28/12/21 Dagenham and Redbridge v Aldershot, National League. A Shot With A Plastic Knife.

There’s quirks in my character, I don’t understand. Yes, I know there’s huge swathes of it, other people don’t understand, but it comes to something when I don’t understand bits. This game was to complete a long held, banal ambition of mine. I may have been to over 170 grounds now, but in my eyes, until I had visited all the grounds my brother Les has done, it’s a missing piece of the jigsaw. Some people would allude to ‘missing link”, but we’ll just say missing jigsaw piece for now thank you very much. Fact is, I will never be able to say that I’ve truly done the set, and it really is only a fraction of the grounds I’ve done, because Barnet have moved grounds since Les watched Shrewsbury at Underhill. I’ve visited the Beehive of course, but can it really be classed as the same? Now if you think that’s sad. My Mom only ever went to one proper game, Southend versus Shrewsbury. It was of course, a momentous occasion within our family, because she was actually in her 70s at the time. Me? I was jealous that she’d visited a ground that I hadn’t done, and I endeavoured to grab the earliest opportunity to do Roots Hall with Blues. I even suffered travelling by official club coach to watch us win 4:0. Shaking your head after reading that? Well I did say that there was quirks in my character that I don’t understand. So it was a train to Paddington from West Drayton, Bakerloo line on the underground to Oxford Circus, and then Central line to Bethnal Green. I’d noticed that a subservient London population was following the rules like good little sheep and were wearing masks. It both annoys and makes me smile in equal measure. You’d do just as well, holding your breath when you walk passed someone, than you are with wearing those ineffectual things, but hey ho, we’re in the grip of control to the point of inducing intense paranoia. Save all your footsteps for running down the motorway. I thought I’d been really lucky with both the overground and underground. I hadn’t even encountered any Wombles. Although, having said that, I wouldn’t have recognised them anyway, because they’d have been wearing masks. Just a couple of questions and an observation to make you think. Children are not immune from this virus, are they? A child’s immune system isn’t fully developed until they reach roughly the age of 5, is it? So if ‘children are our future’ as the sickly sweet song goes, why hasn’t it been made compulsory for ALL children, regardless of age, to wear masks? Just one of the many many things that hasn’t been fully explained to us all. Told you, it maybe a very nasty virus, and it really is, I’m not going to begin to say it’s not, but how it’s been and is being handled throughout the world, is all about propaganda, manipulation and control. Think for yourselves and don’t be a sheep. Right, back to thinking I’d been lucky. I’d done my research, done my itinerary and I thought I was set. Wrong. At Christmas, pub opening times are different. It’s always a good idea to make sure you check on them before you venture out to them. However, even then, they don’t always adhere to those opening times. Both pubs on my itinerary that claimed to be opening at 11 o’clock, decided not to. I now had a dilemma on my hands. Did I have a wander round, or did I try and work out somewhere else to go, baring in mind that everywhere else would probably be the same? I decided to have a wander round. Although it was ultimately an exercise in wasting time, it gave me an opportunity to just mooch and take in my surroundings. A tourist off the beaten track. Eventually, The Old George finally opened its doors.

“The next mandatory Covid restrictions for everyone, male and female”
“An old pub with a new take”

I liked the Old George. It was trying hard and succeeding. Along with its eclectic decor, it served both key keg and cask ale. It had the feel of a well loved local, but for a younger, bohemian type crowd. I moved on to The Florist. No, I wasn’t looking to buy a bunch of flowers for anyone. That’s just not something I do. The Florist is a back street boozer that’s gone up market a bit. The manager hadn’t much voice left, a legacy of celebrating her birthday on the 23rd. If I’m being honest, it just made her even sexier. I’d got one pub on my itinerary that I was determined to do whatever happened, and so forgoed The Camel, in favour of getting the tube to Upton Park. I went to Upton Park four times, the last time being in February 2006. The visits must’ve made a huge impression on me, because as soon as I got off the train, I instinctively knew where I was going. If I’m being totally honest, I even had those old familiar butterflies, but I put that down to expectations rather than needing to keep my wits about me. Upon Park was a ground that you didn’t take liberties around.

“There was none of this sort of thing on a matchday. I had to remind myself I was still on Green Street”

I’ve got to say, I miss the old ground. I’ve been to the new place once, hated everything about it and will seriously think twice before going again. I can understand West Ham fans of a certain maturity not bothering with the athletics stadium that they now play at. For them, and for a certain extent, me, the soul has been ripped out of the club.

“Brady flats”

The famous Boyleyn Tavern is thankfully still there though, but after a long period of closure, has since been restored to its original state. Remarkably, I still knew where the toilets were without needing to look for signs or ask for directions. I suppose that may have been because of a lunchtime session I had in there when Charlton were using Upton Park for their own spell of ground hopping. An insipid 0:0 draw with Blues was ‘live’ on ITV one Sunday afternoon in November 1992. A game that instead of a hearty roast lunch, a standard packet of crisps would have sufficed to send you off to sleep whilst watching.

Hey, how about that then? Something different with photos. Yeah yeah, I pressed something I shouldn’t have, and just don’t want to go through the hassle of rectifying it. I’ve got other stuff that I need to do. Maybe if I did this for a living, I’d have a team of servants to do the mundane stuff. Maybe this blog wouldn’t be so appalling either.

“There. Back to normal in more ways than one”

It has been beautifully restored, and if I hadn’t known its history, then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so wistful. Any self respecting young Hammer that didn’t have the pleasure of being a regular at Upton Park, certainly needs to take a visit and imagine the place absolutely heaving and jumping on a matchday. I’ve mentioned the Charlton game, it was a ‘no go’ pub for an away fan if West Ham were at home. Even a lone ground hopper was viewed with an aggressive suspicion. Like I’ve said, you really needed to keep your wits about you. Times change though, and I actually got chatting to an expat Hammer who had lived in Essex (where else?) for a couple of decades. Like me, he’d been curious to find out how the pub had changed. I wouldn’t have minded chatting to him for a lot longer, but I still needed to get the tube the rest of the way to Dagenham East. Amazingly, I got my timing just perfect.

“Chigwell Constr..whoa, what you doing Sid? You don’t do sponsorship remember. It’s Victoria Road, not Chigley Lego or whatever it is”

Victoria Road is a Non-League ground that has sampled time in the EFL. I make it sound like a prison sentence don’t I? Other than the stand that was housing the travelling Aldershot support, I can’t see that there’s been much change. Outside the ground, it looks like there’s been an addition to the office facilities, but inside, other than the away stand, I don’t suppose I would’ve noticed any difference had I visited with Telford, all those years ago. I’m not going to say it was boring, but Dagenham were relying on long ball tactics. Anyone who knows me and reads this heap of manure, will know that I’m not a fan of long ball. In fact, I absolutely hate it. You want to gain territory by playing it, then find an oval ball game to get involved with. A football is round, it bounces and rolls properly. Stop booting it as hard and as far as you can up into the air, with the hope of attracting snow. The best and possibly only piece of skill that lit up an otherwise dark first half, was reserved for, and displayed by the keeper, who expertly side stepped an onrushing forward. It wasn’t much to write home about. Wasn’t really even worth taking the lid off the pen for. Judging by the sky, which I spent a lot of time following the ball into, it indicated an impending deluge. I moved under cover, leaving the hardy and the stupid to reach for the shower gel they’d got for Christmas. The second half at least brought a goal. It was a classic through ball, latched onto by the only Daggers player who tried putting his foot on the ball, as opposed to through it, the whole game. He cunningly cut across the defender, knowing that the defender would have to foul him to stop an attempt on goal. As the goalie advanced, he slipped it passed and into the net. Although I was struggling with watching the proceedings, the locals all seemed happy. I remember as a kid watching Telford, Dagenham and Redbridge were always a team that was big, strong and direct. Looks like nothing has changed. Certain clubs have their own traditional playing style, and I can see myself thinking twice about attending another game involving Dagenham and Redbridge.

However, after going in search of a programme and discovering a magnificent, magical programme cabin, I may have to return. This wonderful place was pure eye candy to an old football addict like myself. Run by a knowledgeable gentleman by the name of John Chapman, If you’re similar to me and as yet, not on a course of therapy, then I fully recommend you empty your bank account and take a small trolley with you when you visit. The silly grin of contentment that will no doubt appear on your fizzog, won’t be wiped off with a Brillo pad. After hearing I was after Blues and Hearts programmes, he delved into piles of folders and boxes. While I flicked through them, eyes lighting up, he sang ‘Keep Right On’, word for word and slow, like it should be sung. I was always going to buy something, but the rendition of KRO, just rubber stamped it. It turned out, he was a regular at St Andrews when he was at university in Brum. Shunning ‘them lot’ in favour of the Blues. ‘Better fans and atmosphere’ apparently. Well he wasn’t going to get an argument off me, now was he? Saying T’ra, I got the tube back to Paddington, and then the train back to West Drayton to spend what was my last evening with Val and John. The holiday had gone quick.

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