the daggers voice
From the English Riviera to the English Channel, Daggers are on their road for their second away trip in four games at Crabble tonight. While Dover Athletic will undoubtedly be a much tougher preposition than Torquay were, if Daggers can match the passion and resilience shown at Plainmoor then they stand a good chance of returning to Victoria Road with at least a point.
As things remain unstable off the pitch it is a relief that Dagenham have at least managed to find some form on it in recent weeks with two impressive performances. We managed to match Aldershot last week yet were just lacking that bit of quality, but the most important thing was that the players gave their all. This was brilliantly followed up by a thoroughly-deserved 3-0 victory at Torquay, which I expect we are still on a high from.
Therefore despite what's been happening behind the scenes there is still every cause to be optimistic and confident tonight. Although we've lost a huge core of our squad the players that have come in have taken their chance excellently and proven why they deserve to be at this club. Another positive is that we have so far managed to keep hold of Okenabirhie and Cheek who remain, on their day, two of the best players in the division.
Fejiri in particular showed that at Torquay with a superb individual performance resulting in two goals, but while he was the stand out player everybody was excellent all over the pitch. It is for that reason why John Still may be tempted to name an unchanged team at Crabble, even though he can now call on the services of Michael Cheek again, who has decided to stay with the club among offers from other teams. Another reason to be delighted at the minute.
The togetherness of the squad in recent weeks has been superb and while our situation has been devastating at least it has seemingly brought the squad together. We may have lost some of our best players but we now have a small, tight-knit squad and that may serve us well for the end of the season. Plus, and I know this is beyond hopeful, but we're still not out of the play-off race; four points adrift of 7th but with a game in hand, in addition to matches against relegation strugglers Chester and Guiseley in the next fortnight, both must wins.
However we can't look that far ahead and must take every game at a time. There's no point being rejuvenated after that Torquay performance unless it becomes a platform from which to build on. Dover Athletic always seem to defy the odds, regardless of how many players they lose. The loss of Ricky Miller among other big faces hit them hard in the Summer but they still rebuilt well enough to sustain another play-off push under the experienced and successful guidance of Chris Kinnear, one of the most respected managers in the NL.
They arrive in poor form following two straight defeats and will be wanting to put that right tonight. In addition to this, they have never beaten Dagenham so while that gives us a slight physiological edge perhaps it also acts as a good incentive for the home team to break that record. This includes the double we done over them last season and of course November's 1-0 victory which was one of the best performances of the season.
It has all the ingredients of an entertaining clash which both teams will desperately want to win. Hopefully the Daggers can bring a healthy number of fans and build on their new found confidence with another display of fearlessness and determination.
UPDATE: Since this was posted Dover have confirmed the loan capture of Kevin Lokko, who is in contention to feature against us. He will certainly bolster their defence yet we will know his weaknesses so that is perhaps something to be exploited.
Following on from last weekend's morale-boosting performance, the Daggers are back in action as they embark on the long trip South-West to face a steadily-improving Torquay United outfit who are making huge strides towards safety under manager Gary Owers. Regardless of the result they will at least be hoping that this match will go ahead after their last scheduled away trip at Halifax was called off at 1.45pm.
Both teams enter this match in varying form with Dagenham's four consecutive losses contrasted to Torquay's run of three games unbeaten - their best sequence of the season. Impressive wins against Barrow and Maidenhead recently followed an excellent draw at league leaders Macclesfield Town. Although they have struggled this season, they will be hugely confident and optimistic ahead of the fixture.
One of the main factors of their sudden upturn in form lies in striker Elliott Romain, who of course is on loan from Dagenham. He has always seemed like a hard worker but lacked an end product which he seems to have discovered at the Gulls. According to a local newspaper, Torquay are in talks to turn his loan move into a permanent deal.
Such is the nature of the league that every game is tough and there aren't many easy matches, which we've seen when playing struggling outfits such as Solihull and Guiseley this campaign, and this will also apply to our home clash with Chester next weekend. With Torquay embroiled in a relegation scrap, every point counts and three this weekend would certainly do their survival bid.
The Daggers, though, will be in no mood to show empathy. A dreadful few weeks for the club have seen six players depart, with the losses of Ling and Ferrier having the biggest impact. However, just as the club were surely preparing for this game they have also lost Corey Whitely to Ebbsfleet, and may even suffer more player departures before kick-off on Saturday.
That said, we still have a team capable of competing and are not totally bereft of quality. Providing they are still here for this fixture, Sparkes and Okenabirhie can cause Torquay's defence many problems and link up well with Cheek, who is one of the league's best strikers in terms of natural goalscoring ability. Therefore things aren't all bleak and we will be looking to build on the Aldershot performance with a win that would lighten the mood of a club in disarray.
Hopefully our current financial plight will provide the perfect incentive for us to give the fans something to cheer about this weekend. It would be nice if we could a healthy amount of supporters heading down to Devon and we can earn our first away victory of the year. Obviously this is a time where the team needs as much support as can be mustered yet it could be perfectly understandable if people stay away given our various issues both o and off the pitch.
Luckily, just as was the case at Victoria Road on Saturday, this will only revolve around what happens on the Plainmoor surface; it is a welcome distraction and irrespective of the result I'd rather be talking about a defeat on the pitch than what's been happening off it. As long as the players give their all, which Dagenham players traditionally do, then that's all we can ask for.
It should be a tight encounter, especially as Torquay usually have the edge over the Daggers. In 2013, they were bottom of League 2 but still nicked a 1-0 victory at Victoria Road which practically derailed our play-off push. Last season they repeated the feat with two 1-0 wins in a time where Dagenham had bad injury problem, with both games taking place on a Tuesday.
Thankfully though we managed to end the streak back in September against the Gulls, who deserved to win. In the end Torquay showed just why they're struggling with several barely-believable misses. In the end we scored through a last-minute penalty from Fejiri Okenabirhie, who can hopefully emulate that sort of composure when the two sides reconvene.
So while things remain very uncertain off the pitch it is time for the boys to show their resilience on it. Torquay will be a tough side but let's remember they;re in the bottom four for a reason and if we show our quality I'm sure we can earn a victory which will bring a smile to fans' faces.
It was 8pm on Saturday as a loud applause rippled throughout the terrace towards the players, which was returned with as much appreciation. After a determined and energetic performance the fans once again greeted the players with a warm reception, as they do every game. Yet the Daggers hadn't won, we hadn't even drawn, and in fact had just lost our fourth consecutive fixture in the National League which left us in our lowest league position in over a decade.
It's this kind of display of affection that makes being a Dagger so special. It would be easy in that situation to use our current plight as an excuse not to play well but every player gave 100% and competed for everything, so genuinely can't be faulted. The game had transformed into an afterthought and many fans had been dreading the rest of the season, but it was a relief to forget about our issues and just do what us supporters do best: watch and get behind the team.
So, therefore, even amidst everything behind the scenes, it's clear that there is at least still a glimmer of hope. Probably not for this season but we can at least remain optimistic for the future without worrying about the future of our great club. To be honest, I'm quite looking forward to the Summer when John Still can lead one of his fantastic rebuilds. The last one took us to 4th in the National League and 90 minutes away from Wembley.
It's clear that this season has been a mistake. While it's been a pleasure to adopt a 'big club' mentality with a lot of signings that were coups at this level, it's not us. Glyn Hopkin deserves praise for the money he invested in the club but perhaps it's best that Dagenham return to the club that we truly are - a small club punching above it's weight and turning unproven, untapped gems into FL-Quality+ players.
That's what Dagenham & Redbridge are, and I'm proud of it. I'm proud that we throughout our meteoric 25 year rise have been seen as the underdogs. Even now, in what some would probably correctly call our rightful level, we are something of an underdog in the promotion race. To even compete with teams like Forest Green and Tranmere last year was fantastic and we did it with a squad that was practically thrown together.
The ironic thing is that this squad was probably better, all things considered, than the one we had this campaign. That's what I mean when I say that Dagenham should return to old times, we clearly have a formula that works when it comes to assembling a team of a quality that defies our stature so we shouldn't change. A Dwight Gayle is always better than a Morgan Ferrier, and there's more pride at plucking a player from nowhere than buying one. As John Still said, ''there's much more pleasure in baking a cake than buying a cake''.
Back to the Aldershot performance, we were just lacking a crucial spark, but it wasn't for the want of trying. Sparkes and Okenabirhie looked very lively and showed that we are not bereft of quality within our ranks, as we feared once players began to depart. It is probable and almost certain, apparently, that more players will depart - Cheek and Fejiri have allegedly been subject of bids from Ebbsfleet - but as long as we have 11 players who are devoted and dedicated to the shirt, there is always going to be hope.
Luckily against Aldershot, we had that. Aside from Sparkes and Fej who've already been mentioned, we had players willing to get stuck in like Boucaud and Robinson who managed to control the midfield well. Also, considering that it was his first start since early-September, Luke Pennell was fantastic and deserves his chance. All round, the work rate - particularly from Cheek - was truly brilliant.
It's unfair not to give praise to Aldershot who with their two goals showed just why they have been so successful under Gary Waddock. To win when not at your best is a sign of a good team it is said and while Shots were predominantly average at Victoria Road they showed their quality when they needed to. They are well poised to win the league, which is very possible. This is what I wrote after the game:
Don't think we were outclassed at all. Overall they created about three chances (and to be fair took them) and we probably edged it. They just had that bit of clinical quality infront of goal but the effort was superb. I went home happy yesterday because I was expecting a hammering and although we were beaten the team gave everything, which is all you can ask for. There wasn't really a single player who was poor yesterday. There was a couple of times where Cheek and Sparkes should've been more selfish instead of pulling it across goal but other than that we weren't too bad. Okenabirhie was brilliant, he needed to step up and in recent weeks has, and Pennell looks a different player as a centre back. The work rate from Cheek was good too especially given that he's supposedly in his way out. So yes a loss, but even with Ling and Ferrier it was going to be an uphill battle, so without them we showed that there is at least something to work with. More importantly, I was just glad that by 8pm we were talking about what happened on the pitch, rather than off it.
So it's four losses in a row but we do have something to work with. Hopefully that performance wasn't just for the TV cameras and can be replicated at Torquay and Dover, two games I go into with a surprising amount of confidence. The fans will turn up as ever, so hopefully the players do too.
After the worst week in the club's history, such is the devastation around the club that it's been hard to keep up with everything that has been going on. As the Dagenham & Redbridge we all adore begins to slowly and helplessly crumble around us, it is likely that we expect the worst with more of our key players departing. Cheek is supposedly next, but nobody leaving will hit us as hard as losing Ling and Ferrier has.
Though the Club Statement issued on 2/2/18 confirmed that player departures were not only necessary but vital in securing the future of the club, I didn't think it would be this soon. After all, if we still had hopes of making the play-offs, these players would be absolutely crucial for us. Obviously that seems completely impossible now, but the fact that we've potentially lost out on these players for even a few extra months is truly gutting. It was far too short.
Yet the fact that Ling has been here for just over a season, and Ferrier only since August, is a testament to how they endeared themselves to the fans. To only be here for such a short space of time but still make an indelible impression on this football club is incredible and will no doubt lend itself well to the clubs profiting from our demise; surrounding our assets like vultures to get themselves a brilliant deal.
However, if this is what it takes to keep the club alive then it's obviously a no-brainer. Ling and Ferrier are tremendous losses but getting them of the wage bill will reduce our debts so it's obviously necessary. However, what was particularly upsetting was how the club went about announcing the sales. They were both announced barely half an hour apart which barely gave the fans time for either to sink in.
Their departures mark the fifth to have left the club in the matter of days which obviously makes it hard to train as you don't know who will be available come matchday. This is especially worrying with an important game against Aldershot on the horizon, which would be an uphill task even with Ling and Ferrier, who I regarded as our two best players. In a pre-match interview, Still said:
It's difficult because the whole thing this last six weeks or so has led to a loss of normality in the club because of our situation. I'm not blaming results on that but it is a contributing factor. Me, the players and the staff have all been aware of the situation and it is unsettling - we are seeing the results of that in the sale of players - but I think that the whole episode is something better out in the open. We just need to focus on getting back to football, obviously we aren't as strong as we were but we still have a decent squad. It's been a difficult time and not playing last week was also a blow because the football is a release, however for some individuals that might've been a relief. We have no injury problems but training has been hard because we've lost players so things we wanted to work on have had to be changed. That's still the case today (Friday) and maybe even tomorrow (Saturday midday) so I can't actually say who is going to be available on Saturday.
So there will probably be more departures to come, but as fans we understand that and have probably begrudgingly accepted it. It probably means that we will see out this season (luckily we are pretty safe from relegation) and then start again in the close season with almost an entire rebuild. This isn't necessarily the worst thing because we suffered the same thing after relegation which ironically left us with a squad just as good or even better as the one we've had this campaign.
Over recent weeks it seems as if there has been a lot of frustration directed towards manager John Still but I expect that to dissipate now that we are aware of what's going on. As Still says, the situation could have impacted our performances, which is quite likely. However one other thing he says is that things are better out in the open so maybe that means we will play with more freedom against Aldershot, which we obviously hope for, especially given that the match will be broadcast on BT Sport.
So after we negotiate these last 15 games or so there will be a big Summer ahead, but who better to organise a fresh squad than John Still? He's renowned for plucking players from the obscurities of non-league so I doubt he'll struggle in that department. He's done it with Whitely, Hawkins, Robson and many others since he rejoined the club, so is more than capable of finding more hidden gems.
Obviously he prefers younger, raw players so that there is more value in them once they are sold. Therefore it is disappointing to hear the figures rumoured for White, Ferrier and Ling when all are clearly worth exceedingly more than that. However while we've lost a bit of our future Still can find new talents to replace them, except this time on a stricter budget which is more sustainable in the long run.
While Ling and Ferrier were crucial players for us, they are not irreplaceable. there are plenty of Ling's and Ferrier's in non-league, just as there are plenty of Whitely's, Okenabirhie's, Cheek's and so on. The reality of supporting Dagenham is that we will inevitably sell our best players eventually but have a knack of finding ones just as good. I'd barely even heard of Ferrier when he signed and certainly hadn't heard about Ling or Whitely so we can't pretend these players were superstars.
Morgan Ferrier departs the Daggers for previous club Boreham wood, whom he only joined us from in the Summer of 2017. They broke their transfer record for him and the thought of him and Andrade playing alongside eachother is clearly appetising for their fans, obviously at our expense. Upon his departure, Ferrier stated, “There were obviously a few things going on at Dagenham and the opportunity arose for me to leave. There were a few teams interested, but as soon as I spoke to the gaffer and spoke to Danny, it naturally just made sense to return.''
Not many players have managed to make quite the impression on the fans as Ferrier did. Not only was he loved for his powerful skillful playing style but his passion and determination made him even more adored. I have one memory of Ferrier that really epitomises him, and it came in the FA Cup replay defeat against Orient. After our unlucky defeat at the Matchroom, an apologetic Ferrier was virtually apologising to the fans. His desire to win was infectious and while he may have a petulant streak, he will rightly be remembered as an excellent player who left far too soon. That amazing goal against Ebbsfleet, his first of eight for the club, also spoke volumes about his quality.
So Morgan leaves with eight league goals and seven assists - the trademark all-round striker and truly a unique player at this level. But it's not just a catchy TBS song that Daggers lose out on as Ling was next out the door in a matter of minutes. Ling is a very different kind of player but was valued just the same. Had this been last season then most fans wouldn't have batted an eyelid at his departure but the way that Ling blossomed into a tremendous right-back made him one of the first names on the teamsheet each week.
With a remarkable eye for goal for a defender, matched by an equally impressive tally of assists, means that is also an attacking loss somewhat. When Curtley Williams left I thought I wouldn't see a better crosser of the ball in non-league, until Ling proved his worth this season. The man who was third-choice right-back last season quickly became a fans' favourite and he will be sorely missed.
To lose him to Orient of all teams did hurt, but it makes sense for him to join his Dad there and even the most diehard of Daggers will admit that he is furthering his career. Playing infront of a big crowd every week is what he deserves, what he's earned, and I just hope he has fond memories of his time at Daggers. He took to social media to say goodbye, writing this on Twitter:
''Firstly I'd like to thank all the staff and players at Dagenham for giving me the chance to play for such a great club and making my time there so enjoyable. Secondly I'd like to thank the fans at Dagenham for showing me such unreal support during my rime, I'll never forget it, I hope everything gets sorted out and wish the club all the best for the future.''
So it's farewell to Morgan and Lingy, but who could be next?
Just a few weeks ago, this would've been seen as one of the biggest games of our season, however such is the devastation around the club recently that it has transformed into merely an afterthought. It could've been an opportunity to reignite our season and kick on into the playoffs, but now the only thing good about this fixture is that it is one game nearer to the end of the season. The team will need to pull together though because this is a tricky situation, and the last team you'd want to play now would be Aldershot.
This game has been rendered unimportant by the recent events around the club. Alarm bells began to ring when Joe White, a key part of our future, was sold in the dying minutes of Deadline Day, before Lokko was then recalled. A Club Statement then confirmed our worst fears, that the Daggers were in financial crisis following the withdrawal as a director by Glyn Hopkin. Since then, everything has happened so quickly and things just seem to be getting worse as Ferrier and Ling have been sold to fellow National League clubs, but disappointingly more departures are expected.
These absences will leave a huge gaping hole in our side. Scott Doe's departure, though allegedly for separate reasons, has already left us with a threadbare defence, with just two centre-backs in the team. It's gutting to lose Ling and Ferrier, though. Both were highly dedicated players who performed fantastically well in their time here, which was much too short. Rumour has it that Cheek will be next to leave and that would just compound our misery, leaving us with just a few decent players in the side.
At the current time, we still have Cheek, Whitely, Okenabirhie and Robson so it's not like we're relegation strugglers all of a sudden. Strangely, situations like these can galvanise a group and bring them closer together, so hopefully people can step up and seize their opportunity. This last few months of the campaign will be a struggle, so it's important that everybody is pulling in the same direction and getting behind the team because they absolutely need it right now.
It will be an important close/pre-season, that's for sure, and I don't think a group of supporters have ever wanted June to arrive as much as we do. It looks like we'll have to start again and reassemble a squad right from the bottom, which may not be the worst thing. Even without Hopkin's money, John Still managed to assemble a squad last season ironically better than the one we had this campaign. If anybody can lead a rebuild, it's John Still, so at least that's something to look forward to.
Before we can even contemplate that, though, we have 15 games of the season to negotiate. While it will be a struggle, this last few weeks has shown us how much we should appreciate the great football club we have, because it can be taken away in an instant, which kind of puts things into perspective. All of a sudden, this game isn't very important, whereas previously it would have been seen as a season-defining fixture for both clubs possibly.
Another incentive to do well is that this match is our first home game live on BT Sport all season. The cameras were present at both the Chester and Sutton away games, which ended in a 4-0 win and 2-1 defeat respectively. There's obviously the fear that we could be on the receiving end of a battering, but I genuinely think the team will put in a good performance. Dare I say, a 'Daggers' performance. The match starts at 5,30pm but as the club says don't use the fact that it's on television as an excuse not to support the team in the flesh.
This could well be the beginning of a new era for this football club. At least, after a traumatic few days, we can - for a couple of hours at least - forget about things and watch our team play. Who knows, we might even win. As supporters we need to do all we can to lend our support to the team, but disappointingly we'll be a lot less vocal given that the TBS has been allocated to away fans only.
Aldershot might be better than us; they are well recognised for their quality of passing and breaking teams down. Under Gary Waddock they have a fantastic manager who reminds me of John Still in many ways. However they surely won't want to go to Victoria Road when the Daggers are as desperate for a victory as ever.
One of the most tragic weeks in our history had a bizarre end befitting of a club in our difficult position; it was supposed to be a distraction from off-pitch matters but indeed only added to the troubles we have all faced. As the loyal band of fans conjugated at Victoria Road in the early hours, we were determined to get behind the team when they needed us most, but little did we know that the only team we'd be supporting was Ossett Town for 45 minutes of their game against Ramsbottom. This was one of the many matches that somehow managed to survive the extreme conditions and torrential downpours which only existed in the delusional minds of FC Halifax Town, responsible for one of the most pathetic shows of sheer incompetence I have ever seen.
The calm, unsympathetic way in which the club announced the completely-unnecessary postponement certainly showed that they had dealt with this kind of situation before. Their FA Trophy game against Macclesfield fell foul of the weather but from what I heard that was quite justified, although despite the fact that Macc fans hadn't had long to travel the short notice which they gave was ridiculous. Then, just a few weeks ago Orient supporters were informed that the match was off while they were well into their journey, with many having booked accommodation and travel. If Orient were aggrieved, which they would be perfectly entitled to be, then imagine how we felt.
You might think that after these postponements, alarm bells were surely ringing and we should've been expecting the worst. We were assured that the game would be on and there was nothing to indicate that it wouldn't be, especially given that their rescheduled clash with the O's had taken place just four days prior without any concerns. The only potential difficulty, we were told, was one of the touchlines which had failed to fully soak up water, but surely that's not enough to postpone a match which both teams would've wanted to go ahead. The match was called off after the referee examined the pitch for a second time following an earlier pitch inspection that we also very conveniently were not informed of.
That pitch inspection took place at 10.30 so if you were going to cancel the game then do it then, just to prevent as much upheaval as possible. Apparently the surface was playable then so had worsened in the space of just two hours, but if you had enough doubts to constitute an initial pitch inspection, how can you not check the weather forecast to anticipate this weather? Perhaps this is because the conditions they allege then arose simply did not happen and this has been supported by residents of Halifax, Dagenham fans in the area and anybody with half a brain cell. It's also worth noting that the referee apparently called the game off because the ball wouldn't bounce twice but with two hoofball teams, that certainly wouldn't have been a problem anyway.
So as we were in the Shay bar, getting ready to leave and head towards the turnstiles, the game was promptly called off, just minutes after Halifax had advertised the match on Twitter. They continued to advertise it even after declaring the postponement, something which summed up their unprofessionalism and only added to the increasing confusion. Barely had we had time to recover from the 216 mile journey when we were heading back to Dagenham. We had essentially travelled four hours for nothing and paid £25 each for the privilege; it had certainly been an unusual awayday, but mainly because Dagenham hadn't lost. The players were also waiting around having also been left in the dark and they were just as confused, as well as genuinely disappointed that they weren't going to be playing football, which I took as a good sign.
Not wanting to render the day completely wasted, I spoke to some of the players and took pictures with them: after the recent club statement, it was probable that this would be the last time some of the team members would be seen in Daggers clobber. Given our turbulent financial status, shelling out on overnight costs and travel certainly wouldn't have helped things, so I fully expect the team to be reimbursed, but that won't help the fans who committed to the day. As luck would have it, I would win £50 on the coach journey home so essentially the only loss for me was hours of my life, but other fans certainly weren't as lucky.
As we trudged back onto our coach, thoroughly dejected and very angry, we decided that we were going to see a football match after all. We limited the candidates to Harrogate v Billericay, Guiseley v Wrexham (my personal preference) and Ossett v Ramsbottom. The shambles at Halifax was apparently contagious as we struggled to make a decision, but eventually decided on the latter, although it would mean missing the first 45 minutes. I commend the way that the Supporters Club organised this as it would've been easy just to go home but in the end I'm glad we went to Ossett as it meant we saw a club who apparently cared about supporters; we were let in at a 75% reduction and offered a very warm welcome, which we all appreciated.
In this time, Halifax had promised to issue a statement in due course, though they even managed to mess that up, taking about three hours to produce a very basic article which left more questions than answers. It cited heavy rainfall between 12.30 and 1.30 as the cause, but given that we were already in the area during that time, we can confirm that apart from light drizzle, there was nothing of the sort. It was also worth noting that this game was the only in the region called off, with Guiseley, Harrogate and Ossett - all smaller clubs who would be more likely to call a game off - deemed fine. Infact just a few weeks ago Guiseley did the completely unbelievable thing and had a pitch inspection the day before the game, which was then called off but thankfully saved visiting fans money and time. Imagine that, Halifax.
This is the third time Halifax have done this and it's obviously no coincidence. I obviously understand that home fans would've been just as frustrated at having as many games off - i certainly would - but for us it was obviously worse. Halifax will obviously lose out when the rescheduled fixture, which will obviously be a Tuesday, draws a much smaller figure than would've attended Saturday's. This isn't an unfair, disrespectful rant at Halifax because the whole setup of the club struck me as very nice and decent, but the way they've handled things is ridiculous. Obviously this kind of experience is part and parcel of football: we're not the first to experience this and certainly won't be the last, but that doesn't make it acceptable. Not just to Dagenham, but anybody who has been shafted by Halifax or any other team this season, it's not good enough and the National League should do more to ensure this does not happen again.
We are next in action on Saturday when we host Aldershot Town at 5.30pm in a fixture live on BT Sport.
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.