Roberts creates history to make Daggers dream

The first goalkeeper ever to score in the FA Cup is ready to repel Exeter tonight
Click to follow
The Independent Football

When he is not playing football, Tony Roberts runs a business with his brother selling holiday homes in Orlando, Florida. So how appropriate it is then, that someone whose work takes him so near Disneyworld should be involved with one of the more magical stories of this season's FA Cup.

Roberts, a twice-capped Welsh international and former goalkeeper with Queen's Park Rangers and Millwall, is now with Dagenham and Redbridge and playing part-time since a finger injury forced him out of the professional ranks.

Yet that has not stopped the 32-year-old from creating his own slice of Cup history during the current campaign and before the first round proper of the competition had even started.

The Daggers, who host Exeter City in their second round replay tonight, entered the Cup in the fourth qualifying round and were staring at the wrong end of a Cup upset against Basingstoke. However, in true Peter Schmeichel style, Roberts came up for a corner in injury time and calmly stroked home a shot from 10 yards out to level the match at 2-2 and force a replay which the Daggers won comfortably.

That goal made Roberts the first goalkeeper in the 130-year history of the Cup to have scored, something he was not aware of until a few days later. He said: "Someone phoned me up two days after the goal to tell me I was the first keeper to score in the FA Cup's history. That took a couple of days to sink in and gave me a bit of a buzz.

"We were in training after Schmeichel had got his goal in the Premiership against Everton and I always have a smack in training. I said to the lads I'd get one soon and then a few days later I actually did. I'm trying to make that work with the Lottery numbers now."

Roberts is clearly on a run of inspired Cup form. He was part of the team to stretch Charlton to a replay back in January, when they were only beaten by an injury-time goal, and this season he made a vital penalty save against Southport, as the Daggers went on to win 1-0.

He is not taken aback by his side's exploits, this season or last, and he is now looking forward to a plum home tie against Ipswich in the third round – providing they can cause a hugely possible upset and get past tonight's Third Division opposition.

He says: "We're not surprised we've come this far – not after how we played last year, in the league and Cup. Our league form's been great this season – we're second and won 4-1 at the weekend – and hopefully we can take that into the replay.

"We did well to keep it to 0-0 in the first match against Exeter when our main objective was just to get them back to our place. People said I had a good game then as well. As for tonight's game it'll be totally different from the one 11 days ago.

"Our pitch is nice and tight, unlike the Exeter pitch, and the crowd will be right on top of them. You never know what might happen.

"Also the prospect of facing Ipswich is a good incentive if we get through. Charlton didn't fancy it last season at our place and you never know what might happen in a one-off game, given how Ipswich are placed at the moment."

However, there is no denying, despite all the Cup heroics, that Dagenham's prime purpose this season is promotion to the Football League. Given they are currently sitting pretty and just one point off the top of the Conference, they are well placed to earn the club league status for the first time in its history.

And that would give Roberts an awkward dilemma he is trying to solve at the moment. Having retired from professional football in 1999 and claimed on insurance because of injury, he is not allowed to play full-time football again.

As he says: "I'd love to get back into League football. We're looking into that to see if it's possible, because I did get an insurance pay-out when I retired from professional football."

Given Roberts' association with the world of Disney, surely a win tonight before reclaiming his place among the League's professionals is not out of reach in his own personal fantasy factory.