The Daggers have made the long trip westwards today, for a game against Exeter City. It’s been unfortunate recently that I haven’t been able to make any of the last three daggers games; two because of international duty, and then because of cash.
Since my last Daggers game, the team have drawn at Leyton Orient (1-1), at home to Sheffield Wednesday (also 1-1), and then lost 0-1 at home to Brighton. Two points from those three games isn’t a bad return, but the bottom of the division is tight enough that one win from those three would have helped us out enormously. Still, it’s two more than some would have expected. Today’s reason for missing the trip though is all down to money. In the next few weeks, we have a trip to Brighton, and then to Tranmere four days later. These are not cheap days out. As mentioned recently by Mark Pitman in his piece about the Welsh Premier League, cost is becoming an increasingly important factor when selecting which games to attend.
So, I have instead have settled on a local game. Today’s match of choice is an Essex Senior League game, at the Terrance MacMillan Stadium in Plaistow between London APSA and Southend Manor.
APSA were formed less than twenty years ago, when the Asian Football League (AFL) started, and after several years playing in this league, the club made the step up to the senior level. The club (then known as Ahle Sunnah) won the first Asian League, and played for several years in various Asian run competitions. According to the club history, the plan was to eventually get the club playing senior football, but their home, the Terrance MacMillan Stadium wasn’t up to scratch at the time. So while the stadium was bought up to standard, they played at Aveley FC, before heading back to Plaistow. They eventually gained their place in the Essex Senior League in 2003, and have spent the intervening years there.
Saturday 2nd April, London APSA v Southend Manor, Terrance MacMillan Stadium
Cost today is not an issue here; it’s a fiver to get in (after you’ve managed to successfully negotiate the front desk to the leisure centre that the stadium is attached to), and £1 for the programme. This however, is a bit of a problem, as I only have a £10 note, and those collecting the money don’t have any change. So the idea is that after finding the tea bar, I can go back to them to pay for the programme. Except that they don’t have any change either, and so Dan coughs up to pay for my tea and programme.
We are not expecting a big crowd today. A quick glance at the attendance stats in the programme shows that APSA have the lowest average gate in the league, with just 17. Southend Manor average 50, so it’s not going to get terribly busy today, which might be handy if they haven’t got change for programmes or the tea bar.
Although the club has strong Asian links, there are strangely few in the crowd. The six-a-side pitches outside the centre are full of people playing the short-sided version of the game, but none of these will wonder in to the stadium to watch the game. Their “A” side are doing very well in the South Essex Sunday Football League, and are in the running for three trophies. However, will any of these make the step up to the first team?
After the obligatory handshakes between the match officials and the two teams, the game begins. However, the first few minutes are not particularly exciting, and two small kids that have wondered in are running around the athletics track with luminous guns, ending up in the steeplechase water pit. Once bored with that, they end up in the hammer throw net, and rest up for a bit, clearly conserving energy for their next big operation.
The home side have had a few corners and done nothing with them. But after a quarter of an hour, it’s the visitors who go in front. A shot through a crowded area falls to the feet of Terry Griffiths, who half volleys the ball home. This brings several volleys of abuse aimed at the female assistant referee who is patrolling the left side of the APSA defence. We only find out the scorer in the second half; there are no announcements as there doesn’t look to be a public address system. Perhaps if there was anything wrong, the whole crowd could be notified by an announcement at conversational level.
Just a minute after the goal, there is more mouthing off, this time by the left back of APSA, and the referee awards a free kick. With the play over the other side of the pitch and not much crowd noise to drown it out, we can hear more or less the verbals being given out. It’s a daft moment, as the free kick is straight in front of goal, about twenty yards out. The free kick though isn’t taken advantage of, and so he gets away with it.
This sets a trend during the first half, of whoever appeals the loudest, gets the decision. There are several that have those watching (and those playing by the looks of it) generally bemused by the decisions that the officiating team are making. To be fair to them, they also get a couple of close calls right, but that doesn’t help their caase, at least in the eyes of both sets of management, whose complaints you can clearly hear, even from the other side of the arena.
It takes APSA a good half an hour to create their first proper chance at goal, but this is comfortably saved by the Manor goalkeeper. They are forcing a few corners, which is down to either good attacking play or the playing surface which is causing the ball to bounce up and bobble at the wrong moment. There is enough time for a quick break by the visitors just before the half time, but nothing comes of it, and so when the players troop off across the running track to the changing rooms, Manor are still 1 up.
At this point, the crowd, such as it is, disappear from the seated area, and wonder off. Hopefully they are going to supply the tea bar with loads of change, but from the amount of polystyrene cups that are visible for the start of the second half, I’m not so sure that they have.
After a quarter of an hour, Southend are 2-0 up. It’s at this point that we find out who scored the first, when (presumably) a home official wonders over to a couple of visiting fans to ask who got their second. They think that the first was scored by Terry Griffiths and the second was by Eddie someone – quick as a flash Dan turns round to ponder out loud if it was Eddie Charlton. All we need is for Cliff Thorburn to get a third and we are sorted. Someone helpfully reckons that it was actually Eddie Hart, but that’s all we know. The goal is actually quite a nice flick with the outside of the left foot, after a clearance rebounds back into the area. It loops over the keeper, and nestles nicely in the back of the net.
The refereeing fun and games continue a few minutes later, when he awards a thrown in to the home side, but it looks as though it’s taken by the visitors. Play continues, with the APSA players trying to get back into position, indignant that they have been deprived a throw in that they thought was theirs. To make matters worse, the ball then goes out of play and the linesman on the far side to where we are sitting signals a goal kick, but the referee awards a corner. Cue more “industrial” language from the home team, but there is no card, or free kick. We all know that officials have a difficult time of it; players trying to get opponents sent off, faking injuries and such like, and we know that everyone makes mistakes. The two assistants though seem to be making a decision, only for the head honcho in the middle to over-rule them.
APSA are starting to look a bit dispirited when they make their two substitutions. The two that come on looked ok at the half time interval, but that was with no-one to tackle them. How will they do with opponents?
The answer is not much. With ten to go, Manor score a third with the best move of the game. Some neat passing is finished off with a shot from the edge of the area to finish off the game. Almost at the same moment, we get a text from down south; Dagenham have gone in front.
Feeling quite happy with our selves, we sit through the next couple of minutes of the game in front of us, thinking about how many places we will go up in the division if we can hold on. Dan even produces the league table on his phone (which at this point has us at 18th) only then to get another message; Exeter have equalised.
Still a point for us would be a good outcome. With this one drawing to a close, our thoughts are turning westward again. As we leave the stadium, and manage to get through the turnstile at the sports centre, we get another message; Exeter have won 2-1. Frustrated is the only word I can think of to describe how I feel at this moment. Well, I can think of others, but I’m not going to use those ones. A winning position has been lost, and now, with Peterborough at home on Tuesday, this run in to the end of the season is going to get tight again. This could still be a bumpy ride to May 7th.