PAUL Benson says his first return to Dagenham and Redbridge as an opposition player will be a special occasion.
The Cheltenham Town loan striker will change in the away dressing room for the first time tomorrow, having helped the Daggers climb from non-League football to League One during his five-year spell at Victoria Road.
Benson was playing part-time football in the Essex Intermediate League for White Ensign and working as a trainee accountant in the City of London when John Still signed him for Dagenham in the summer of 2005.
He spent time on trial at Southend, but after impressing in a reserve game for the Daggers he was offered a contract immediately and his career quickly took off.
"I was 24 at the time and I'd given up hope of making it in the professional game," Benson said.
"Dagenham were in the Conference at the time and they weren't great wages because I had to take a cut from my job in London, but I'd always wanted to be a footballer.
"From when I joined, the club kept progressing and we stayed up the first season in the Football League, then just missed out on the play-offs, then went up in the play-offs which was unbelievable.
"My only regret was not playing for them in League One after playing a part in getting them there, but Charlton came in for me."
Benson left Dagenham on good terms and he still returns to watch them play when he can.
He regards Still as one of the best managers around and described Dagenham as one of the most sensibly run clubs in the country.
"I loved that place pretty much from when I first stepped through the door," he said.
"I can't speak highly enough of John Still and I have so much respect for him and his assistant Terry Harris for the way they shaped me as a player and progressed my game.
"Stilly has his stamp on everything and he's left by the chairman to get on with everything.
"He brings players in, sells them on and they only spend what they've got.
"He doesn't go overboard and he is one of the best managers in the lower leagues."
Benson scored against Dagenham in a 4-0 home win for Swindon Town last season on their way to the League Two title.
But he is looking forward to running out at Victoria Road and trying to help current club Cheltenham earn a positive result towards their bid to follow Swindon into League One.
"Dagenham is the first result I look for and I know the team like the back of my hand," he said.
"But any way I can find to get one over them I will use and if there is any club I know about, it's Dagenham and Redbridge.
"I've always had a good relationship with their fans so hopefully I won't get too many boos, but I probably will if I score a couple!"