me and my two best men Hadders and Warin (so called as they share the same first name – it just makes things easier admin-wise) were that group. Reunited as a trio for the first time in several months, we caught up on Warin’s impending house move, chatted about interest rates and discussed the finer points of the financial advantages of having equity in property (OIOI! #ladzladzladz).
One woman, so threatened by our rampant and aggressive masculinity, asked us to watch her bag while she nipped to the loo. As a fresh band of beered-up brothers in arms boarded the train at Sheffield en route to Old Trafford, we ordered another three cans of Stella (the 4% stuff. We’re not animals.)
Inadvisable day-drinking aside, we’ve got an exciting afternoon in prospect. Headed for Goodison Park, a ground none of us have visited before, we’re realistic about League Two strugglers Dagenham and Redbridge and their chances against one of English football’s most famous names. With Warin making his long-awaited Underdog debut, though, there’s hope of a new lucky mascot at least.
Third Round weekend normally tends to throw up the most dramatic gulfs in the league ladder. Opening the weekend was a tie that demonstrated that perfectly as Liverpool made the 500-mile round trip through Friday rush hour to Exeter in front of the BBC cameras.
An entertaining 2-2 draw demonstrated much that’s good about this old competition but it was marred somewhat by a borderline third-string side on Jurgen Klopp’s FA Cup debut. When Jerome Sinclair equalised Exeter’s early opener for his first Liverpool goal, it was worth noting he wasn’t even born when Eric Cantona volleyed a late winner through a crowded penalty box to lift the 1996 trophy.
Passing Old Trafford and the Etihad on our way to Merseyside, we find a pub near Lime Street for food and Wycombe vs Villa – a match ripe for an upset – before a taxi ride to Goodison. Our driver is a die-hard Blue and drives us past Prince Rupert’s Tower, perhaps only known outside of Merseyside as featuring on the Everton club crest, explaining it was once used to house lost livestock and local drunks and criminals overnight.
He drops us off for another drink at The Abbey pub, in view of Goodison Park and largely filled with travelling Daggers today, as we cram ourselves through the door and attempt to find a space at the bar. Two Everton fans, one of whom has ordered himself two pints of Guinness despite there being just half an hour to kick off (“Years of following Everton,” he tells us), discuss the lineups with us as they wait for drinks.
We’re slightly deflated to see a stronger looking XI than that named by their old rivals across Stanley Park the night before and our new friends are surprised to see names including Steven Pienaar making a rare First Team appearance.
As we drink up and make our way past the statue of Dixie Dean and into the away stand, we discover what our tickets meant by Restricted View. Goodison is a fine example of a characterful old British ground that’s been developed to keep pace with the Premier League era. The low ceiling and large stanchions are a constant obstruction from our seats, though, and it must be even worse in the rows behind us. Our reasonably priced £14 ticket softens the blow.
Perhaps I’m too romantic, but I like to imagine the famous games that took place in traditional old stadiums. I can’t help imagining the crowd bobbing their heads from side to side to watch Franz Beckenbauer’s decider book a place in that fateful World Cup Final as West Germany beat the Soviet Union 2-1 half a century ago.
One man with a slightly better vantage point in the media box opposite is BBC Radio London’s Stuart Smith, who I chatted to at the beginning of the week. With a decade and a half following the Daggers around the country, the experienced broadcaster seemed like the perfect man to discuss the Essex team’s unlikely rise out of non-league to become an established Football League side. He starts by telling me how he came to cover Dagenham:
“I started covering various different teams, going to Southend games and working the studio. I started covering Daggers around the 2001/02 season. Getting promotion into the Football League in 2007 was a highlight during that time. It was something that nobody thought would ever happen.
“When we got promotion there was an open top bus tour of Dagenham. I was on top of the bus with the players with a radio mic going back to the studio! You can’t say there were thousands out on the streets but there were quite a few hundred there. It was a great time, the Club were a very personable Club, the players knew the fans and the fans knew the players. They were almost on first name terms with each other. It was fantastic spirit and a big new adventure moving into the Football League,” he tells me, almost wistfully.
Even by the Club’s admission, they’re perhaps punching above their weight in maintaining League Two status. Almost a decade since promotion, which would later be followed by a very competitive but ultimately unsuccessful year in League One, they’d struggled to a paltry 11 points before Christmas with no home win to their name. A change in manager, however, reinstating Club legend John Still, has seen an upturn in fortunes and two consecutive wins away from home.
Stuart tells me: “Wayne Burnett tried ever so hard and was working his socks off but things were getting worse week by week. With John Still losing his job at Luton and becoming available again, I suppose it was quite simple to say ‘Come on back and do what you can’ (for a third stint in charge). He’s a former Daggers player and a Daggers fan. Even when he was manager previously, his phrase was ‘every season Dagenham and Redbridge play League football is a miracle’. And it is, because of the resources.
“Before he officially started there was a win at Stevenage and then the win at Exeter which was John’s first official game back in charge. They’re still waiting for that first home win which they haven’t had all season which is incredible really. They say there’s no easy game in football for goalkeepers but there is at Victoria Road up to now – some of them could have gone and done their shopping at Lakeside!”
He continues: “The Everton game is a distraction which is a wonderful thing for the Club to celebrate and enjoy. Financially it’s a big thing too as it’s obviously going to be a big input to the coffers. In a way, the success of getting through to Everton has probably given the Club the money to sack the manager. Without that money, they perhaps wouldn’t have been able to.”
Stuart speaks highly of the hardcore fanbase who trekked to Exeter and Morecambe recently, as well as enduring a dire display to limp past Whitehawk in a Second Round replay, but acknowledges it’s difficult for sides like Dagenham to pull a crowd given the competition on their doorstep – especially when results aren’t going your way:
“Where Dagenham play you’ve got West Ham – thankfully most of their home games are on opposite weekends to Daggers – and you get a few West Ham fans come down to watch. You’ve got Orient, Spurs, Arsenal round the corner, Chelsea across London. There’s a lot of top class-ish football available a short tube ride away so if you’re going to spend £20 or £25 going to Dagenham and Redbridge, you might spend £30 or £35 going to West Ham.
“They want to see players giving it their best and see the ball going forward. There’s been passing without purpose. You’ve got to get it forward, that’s happened in the last week or two and as a consequence they’ve got a couple of victories. There’s still three teams in the mire and a little gap between them and the next one up. To bridge that gap is the next target.”
With the bookies offering odds around 15/1 for an away win, our chances of an upset are optimistic at best. We ask Stuart for the insider’s view – could they really do it?
He says: “The formation has changed slightly and it looks a lot more solid. You feared what might happen at Goodison Park had they played the way they have been playing but it looks a bit better now.
“Can it happen? It’s a very slim chance! Who knows? Daggers get a goal, Everton get four men sent off and you’re in…!” he laughs. “You have to remember Daggers don’t pay for players and they don’t pay the players very much. Everton have paid, what, £28m for Lukaku? That sort of sums it up really.
“It’s 11 against 11 and I hope someone has a really good game. If they can come out of it with their heads held high then they can go into their next league game. We hope they do well, put on a show and everyone has a great day. Decent performance against Everton, attract a few more fans and get the first home win of the season the following week. Fantastic.”
A huge roar from the 1,883 travelling fans greets the sides as they head out to the tune of Z-Cars. We notice a bit of boo-ing for Pienaar and Lennon from the away end as their names are read out, suggesting a slight West Ham bias in our pocket of the crowd at least. This continues throughout the game.
“He’s got no hair but we don’t care, Johnny, Johnny Still…” sing the fans, as the first man to manage the merged Dagenham FC with Redbridge Forest back in 1992, who later returned to the Club to guide them into Football League, takes his place in the dugout alongside Roberto Martinez.
A huge cheer greets Dagenham’s first corner in the 14th minute – a rare foray into the opposition half in the opening quarter of an hour – in a chance that comes to nothing.
“Funes Mori’s wearing leggings,” observes Warin, on what is a fairly mild January afternoon. There’s a famous horse race not far from here where that sort of thing is acceptable but the FA Cup Third Round isn’t one of them.
“Tottenham reject!” shouts a fan behind me with venom as Mirallas takes a corner. “That’s not Pienaar,” says his mate. “Oh! Wanker! Wanker!” he responds, combining incisive wit with remarkable recovery skills.
Arouna Kone gives Everton the lead in the 32nd minute with a simple close-range header from a free-kick won by Aaron Lennon. It’s a rare clear cut chance in a game the home side have dominated despite only really testing Cousins once so far with an acrobatic save.
Former Watford and Sunderland veteran Nyron Nosworthy, a man mountain marshalling the backline so far, generates a big cheer midway through the first half as he shows great skill to turn out of trouble on the ball and clear danger. It might just make Soccer AM’s Showboat feature. Not bad for a 35-year-old centre half.
Everton devote half-time to the whole ground wishing 12-year-old Noah, a young fan with a life-limiting illness ‘Happy Birthday’ (an online campaign for fans to bring the youngster birthday cards to the disabled bay he watches every home game from generated a huge response) as well as screening a video of two young boys who are guests of honour today.
Seeing 10-year-old Kyle Fay break down in tears on Christmas Day as he discovers both he and his nine-year-old brother Denver, the sibling he’s supported through 15 brain operations, are going to meet their heroes is enough to get a lip wobble going with even the most hardened football fan. The Dagenham crowd applaud as Everton Football Club truly demonstrate their class.
“Pub team from Essex! We’re just a pub team from Essex!” sing the travelling support as Everton continue to make hard work of breaking them down in the second half. In truth, Dagenham offer little in return as they defend stubbornly in numbers. The introduction of Jamie Cureton and Jodi Jones, a player who warranted 47 scouts at a recent game according to Stuart, gives fresh impetus but little end result.
In the final quarter of an hour, we’re treated to two pitch invasions. The latter is a fairly standard affair as a young fan races down the pitch towards Cousin’s goal before being firmly halted by Roberto Martinez on his way back up the touchline, leaving a floored match steward in his wake.
The first has since gone viral as a black and white cat made its way across the pitch before freezing in terror at the travelling hoardes of Daggers chanting his name.
“The cat’s offside!” is one of the first references to the frightened feline as Everton camp out in the opposite half. By this point, most of the away fans have stopped watching the game as all focus turns to the cat.
“Pussy is a Dagger, Pussy is a Dagger…” soon follows before several more less publishable chants are rounded off with a simple but effective ‘Who are ya?’. Joel Robles attempts to creep up on the cat fail miserably and are met with the level of ridicule that only a British football crowd can muster.
Everton wrap up the game with the cat actually on the pitch. During the excitement, a tired lunge from Nosworthy brought down the quick feet of Mirallas in the box, who then stepped up to convert the penalty and finish the tie. Despite 74% possession and eight shots on target to zero, Everton would finish the game unable to break down the stubborn Daggers in open play.
The home fans applaud both the Dag and Red team and supporters as John Still’s men thank the travelling faithful. It’s been the performance Stuart had hoped for and will have surely won them a few more through the gates as they look for that first home win of the season.
We trudge back in the direction of Liverpool Lime Street and share a taxi with two fans who’ve also jumped on the Daggers bandwagon. We spend an equal amount of time discussing the performance as we do the pitch invaders.
The young fan who sprinted the length of the field in the final minutes will now probably get a stadium ban while the cat went on to make a brief appearance on Match of the Day and has now replaced Ian Wright with immediate effect. The FA Cup Third Round provides unlikely winners and losers once again.
The Underdog Blog Record 2015/16
P 8 W 2 D 3 L 3 F 5 A 8 GD -4
Everton FC vs Dagenham and Redbridge FC
FA Cup Third Round
Saturday 9th January 2016
Goodison Park, Liverpool, Merseyside
Everton FC 2 – 0 Dagenham and Redbridge FC
Kone (32), Mirallas (85 Pen)
Everton: (4-2-3-1) Robles; Oviedo, Jagielka, Funes Mori (Pennington, h-t), Galloway; Besic, Gibson; Lennon (Rodriguez, 89), Mirallas, Pienaar (Osman 77); Koné.
Dagenham & Redbridge: (3-5-2) Cousins; Worrall, Nosworthy, Dikamona; Passley, Labadie, Muldoon, Raymond, Hemmings (Connors ,75); Doidge (Cureton, 66), Chambers (Jones, 62).
Referee: Paul Tierney