the daggers voice
Almost a year to the day, a tremendous performance away to mid-table Wrexham not only cemented a play-off spot we had worked so hard to attain, but also encapsulated the incredible spirit and endeavour John Still had extracted from his side during the whole season, even when nothing was expected of our newly-assembled squad. While we can except the same level of work-rate when the Daggers return to North Wales this weekend, the situation is very similar to last year, just with the roles reversed; Wrexham look to cling onto a play-off place which is slowly slipping away, while the Daggers have very little to play for but pride.
Dagenham are still deeply rooted in worrying financial troubles yet have managed to leave that off the pitch in recent weeks. The players are giving everything for the cause and while we've lost a bit of quality, the distinct increase in commitment and desire has compensated for that. We arrive in our best form of 2018 having amassed two wins and two draws from our last four games, of which we were unbeaten in. That included a goalless draw at Gateshead on Good Friday, where a Jake Howells missed penalty late on could've yielded further reward, which followed an excellent victory over Fylde. More recently, we've collected four points from our last two games at Victoria Road, a 2-1 victory over Maidstone then a disappointing 1-1 draw with Woking.
It could've been five unbeaten had Tuesday's game at Guiseley not been postponed due to an overnight downpour at Nethermoor Park. It only adds to our frustrations in West Yorkshire this season - two postponements at Guiseley coming after our game at Halifax in February was called off at 1.45pm. It means that we now have a packed and testing schedule approaching, with the Wrexham game beginning a spell of four games in eight days, three of which are away. This will be a huge test for our depleted squad, who now have only one day's rest between Tuesday's clash at Bromley, and Thursday's rearranged trip to Guiseley. After that there's just two games until the curtain is brought down on what will go down as a devastating campaign - and we thought the last two seasons, culminating in relegation and play-off heartbreak - were awful.
While our Tuesday night plans were scuppered, there was plenty of other action in the Vanarama National League, including a surprising defeat for Wrexham. They were beaten by Ebbsfleet, not particularly shocking in itself given that the Fleet are a good team hunting the play-offs, but it's the margin of defeat that was surprising. Corey Whitely, one of our old fans' favourites sacrificed for desperate cash, scored the first as Ebbsfleet ran out resounding 3-0 winners following later strikes by Kedwell and Coulson. That made it four without win for Wrexham, equalling their worst form of the season. So the Daggers will arrive in good form and are playing with freedom, so will surely fancy their chances against a Wrexham side starved of confidence and morale.
When the Dragons visited Victoria Road in October, they looked genuine title candidates, let alone the play-offs. They had confidence, instilled in them by various good performances and an excellent, unwavering support from the fans. Not only were they solid in defence, without doubt the best backline in non-league, but they had the ability to dig deep and grind out results - which they showed by snatching a last-second winner despite not looking particularly great on the day, even against ten men. Since then they've even found a temporary solution to their striker crisis, bringing in on-loan striker Scott Quigley, who's hit the ground running in North Wales. So how has it all gone wrong? Well, the catalyst for their dramatic decline was the sudden and unexpected departure of manager Dean Keates - he's gone to Walsall.
Obviously it's a terrible time to lose a manager, and especially one as influential as Keates. He seemed intent on assembling a squad to not only challenge this season, but continue to make steady progress. Moreover, his recruitment strategy indicates that he really wanted to build a dynasty. While he will probably bow out with respect, Wrexham's push - which has been sustained all season - looks to be faltering at the most important time. It's not all bad though, they can't win the league and look like they will finish 6th or 7th, which means they'll have to beat two higher sides away from home. That suits their defensive, resolute playing style on the road perfectly. They still have work to do though, and a win against us is seen as vital.
We certainly won't be easy to defeat though, as recent displays have shown. We've played play-off chasing sides since our crisis began and given very good accounts of ourselves. Aldershot at home was one of the hardest games but we honestly might've grabbed a point on another day. Away to Dover, all that could separate us was a wonder goal from Mitch Pinnock as we once again warranted a draw minimum. Against Fylde we were superb all over the pitch and deservedly won 2-0, so what this proves is that we won't be daunted; we'll go there in good form and hopefully get Okenabirhie and Sparkes involved as much as we can, whip in crosses and provide a stern test.
Quigley represents their major threat in attack and it will be tough to contain him, but as one of the most underrated defenders in the league Craig Robson will consign him to a difficult afternoon. We might have nothing to play for but we still want to win every game, after all they could be our last, so Wrexham won't have it easy. If we play to our strengths then we always stand a chance, after all we still have some very good players. You can view this game in one of two ways; either we've got a really tough game against one of the best defensive sides with just two home defeats all season, or we're in good form playing against a managerless team in terrible form under severe pressure from their fans.
So let's continue our good form and give the travelling 60 or so something to cheer about, we deserve it!
Not only does the arrival of the Easter weekend further reinforce that this exciting Vanarama National League season is hurtling to a rapid conclusion, but the intense schedule of back-to-back games present a fantastic opportunity to gather momentum and earn plenty of points to propel you to your end-of-season goals and aspirations.
This is a weekend that can make or break a season. For teams such as Macclesfield Town, the outcome of these two quick-fire fixtures can go a long way to determine how their season will end, and whether their promotion ambitions will be realised. Equally, for struggling sides such as Solihull Moors, a good set of results over this four-day period could well play a big part in whether they survive or not.
Play-off hopefuls are put to the test with a fitness-draining and difficult few days which, if you can pass the examination of, provide an excellent indication of where your team is at the business end of the campaign. With a league as tight as the National League, every point can make a difference, so the six at stake here could be crucial.
Dagenham, however, find themselves in an unusual position this weekend. Last season we had promotion to fight for, and the 4 points earned against Sutton and Boreham Wood were vital in helping us to the play-offs, where we were 90 minutes from Wembley when devastation struck at the New Lawn. Similarly, in previous League 2 campaigns, we've still had something to play for, usually fighting off the dreaded trapdoor of relegation, which we did eventually, and unfortunately encounter.
Therefore, with nothing but faint and overly-ambitious top seven hopes to play for, these fixtures take on something of an insignificant form. We are stuck in the mediocrity of mid-table, which lies only on the surface of our problems as a club, and these fixtures only serve as an opportunity to bolster our points total ahead of a Summer which promises big changes.
Yet, acknowledging the crushing financial demise consuming the club, we will still get behind the team, as we have done since August. Despite the obvious loss of the talent which in the first month of the season had us dreaming, we still have a skilled set of players able to compete. The players haven't given up by any means and, if anything, have been galvanised, showing immense dedication to the shirt, which as fans evokes such pride and delight, especially in these circumstances.
Furthermore, players who were overlooked have stepped in and seized their chance. Though our squad is overworked and down to bare bones, nobody has shied away and shirked their duties. Players such as Kandi and Bloomfield have performed excellently, and the equally-superb displays from Adams and Pennell make you wonder why they've only been granted the opportunity now. Ben Nunn is another who stepped up admirably, and it's worth mentioning the form of Robson, Sparkes and Okenabirhie, who are all big players.
The increased work-rate and determination of the recent showings have been matched by a good set of results. In the last month we've smashed Torquay and earned a tremendous comeback victory against Chester. The West Ham fundraiser ended up in a reverse but felt like a win, but overall was undisputedly a victory for the club, and we then followed this up with a superb three point haul against free-scoring Fylde, where our attacking prowess was just as impressive as keeping the league's top scorers quiet.
Usually with the Easter fixtures it is customary to play local derbies, just like the Christmas schedule, yet instead the Daggers have a long trip to Gateshead to contend with on Good Friday. Hopefully, spurred on by a recent upturn in spirit, the team can put in another impressive performance. Gateshead are a mid-table outfit, and would probably be described as your typical, average National League side, but they don't have a lack of talent which will look to trouble us. They made the FA Trophy semi-finals.
After the long journey to the North-East, there won't be much time to recover, as we're back in action the very next weekday. Monday afternoon brings the visit of local rivals Maidstone for what should be a well-contested derby. The Stones endured a dreadful start to the year with the losses of key men Hines and Pigott, but they've recently picked their form back up and earned a bug win at home to Sutton, proving the quality they still have.
So these games may not have much importance but you can still expect two dedicated and spirited displays. We may not have much to play for generally, but some players are playing for their futures, and it's all about raising much-needed money to #SaveTheDaggers
The crushing financial demise of the Daggers has been well documented recently yet as the future of the club continues to remain uncertain, there remains hope that we will be saved. Such has been the confusion, tension and overwhelming sadness of the last few weeks that much of what happened still hasn't fully sunk in, but it's obvious that we are in a perilous position.
Though the players have battled hard, the good performances recently have been overshadowed by what's happening off the pitch, which has taken the gloss off a season which seemed so promising, yet has swiftly declined in a manner nobody could've anticipated. This isn't how our 25th anniversary season deserved to transpire, yet despite a quarter-century packed with unforgettable memories, there is a dark cloud over Victoria Road which only seems to grow bigger.
It is for that reason that emotions are understandably running high, with us fans watching our club slowly fade away. This isn't the Dagenham & Redbridge I fell in love with. Last season everything seemed so good and as we mounted an unlikely promotion charge with a squad assembled on a tight budget, there was the sense that we were returning to the 'Pub Team from Essex' mentality which defined us.
Instead, under a year later, we have been left with low crowds, an overworked squad that has been ruthlessly ravaged by other National League vultures and a club that has such a disconnect that it's hard to believe that we're in non-league. There are so many questions that could be asked, but after such a tragic state of affairs I only have one: ''Why?''
Indeed despite the club's rallying call for unity, the Fans' Forum on Thursday 15th March only highlighted the existing divide within a club which is turning rotten. That's through a number of reasons which all combine to form the woeful mess we have today. People have made mistakes, there's no way this would've happened without any, but ultimately we won't be able to change the past.
If we want to dwell on what's happened then we can easily do it next season when there won't be a Dagenham & Redbridge. Alternatively, we can all try and work together for the greater good of the club and show solidarity in a predicament which desperately needs it. While everybody seems to disagree the one thing which all unites us is a mutual love of the Daggers.
That brings us to Thursday's Fans' Forum, which I really didn't expect the club to observe at this stage, so credit to them for that. Usually this kind of event is a fantastic opportunity to gain an insight into the running of the team and it's an important day on the calendar that you can look forward to, yet this time I'd rather have been anywhere other than that clubhouse hall.
A location usually known for it's cheerful pre-match vibe was going to host an evening of extremely inverse proportions in what promised to be a fiery, heated and unpleasant couple of hours. As people argued, accused and blamed, I just remember thinking how everything went wrong. Just the previous August, we had a number of impressive signings all made possible by the fantastic Glyn Hopkin, who it seemed was delivering a bright and secure future to the club.
After an incredible start to the season, things swiftly fell apart - we now know - around the end of October. When Glyn Hopkin, a man who had firmly immersed himself into the running of the Daggers, suddenly stopped being seen at the ground, where he would usually have pre-match drinks with the fans along with a friendly chat, it was apparent something wasn't right.
It has now been publicised that Hopkin announced that he was stepping down due to a culmination of flag disputes and fake emails. The problems then mounted but it wasn't until late January/early February that fans became aware. Now as we desperately search for an investor - any investor - paying the players has presented as much of a challenge as what happens on the pitch.
As John Still explained, this has been incredibly hard for the players, who are playing for their careers. While us fans will always be here, other personnel come and go so if the worst happens and we do cease to exist, then the players will need to find another club. As Still said, therefore the players won't want to get injured but to their credit have given everything in recent weeks.
This is perfectly understandable, however most of what was said at the Forum was disputed or argued against. Fans deserve a say in their club, but nothing really got resolved. So this weekend has shown just how boring it is without a Daggers game, and hopefully that won't become more of a reality next season. We have the West Ham friendly amongst other things to raise much-needed funds so not all is lost.
Like many people I absolutely adore this club, which I have supported for most of my life, so I'd be lost without it. If this situation has taught us anything it's that you should appreciate what you have because it can all be taken away. Those petty losses to teams like Woking don't seem that important all of a sudden.
So much has been going on at the club in recent times that it would be easy to overlook the departure of defender Scott Doe, but that would be unfair to a man who devoted so much to the club during his two spells here.
In a time where we had barely digested the financially-motivated sales of Morgan Ferrier and Sam Ling, two of six players who we vitally needed off the wage bill, Scott Doe leaving by mutual consent was low on the priority list of Daggers fans, who had to cope with the news that our much-adored club was under threat due to the untimely resignation of director Glyn Hopkin.
That, coupled with fluctuating form which in hindsight seems perfectly natural given the situation, meant that the future of the club had been compromised and if losing a few players could help our cause - regardless of how important they were - then it would be worthwhile. That too applies to Scott Doe, who cited personal problems as the catalyst for his exit and has since joined Whitehawk FC, and then Boreham Wood.
Though his departure will have less of an impact than someone such as Morgan Ferrier, it leaves the Daggers with very limited defensive options and after 327 appearances over seven years for the club, this was an unceremonious exit which given Doe's immense commitment and dedication to the shirt, was not deserved. Sadly, his last appearance in a Daggers shirt was our away game at Sutton, a poor error-packed display not befitting of a club legend.
Ultimately, though, that is not what Doe will be remembered as. Mistakes aside, it was the determined, valiant and committed displays that will define him as part of the club's folklore. It was that performance against Rotherham at Wembley, which perfectly underlined his future leadership qualities and eventually culminated in the centre-back captaining us to a fourth-place finish last campaign, some seven years later, although injury partially restricted his contribution there.
At the Daggers, Doe transformed from a young 20 year-old to an experienced and reliable figure at the heart of our defence where he established himself as a mainstay. At times he perfectly embodied the Daggers mentality with several stand-out performances, demonstrating passion and responsibility on the pitch. It is a testament to his playing style that a manager like John Still, astute at recognising and developing a talented player, brought him to the club not only once, but twice.
Of course though, just because a key member of the club's recent history has exited, doesn't mean he should be naturally praised. Just like every important player, there are many disappointing moments too, but that's to be expected as a lower-league footballer. Doe is no different but overall the good outweighs the bad, for every penalty conceded there was a tremendous goal-line clearance, for every own goal an equally-important one at the other end and, for every underwhelming performance, there was an excellent, composed one to more than make up for it. It was those that made his poor showings easier to accept.
Sadly, those kinds of displays were more prominent this season, and will be a lot fresher in our minds than the performances he deserved to truly represent him. Everybody was delighted when his return, along with Luke Howell, sparked the start of a mass rebuild that eventually formed the foundations for our team which made the play-off semi-finals. It was that kind of team reconstruction that offers fans hope in our current situation as we know that under John Still, we can still find ourselves with a squad able to compete next season, though that's barely conceivable at the minute.
So not only does Scott Doe's exit leave us with a defensive hole currently, but also marks the official dispersion of our 2010 play-off winning squad. It does feel like the end of an era, with a rare breed of Dagger having gone, but one that hopefully won't be extinct. However soon we may be looking at the next Scott Doe, so onwards and upwards, let's look to the future. After all, there's little room for loyalty in football anymore nowadays.
Having escaped Winter relatively unscathed from adverse conditions here in Dagenham, it was disappointing to see an unexpected flurry of snow and freezing winds scupper an exciting weekend of National League action, including our trip to Guiseley, which fell foul of the weather. The Lions confirmed the inevitable cancellation on Thursday afternoon, which at least saved the team and most fans from travelling.
Admittedly, this decision was much easier to accept than our last postponed match in West Yorkshire, when Halifax Town called our game off with just over an hour to kick-off after 'heavy rainfall' in the area. Both the club and supporters were severely inconvenienced that day, so credit to Guiseley for thinking of us this time with the early decision. We will now head to Nethermoor Park on Tuesday 10th April with a 7.45pm kick-off.
It will of course mean our second midweek trip to Yorkshire in the space of a few weeks, which is hardly ideal but at least guarantees an action-packed end to the season with a very busy schedule for John Still and his team. While a dull, football-less weekend will offer a reminder that pre-season is slowly creeping closer, it at least gives everybody an extra week to recover, especially given that we are now down to the bare bones of our squad.
Thankfully, though, the players have really stepped up in recent weeks and will probably be disappointed not to have a chance to build on a series of good recent performances. Saturday's last-gasp victory over Chester was as deserved as it was fortunate due to the way in which the team dug in and refused to give up. That followed a tremendous performance at Torquay seven days prior so an extra week or rest will hopefully allow the players to recuperate their energy even more, especially given the magnitude of our next contest.
We welcome Tranmere Rovers to Victoria Road in a 3pm kick-off, which will be a fantastic opportunity to test what the team is made of. When we've played similarly-good sides in the form of Aldershot and Dover recently, we've matched both in every department yet been beaten by either glimpses of quality or moments of madness.
Sadly, I think the time has passed to describe this as a 'play-off clash' but with the league still incredibly tight, it's not completely beyond the realms of possibility for a late push. That's probably the last thing Dagenham can imagine at the moment, but if we can replicate our recent displays, especially with a game in hand, then who knows what could happen? Stranger things have happened to us this season.
One of the main catalysts for our recent improvement in form has been down to the freedom we are playing with. Nothing is really expected of us and that's the exact reason why we done so well last campaign. It would've been brilliant to play Guiseley this weekend given that they're rock bottom; of course that means they're fighting for their lives and we can't take anything for granted but we'd definitely fancy ourselves. We can't underestimate them though - we made that mistake in November.
So it may be a dull weekend with no game for the Daggers, and only one National League clash, but there's plenty to look forward to before the end of April.
It was during half-time of last year's season opener against Southport that the name Corey Whitely was first introduced to the supporters and since that day the unknown winger, plucked from the very obscurities of non-league, blossomed into one of the most exciting Daggers players of recent times.
Another addition to a long list of faces to have made immense progress since rising from a lower level, Whitely epitomised John Still's ability to not only unearth a fantastic talent but also to nurture him into a future star who at times looked far too good for the National League.
Though his form since early this season has been poor, that doesn't lessen the contribution he made for the club nor does it discredit his overall ability. While his showings in recent times have created the impression that he will not be missed as much as people thought, his ability to change a game with a moment of genius is one which I don't think can be reproduced by any other player within the squad.
Unfortunately the current situation made this move likely and he's one of the players that as fans we were resigned to losing. He becomes the sixth Dagger to leave in recent weeks following the departures of White, Lokko, Ferrier, Ling & Doe and while we can at least cherish over a year's worth of memories it's a shame that we couldn't enjoy more of what Corey had to offer.
Like Ferrier, it is a testament to Whitely that he managed to endear himself to the fans in what was a relatively short amount of time. It usually takes a while to truly appreciate a player yet the fans took to Whitely straight away. It's just unfortunate that things ended on disappointing terms with a goal drought stretching back to September, just as it seemed he was returning to old form.
Corey has now made the switch to Ebbsfleet, once again a sideways step in his career but a practical one that probably made sense to him. A good club with ambitions and a decent squad will provide him with a good platform to recapture his form of August and last season, however it is disappointing that he has missed out on a Football League move which he did deserve. Of course he also emulated Ferrier by netting on his debut, which does rub salt into the wounds somewhat.
Whitely will ultimately be remembered as an exciting player who had you on the edge of your seat for the most part. We were lucky to find him and he repaid our faith with last year's incredible displays. However, there is always another player just as good languishing in non-league, waiting to be discovered, and with John Still at the helm there is hope that we can continue to unearth these sorts of footballers.
So it's farewell to Corey Whitely, who departs Victoria Road with a record of one goal every three games. While there were undisputedly some bad points of his time here - that red card against Guiseley and the penalty miss at Chester to name just a couple - there were some amazing moments and fantastic goals. He was Dagger of the Year by an absolute landslide, and hopefully has as much love for the club as it does for him.
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.