Dagenham and Redbridge?
Say the words ‘Dagenham and Redbridge’ to a Premiership football fan and you’ll probably get a blank stare (attempt to say it to a Premiership footballer on the other hand, and he might say it first*). For officially, the Daggers haven’t actually existed for all that long. A strapping 17 year-old in legal terms, the club remains fairly unknown outside of the lower leagues – even then, the name hardly conjures up images of glory and conquest. Of course – this coming from a Rochdale fan is hardly a damning description, and indeed it is not meant as one. I like Dagenham, I really do. Despite the fact they keep beating us. They play at Victoria Road, which is about as beautiful a name for a football ground as you are likely to come across. And you’d be hard pressed to find a team operating on similar resources that were able to perform to such a high standard as the Daggers’ effort last season. But first, back to the beginning…
*in self defence.
The story of the Daggers’ formation is a fairly nice one as it goes. Back in 1990, Redbridge Forest (itself an amalgamation of North London clubs Leytonstone, Ilford and Walthamstow Avenue) won the Isthmian League for the second time in a row. Denied promotion to the Conference the first time round due to ground regulations, the Reds quickly realised that the answer lay just around the corner, and moved into Dagenham’s Victoria Road Stadium to begin their life as plucky Conference newbies. After two years of bedsharing, the two clubs decided that a life of sin wasn’t for them, and merged into a holy (football being the most beautiful of religions) union. It was 1992, and Dagenham and Redbridge were ready to shoot for the stars.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as poetically as planned, and in 1996 after four steadily declining years (the club finished its inaugural 4 seasons in 3rd, 6th, 15th and 22nd place respectively, so at least they probably saw it coming) the club had been dragged back to Redbridge’s old stomping ground, the Isthmian Premier. With the help of striker Paul Cobb’s 63 goals over 3 seasons, the club managed to drag itself back to the Conference in 2000, incredibly finishing 3rd and 2nd in their first two seasons. Unfortunately for the Daggers, this was back in the days when only one team were promoted from the Conference – especially galling to the fans in 2002 when Boston United were found guilty of making illegal payments to players in their promotion winning season. Dagenham in 2nd place (on goal difference, just to rub salt in the wounds) were unfairly overlooked and Boston went on to make an embarrassment of themselves elsewhere, famously conceding a collector’s item Dave Flitcroft goal in 2003. Justice? Probably. I was there, it was quite a good goal.
Still shellshocked, 3 years of mediocrity followed for the Daggers. John Still took over as manager in 2004 but it wasn’t until May 2007 when an epic battle with ‘big club syndrome’ Oxford United led to Dagenham and Redbridge finally becoming a Football League club. Paul Benson finished top-scorer, and both he and the fans have barely looked back since.
When I look back to the last day of League Two back in May, I genuinely feel for Dagenham. The battle for 7th place and the final playoff spot went down to a slim victory for Paul Simpson’s Shrewsbury at Victoria Road, and a season of solid football for Dagenham was over. Former Dale striker Grant Holt scored a goal that day, after costing Simpson £175,000 as part of a spending spree that failed to get the perennial excuse-meister success in any way, shape or form. Holt has now moved to Norwich after achieving a career total of almost one million English pounds. Dagenham’s goalscorer Paul Benson was spotted on the pitch in 2005 by John Still playing for White Ensign in the Essex Olympian League (if you can find a better club/league name combo I’ll be impressed). Anyway, the disparity between the two clubs was plain to see, and for Dagenham it was a harsh consolation to finish the season in a club record 8th position by just one point. Fortunately, Dale weren’t to blame, generously giving maximum 6 points to Dagenham after a 2-0 El Clasico del Norte victory for Still’s men back in October and a final-minutes capitulation by Dale on Nicky Adams’ debut in the El Classico Del Sud.
Have they peaked? You’d have to guess at yes.
It is difficult to imagine the Daggers having similar success this time around, but having strengthened their defence with the signings of Will Antwi on a free from Wycombe Wanderers and full-back Abu Agogo from Arsenal (on loan at Notts Forest last season), fans will be hoping opponents find it hard to put goals past perennial Dale favourite Tony Roberts. Up front, Paul Benson has shown admirable loyalty in singing a new contract for the club he loves, despite offers from League One Dale-dream-destroyers Gillingham as well as Shrewsbury Town, eager to spend their £400,000 Grant Holt windfall before it shows any danger of being used for financially sensible purposes. Similar to Dale, a playoff position would be impressive, with mid-table mediocrity far more likely.
Dagenham the place?
The closure of the Ford Motor plant in 2002 means that Dagenham shows all the hallmarks of a faded legend. Fraying at the edges and not close enough to Central London to receive any help whatsoever, the town/suburb is being left to its own devices, and it shows. Lots of takeaways and pubs that make you walk back out as soon as you walk in. That sort of place.
Very adept at producing footballers though – Sir Alf Ramsey, Martin Peters, Jimmy Greaves, ‘El’ Terry Venables, John Terry and…er…Paul Konchesky, all hail from the local area.
Dagenham in a word?
Written by Ross Pennington on 5th August 2009.