Remembering Sam Dalby's rapid rise from park football to O's goalscorer!
PUBLISHED: 13:00 25 December 2018
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A look back on Sam Dalby's memorable full debut for Leyton Orient on Boxing Day 2016
Football is full of great tales and Boxing Day marks the two-year anniversary since a fresh-faced teenager provided some much-needed joy to Leyton Orient fans.
The date was December 26, 2016 and Crawley Town made the trip to Brisbane Road for an important League Two game.
Orient supporters were really down in the dumps and rightly so as they had gone from the League One play-off final at Wembley in May 2014 to a battle to remain in the Football League in the space of two-and-a-half years.
Under the ownership of Italian Francesco Becchetti, the O’s were heading one way and that was to non-league – somewhere they hadn’t graced since 1905.
When Crawley visited E10, the east Londoners were just outside the bottom two thanks to goal difference and already onto their third manager of the season.
Andy Edwards was the boss at the time and despite the Boxing Day fixture carrying huge importance, he placed his trust in a 17-year-old.
Sam Dalby had only made two appearances for O’s before being handed a full debut against the Red Devils and while many were surprised, Orient youth-team coach Errol McKellar was not.
He explained: “We first heard about Sam when he was 14. He was playing for Buckhurst Hill boys and had been released by Arsenal. Arsenal had a look and apparently didn’t fancy him.
“Two scouts told us about him and they are two very good scouts, and at the time we were thinking ‘if one says it you question it, but if two say it you have to go with it’, so we went with it.
“We got him in and everything he did from then onwards just made it obvious he was one who had slipped through the net.
“He played a few games and even at a young age we got him involved with the under-18s after only two months of him being in the building.
“You could see his potential and I suppose it really came to light when we played Southend United in the FA Youth Cup because he was a revelation in the 6-0 away win and I think that amplified his progress into the first team.
“We were having the problems we were having in the first team at that moment and it meant some of our young boys would get a chance earlier than expected and we felt he was one who could take it with both hands.”
Dalby certainly did just that as four minutes into his first start for O’s, he made Brisbane Road erupt into a state of hysteria.
Nigel Atangana chipped into the area and the teenager, who had only turned 17 earlier in the month, was on hand to volley home in front of 4,486 spectators.
It was a wonderful moment for Dalby and all of his family, who were in attendance for the match, with some coming down from Yorkshire to watch the forward.
McKellar added: “Can you imagine it? First of all it is a great feeling to watch your son play in the first team at a professional football club and then not only does he make his full debut, but he scores a goal and so quickly.
“We take great pleasure and pride in the fact he could do that and for us it was very fitting and I imagine they were so chuffed and over the moon to see it.”
In the space of 18 months, the attacker had gone from playing in a park for Buckhurst Hill boys to scoring in the Football League.
It had been quite the rise and it helped Orient register a terrific 3-2 victory, which was one of the highlights of what would turn out to be a sorry season.
BBC London commentator ‘Dulcet’ Dave Victor remembers the day well, adding: “It was absolutely a highlight. Errol had been telling us for a very long time to watch out for young Sam.
“He was saying he was special and Sam was on the pitch for a few moments and then we were all saying ‘well done Errol you were absolutely right!’
“It was a special afternoon and it gave everyone a little bit of hope, but it was the hope which hurt that season.”
There would be more moments for Dalby and O’s with the fourth manager of the term Danny Webb masterminding a 3-2 win away to promotion-chasing Plymouth Argyle on Valentine’s Day.
Orient’s stunning 4-0 victory at Newport County on March 4, 2017 was also a special afternoon.
Unfortunately they were not a regular occurrence and come the end of the campaign, relegation had been confirmed.
Nevertheless, that goal and the performances at Plymouth and Newport will always be magic moments in a disastrous season.
Victor added: “It was a very exciting young side Sam grew up with and you only have to look at the likes of Steven Alzate, Tristan Abrahams and now Josh Koroma to know just what a golden group they were. They must have helped each other in terms of their development as well.”
Dalby departed Orient to sign for Championship high-flyers Leeds United in January 2018 and so his eventful time in east London came to an end.
He has already made an impact in Yorkshire, where his family originate from, and scored for the Whites in pre-season and it seems the recently-turned 19-year-old has a big future ahead of him.
McKellar said: “Not only from a football point of view did he show great character, but he showed great inner strength as well to deal with the issues while still playing and for such a young man to have that on his shoulders is a credit to him.
“The good thing with Sam is he keeps in touch with all the boys. I believe once a week they are on the phone on social media and stuff like that and he is always interested in what is happening here.
“He is clearly somebody who is very grounded and who has not forgotten where he has come from and the fact this club and people at the club gave him an opportunity to progress in his career.
“And I will keep saying it – watch this space with Sam Dalby because there is much more to come from Sam Dalby.”