Dagenham taunts spurred Pilgrims on to title glory

Paul Ellender.
Paul Ellender.

AS THE Standard continues to look back at the 10-year anniversary of Boston United’s Conference-winning season, sports editor Duncan Browne speaks to former club captain Paul Ellender.

PAUL Ellender believes that the taunts from title rivals Dagenham and Redbridge acted as the catalyst which spurred Boston United on to lift the Conference title.

As club captain, the towering defender was the man who lifted the trophy.

But at one pont, many thought that amazing scene would not happen.

The date was March 4, 2002 and the Pilgrims’ hopes of winning promotion to the Football League had taken a massive hit.

Ashley Vickers netted the only goal of the game as, live on Sky TV, the Daggers had beaten Boston 1-0 to move seven points clear at the top of the Conference table.

There were still 14 matches to go, but United looked down and out.

As the fans, with their heads bowed, trudged out of Victoria Road to catch their buses home, the mood was even lower in the visiting dressing room.

And salt was rubbed into their wounds by the home side’s triumphalism.

After doing a celebratory lap of honour around the pitch (something Dagenham boss Garry Hill later claimed his side did every match ‘to thank the fans’) their attention turned to Boston.

“Obviously, it’s not nice when someone bangs on the dressing room door shouting ‘champions’ at you,” Ellender told The Standard.

And it was that moment which made the United players want to ram those taunts back down Dagenham throats.

“You remember things like that,” he added.

“You store them up and use them.”

The following day, as fans glanced over the league table once again and shook their heads, those in the United camp woke up in positive mood.

Manager Steve Evans met with press that day, and had already written out a list of the two opponents’ next 10 fixtures.

Next to each, he predicted the outcomes and, with genuine belief, promised Boston would regain top spot.

Perhaps his mind games worked as, slowly but surely, United forced their way back into pole position.

“That’s what Steve did,” Ellender continued.

“He got the best out of players. We were a very good side and the team spirit was brilliant.

“We weren’t the sort of people who wanted to come second and Steve kept reminding us of that.”

Going into the final day of the season, United and the Daggers were dead level on points, but the Pilgrims had the superior goal difference.

Victory at Hayes would have assured United’s promotion.

Ellender led by example and saw an early effort scrambled clear, before goals from Simon Weatherstone and Ray Warburton secured the Pilgrims’ promotion to the Football League.

Unable to resist having the final say, Evans turned to the TV cameras to take his parting shot at Dagenham.

“They’re going out there to do a lap of honour, because laps of honour are for champions,” he screeched as his players cheered behind him.

“It was nice to win the title after that close season,” Ellender added, before awarding a matter of respect to Dagenham.

“But it didn’t matter who we beat. It was just such a good feeling to win it after being pushed all the way.

“But it was a fantastic feeling to be champions.

“It was my highlight with Boston and a great day for everyone.” Lifting the Conference trophy was a fine way for Ellender to finish his first season with the club.

He had signed from Scarborough for £30,000 after being sold the club by Evans.

But, ironically, the following years saw him go full circle.

He played in the Pilgrims’ first ever match in League Two (a 2-2 home draw with Bournemouth) and also the club’s final match in the Football League.

On May 5, 2007 a 3-1 defeat at Wrexham saw the Pilgrims condemned to relegation.

“To take it to the last day, with money problems and so many players leaving, we nearly pulled off a miracle that day,” Ellender added.

“It was devastating to go down.”

He may have wiped tears from his eyes in Wrexham, but Pilgrims fans will always remember him for that day at Hayes, where you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.