Tony has enjoyed ten years with Daggers after injury looked to have ended his career. (©PAphotos)
Last week after Liverpool defeated a tricky Napoli side 3-1 in the Europa League, Jamie Carragher was quick to salute his friend and club captain Steven Gerrard, claiming that the talisman is the club’s greatest ever player.
Of course, few at the present moment could argue against that as Gerrard is an integral part of the team and his goals have time and time again have turned possible defeats and draws into win.
In the Premier League, it’s fairly easy for fans up and down the country to give an opinion as to who the greatest player of certain teams are.
Everyone if asked about who is Manchester United’s greatest ever player would usually say one of Eric Cantona, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Bryan Robson or Ryan Giggs.
It would be the same for Chelsea with fans suggesting names like Gianfranco Zola, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ron Harris, John Hollins and Peter Osgood as the club’s greatest ever player.
For Dagenham & Redbridge on the other hand, it’s a different story as there is only one real stand-out contender for the club’s greatest ever player title. It’s not that there have not been good players for the club, as there have especially in the last four or five years when the club has been arguably at its most successful. It’s just that Tony Roberts, the Daggers’ experienced and veteran goalkeeper is the stand-out candidate.
It’s hard to argue against Roberts being the club’s greatest ever player especially when you consider just how much effort the Welsh keeper has put into the club. Roberts is the club’s record appearance holder with over 400 games and counting. Added to that, the popular shot stopper has also won the club’s player of the year three times as well and remains one of only three goalkeepers to have scored in the FA Cup, when he notched against Basingstoke back in 2001.
Roberts has been a regular for the team since joining in the summer of 2000 and back in July 2007, was awarded with a sell out crowd for his testimonial match against a strong West Ham side.
Last season his stops played a vital part in John Still’s side gaining promotion to League One via the play-offs which ended up with the Daggers’ defeating Rotherham 3-2 in the final at Wembley.
However, it could have all been so different for both club and player had a freak injury suffered by Roberts during the end of his 11-year stay at QPR been a lot worse. In making a save against Ipswich the ball caught the keeper bang-on the tip of his ring finger and twisted the digit off at a highly unnatural angle.
Less than a year later he suffered a similar injury whilst playing for Millwall and decided to retire from professional football after a surgeon advised him that if the injury occurred again he might lose the finger permanently. A short dabble playing back in non-league and in America followed and it wasn’t until Garry Hill his former boss at St Albans brought him to Victoria Road that Roberts career began to move back upwards.
During his ten-year stay at the club, Roberts has seen the Daggers grow from a good non-league team to a club with due respect that, at the moment, is punching above its weight in League One against the likes of Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield.
Still and the club’s board have always believed in him and when the Daggers gained promotion to the Football League in 2007, helped Roberts achieve his dream of playing as a pro again. Their gesture to him was to refund part of an insurance pay-out which Roberts took out after his injuries back in 1998, so he could play as a pro again.
It has proven to be a brilliant bit of business as there’s no doubt Roberts’ experience at the heart of the Daggers back-line helped assure some of the inexperienced players in Still’s side in maintaining their place as a football league club.
Sadly in football today more attention is given to top flight players who portrayed as role-models in the press. Whilst that’s understandable as they are of course playing in the Premier League, more attention should be paid to players like Roberts.
Aside from his time as the Daggers first choice keeper, Roberts is also helping coach some of the keepers of the future and is currently the academy goalkeeping coach at Arsenal and he had previously held a similar spell at QPR. One of the goalies that he’s helped coach is Arsenal’s talented young Polish keeper Wojciech Szczęsny.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.