‘Really special’ - Former Daggers striker Paul Benson recalls Conference winning season
PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 April 2020 | UPDATED: 09:30 07 April 2020
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Today marks 13 years since Dagenham & Redbridge secured promotion to the Football League with a 2-1 win at home to Aldershot Town.
And one member of that legendary side has particularly fond memories of that day and the entire title-winning season.
Striker Paul Benson scored 28 league goals during that campaign, 30 in all competitions, having only joined the Daggers the season before from then Essex Olympian League club White Ensign.
Benson, who now coaches Luton Town’s under-18s, recalls the win over Aldershot as if it had happened yesterday.
“I remember there was a big build-up and we weren’t really used to it as players at that time,” he said.
“It was blazing hot and there was a full crowd there. We were keen to get it done as quickly as possible, that was the first game where we knew that if we won it we would be promoted.
“We wanted it done and dusted there and then and we wanted to win it at home.
“We thought it was important for us that we did it in front of our own crowd so to do that and win it 2-1, to realise we’ve been promoted was special.
“Then we had Cambridge away on the Monday two days later and all the boys had been out celebrating and we got beat 4-2.
“We got stuffed and I think half the boys were still hungover. It was quite a good experience playing when you’ve been out for the last 24 hours then you get thrust straight into another game.”
Dagenham faced stiff competition during the 2006-07 season from an Oxford United side who had been relegated from the Football League the season before.
But the Daggers lost just four league games before the new year and only once prior to promotion being secured at Victoria Road.
Benson insists his side were not thinking of promotion prior to the campaign starting but says they began to believe they could do it around Christmas time.
“At the start of the season I don’t think promotion was necessarily in our heads to be honest,” he added.
“We just wanted to do as well as we could. The season before we finished mid-table roughly, but we finished the season quite well and I think in the summer the gaffer brought in a few new players who were decent players.
“We started off well and momentum just carried us through all the way.
“It was around Christmas time we felt realistically we could get promoted.
“We suffered a bit of a blow with (Craig) Mackail-Smith and (Shane) Blackett going to Peterborough after Christmas but we carried on and the gaffer strengthened in January.
“We kicked on and never looked back really. We went on a good run and overtook Oxford.
The Daggers secured several impressive results that season, including two 5-0 victories, but for Benson there are two particular games that stand out.
“One of the results that stands out would be away at Oxford,” he recalled.
“We didn’t win it but we drew 2-2 and scored really late on.
“That was a great feeling after that game because I think that was one where we felt if we didn’t lose we’d be in with a great chance of winning the league.
“And away at York where we won 3-2 quite early on in the season. We took the train up on the Saturday game and I think it was due to a fatality on the line but we got stuck on the train.
“We missed the kick-off and ended up kicking off at 4pm instead of 3pm. We literally got to the ground about quarter to four, got straight into the dressing room, changed, went straight out and didn’t get a warm-up.
“We won 3-2 and I remember that really well. That summed up the group we had really, we just got on with it.”
Benson went on to win another promotion with Dagenham in 2009-10, scoring 22 goals to reach League One.
But the forward, who went on to play for Charlton Athletic and Luton Town, will always have especially fond memories of the conference winning season because of the number of goals he scored.
He said: “I seemed to be going out confident I’d score in every game we were playing in.
“I was pleased first and foremost that I could play without any injuries that season because the season before I spent a lot of time out injured.
“I had a run where I scored in three or four consecutive games and just kicked on from there.
“Confidence grew and I realised I could score goals at that level.”
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