I wrote this back in 2002 and took it offline quite some time ago. I’ve been asked repeatedly to republish this, and have now done so. I’m not sure how long it will remain online this time, so please enjoy it whilst it is available.
Written back in 2002.
As publicised by the original Dagenham Fanzine ‘Come on Dagenham, use your forwards’.
Auntie Merge’s memoirs – expurgated version
I was a Leytonstone-Ilford Raffle Ticket Seller
This article is an expurgated version of events, as I feel that some of the occurrences are long dead, and it would only be detrimental to revive them, in any form. I love the club Dagenham & Redbridge FC, and do not wish to open old wounds, show disrespect, or harm the club in any way by the publication of this article. I was asked “how it was for me” and this is it.
My club history:
1982-1989 Leytonstone/Ilford FC
1989-1990 Redbridge Forest FC
1984-1992 Dagenham FC
1992- Dagenham and Redbridge FC
Secretary, Leytonstone/Ilford FSC 1983-1989
Chairman, Redbridge Forest Supporters Club 1989-1990
I never knew the history of Leytonstone/Ilford when I started watching them; apart from the fact that they had been very successful the previous season (1981/1982: Isthmian Championship, League Cup, Essex Senior, London Senior and Dylon Charity Shield).
Like most people, my football enthusiasm came from my brother, known to most as “Water Rat” and he took me along to see my first game in September 1982 when we were away to Royston in the FA Cup. We won 5-0 (Borland 2, Harris, Brown, Wiles).
After that initiation, at each home game I was approached by Pat Manley, who repeatedly asked me to sell raffle tickets and being the shy – strange, but true – 15 year old I was, I repeatedly declined. Then I gave in and said ‘just this once’. Many years later I was still selling raffle tickets for the club.
My parents loathed me going to football. One game I think my dad even locked me in my bedroom to stop me from going – until I screamed to be let out. They said they wanted a daughter and all they got was another son.
Back in 1983, the club colours were Red, White and Blue, but I couldn’t get an appropriate scarf anywhere without the word “England” emblazoned all over it. So I set about knitting my own, knitting a red white and blue square for each letter of Leytonstone/Ilford FC. The finished effort was 25ft long, although it now measures 33ft, due to being stretched over the years. I also knitted an 18ft by 3ft banner or blanket, which was useful at cold winter games.
On Monday, 19 November 1984 I saw my first Dagenham FC game. Then Dagenham FC were in the Gola/Conference league but I went to see them play Swindon at home in the First Round of the FA Cup, the game having been postponed from the Saturday. The atmosphere at Victoria Road was unlike anything I had ever experienced at Granleigh Road – for a start there were people there! (Result 0-0).
From that moment on I was hooked and adopted Dagenham FC as my second team. I saw as many Dagenham games as I could in a season when we weren’t playing. Dagenham playing Monday nights helped. On Bank Holidays, it was not unusual for me to watch Leytonstone/Ilford in the morning and Dagenham in the afternoon, when our kick-offs were at different times. I sold raffle tickets for Dagenham on several occasions. I gave one member of the Leytonstone/Ilford Management Committee a shock; he thought he had escaped me when our game was postponed, only to find me selling tickets for Dagenham. I had also been invited to a Dagenham supporters club meeting with the late great Bill Bridges, to share ideas about fundraising. I promised to knit Ronnie Self a Dagenham scarf to put up in the bar, something that I just never got around to doing.
As I’d come in after the merger of Leytonstone/Ilford, I was oblivious to the alleged divisions within the club – who was Ilford and who was Leytonstone; everyone just seemed to get on fine. But there was no doubt that by 1985 the club was in severe financial difficulty and it was deepening. They tried all kinds of stunts and even leased out the clubhouse but finally decided to sell Granleigh Road, the original home of Leytonstone FC to groundshare at Walthamstow Avenue whilst they found a suitable permanent home.
At the time I was Secretary of the Leytonstone/Ilford Football Supporters Club and horrified about what was going to happen. Unfortunately there was little that we could do, and it was promised that we were going to get a new ground: the groundshare with Walthamstow WAS temporary; and we should all support the club in this new venture.
Being that we were not full members of the club, many of the supporters felt that they were steamrolled into the move. We arranged a demonstration on the pitch at the last home game. I painted a sheet “LIFC RIP” Not realising at the time, that I would have the opportunity to use it on several occasions after. The majority of supporters were not on speaking terms with any of the management committee, myself included, and our actions that day antagonised things further, culminating in a heated exchange of words between myself and the Chairman, Dave Andrews.
The club sold the ground for approximately £750,000 to Mecca, who we understood, had every intention of using it as a sports facility. They sold the floodlights on to Pennant FC and it was an emotional time when I passed the ground on the tube everyday (as well as the BR station above the ground, the Central Line ran at the back) and saw the floodlights disappear one by one. Then the property boom happened, and within months Mecca had sold Granleigh Road to a property developer for approximately £2,000,000. I think it is fair to say that everyone concerned with the club was gutted.
The club moved into Walthamstow and tried really to make the best of a bad job. We had lost many regular supporters, not because the club was too far to travel, but out of protest at the move. The club realised that with the property boom, there was no chance of us finding a new home and that Walthamstow were also experiencing some financial difficulties. Whilst we were tenants at Green Pond Road we were locked out of the ground. Once by the league because the pitch wasn’t up to standard – we used to nickname it Green Pond Ditch because you could tell where the pond was, and once by bailiffs, due to Walthamstow’s non-payment of bills.
There is no doubt too, that as soon as we arrived at Walthamstow rumours were abound about our possible merger. It soon became apparent that it was not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
By this time I had learnt my lesson, and had ensured that I was a full member of the club, with voting rights. Somehow too, I had become on speaking terms with Dave Andrews, I think he realised that he needed the supporters behind him and having some reasonable level of communication with the supporters club was the way to do it.
I should have explained, the supporters club was started in 1983, I joined the inaugural committee, and for some reason we appeared to be heavily despised by the Management Committee. I can’t say that we did anything to help the situation by the few of us who did cheer at the games, humming the death march whenever a member of the MC walked passed us during the game. But the Programme Editor never helped the situation either, by regularly calling us the “Lunatic Fringe”.
The merger was definitely going to happen and we were all encouraged to support the clubs plans. A number of supporters had expressed their displeasure at the prospect of the merger. Those of us on the supporters club committee who believed the merger should happen had “pre-merger” talks with both the Walthamstow Avenue Supporters Club (Chaired by Dennis Johnstone) and the recently formed Avenue Booster Club (Chaired by Dave Simpson), about the formation and running of our merged supporters club.
We already knew that the club would be called Leytonstone/Ilford incorporating Walthamstow Avenue for a season (to ensure that we kept our league status) before becoming Redbridge Forest. At the Management meeting to vote for the merger, we were shown plans for a new ground that the club hoped to build, after they had sold Walthamstow Avenue for development; the Taylor report making the cost of ground improvements prohibitive. Hey presto! The merger went through.
I don’t think that anyone was taken in more with the promise of success through the merger than myself; I became almost club’s salesperson, selling the idea on among the supporters and encouraging those who were not swayed, how good it would be; how fantastic our new ground would be (I had seen yet another set of plans). I was not the club’s puppet but there is no doubt that I was taken in, as many others were, by the promise of good things to come. You can probably understand then how let down I felt by the events that followed.
The whole of the 1988/1989 season in the Isthmian (Vauxhall Opel League) was a two-horse race, that between ourselves (LIFC inc WA) and Farnborough Town. The previous season we had been hammered at Farnborough 4-0 in a game dominated by mud and rain. We went to Farnborough on 27 March and played brilliantly winning 2-1, with goals scored by Micky Dingwall and Joe Simmonds (and I started a pitch invasion – wouldn’t be allowed now!) Farnborough had played more games than us, and we were rapidly creeping up behind them. We won the league the Saturday before the end of the season, by drawing 2-2 away at Hendon, (I remember shouting at the players’ “Farnborough are losing” when we still had 10 minutes to go), as there was just a point in it. Our final game was at home to Farnborough. I was still selling the match day raffle tickets (Editor: wasn’t that “just this once” back in 1982?) and had a t-shirt specially printed for the occasion:
LEYTONSTONE/ILFORD VOL CHAMPIONS 1988/1989.
As I went around the ground a number of Farnborough supporters were singing “Going Up” and “We’re going up, you’re not”. But I never questioned in any depth what they were saying, far too caught up in the party atmosphere and our win of 5-2.
Being the close season things happened very rapidly and without the approval of the club members. Apparently, Green Pond Road was unfit for Conference football, so the club rushed to find a ground sharing agreement with another local club. We all thought we were going to Orient only to find out that we had signed a ground sharing agreement with Dagenham. The club did this, thinking that we would automatically get into the conference, but as most of the Farnborough supporters already knew, they were to be promoted instead of ourselves. The club had sacrificed its tatty home prematurely and to no avail.
Given that I loved Dagenham so, you’d probably think I was overjoyed at this prospect but I was not. From the moment the agreement was signed, merger rumours started all over again. Redbridge Forest’s proposed new ground in Chingford had fallen through because the boundary line between Redbridge and Waltham Forest Council ran straight across the middle of the pitch, and neither Council would agree to anything without the other Council first saying yes.
We were now looking at buying and developing a pitch at Wadham Lodge but there was uproar from the local residents. The club held a local meeting at Wadham Lodge, with the local councillor present, but there was no doubt that the objections were going to be far too strong, and we were just not going to get planning permission.
Then the Vauxhall League heard the rumours, and made the club bring the discussions into the public arena.
One of the Redbridge Supporters wanted to stand and hand out leaflets to those attending Dagenham’s AGM. I wrote and printed a leaflet for him to hand out, (including the phrase ‘don’t be ruled by greed; be ruled by loyalty’, later used by others on placards). Dave Andrews saw me the week after and told me off for handing out leaflets at Dagenham’s AGM. I told him he was wrong; I was standing and talking to the person handing out the leaflets, I didn’t actually hand any out myself. Sorry Dave, but had you accused me of producing the leaflets, you’d have probably had a full confession!
August 1990. After a public disagreement between a member of the management committee and myself, I felt that I could do no more as Chairman of the Supporters Club for Redbridge Forest, and resigned at our committee meeting the next evening. I had always said that I would go when I stopped giving my best and I had felt that time had come.
One of Dagenham’s first away games during the 1990-91 season was at Carshalton on 25 August, and I happened to be in the area on that day and I stopped by. Dagenham won 3-0, with the Warner Brothers (John 2, Steve 1) providing the entertainment. Within a matter of weeks I was a regular at Victoria Road, and having been a full member of Redbridge Forest/LIFC for a number of years, I decided to become a full member of my second team Dagenham.
I made no attempt to hide my feelings about the potential merger with Redbridge Forest and within a matter of days, had been Christened ‘Auntie Merge’, given to me because the Dagenham supporters didn’t know my name, but knew I was ‘anti-merge’.
My actions cost me a number of friends from Redbridge Forest and for a while I didn’t speak to anyone unless they spoke to me, to enable me to find out who my real friends were. On a number of occasions I came into the bar at Victoria Road, only to be greeted with a chant of “Judas” from the Redbridge Forest players.
I suppose more than most, I had allegiances to both clubs, I wanted both clubs to succeed but in their own right (but after I resigned, I do admit to cheering when Redbridge lost!). I felt betrayed by the actions of the Management of Redbridge Forest and didn’t want Dagenham to become tainted with any of the ill feeling that went with Redbridge history. I also felt deceived by what had happened over the ground share at Victoria Road. I was a full member of the club, I did not vote whether we wanted to ground share: we were not given an option.
At least 30 Dagenham supporters held an unofficial meeting in the upstairs bar after one home game, which a member of the local press attended. A number of people were selected to organise some sort of campaign against the merger. I had offered my support but stated clearly that I was unable to give any time or commitment to such a campaign. I still cannot understand why an article then appeared in the Ilford Recorder, stating that I ‘was leading a campaign’ to save Dagenham Football Club. This article was completely untrue.
Given all of my history with both clubs, and particularly in relation to mergers and groundshares, there was no way that I felt that I could vote for a merger between Redbridge and Dagenham. I voted no.
Although my vote was for no, I did accept the views of the majority, because there was no way after seeing what had happened before, that I felt with my heart I could ever vote yes.
Since then, I have continued to support my team Dagenham and Redbridge, though work commitments keep me away. I may not have the 100% attendance record that I held between 1984 and 1990, where I didn’t miss a league game for 7 years, but my heart is still with the club and I am proud of what has been achieved.
In fact, recently I have been discussing with a friend what would I prefer now: to be languishing in the bowels of the pyramid, or the current success that the club has.
My answer is different to what it was at the time of the merger; then I wanted the club, because I knew no different. But having tasted the atmosphere of the Trophy Final, Charlton, Exeter, and Ipswich I now want success for the club. Long may that success continue.
Copyright © Suzanne Collier 2002, 2015. All rights reserved. Photographs © Suzanne Collier.