THE dAGGERS vOICE
Dagenham & Redbridge look a very different side to about ten or fifteen minutes ago when they were on the back foot, and here's Benson...BRILLIANT!
Eight years ago today, Dagenham & Redbridge were promoted to League One. That mere statement only scrapes the surface of what a remarkable achievement it was, and only begins to epitomise the determined attitude which was infectious around the club at the time. From mixing with minnows such as Canvey Island and Gravesend, the Daggers would be playing the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Charlton as their equal, after a breathtaking afternoon at Wembley, the home of English football. As we reach an incredible eight years since that monumental occasion, this is the story of a true footballing miracle.
To truly understand the magnitude of that accomplishment, you need to look at where the club currently lies. A non-league outfit, with that League 1 journey a lifetime away, the Daggers are where their fanbase and stadium indicates they truly belong. We were built on good foundations, thriving on a small budget and plucking talented players before developing them into great footballers. We've never had large crowds and attendances have always been on the low side, with most home figures just eclipsing the 1k mark, especially deteriorating since our non-league return. We're a small club from Essex who punch above their weight.
Compare that description to some of the teams we played in our League One campaign; clubs with illustrious pasts visiting the comparatively-tiny ground of an outfit just eighteen years old. Southampton, Brighton, Bournemouth - all now established Premier League outfits. Teams who frequently visit Anfield and Old Trafford amongst other notorious footballing outposts heading to a 6,000-capacity Victoria Road is an amusing thought but thanks to John Still and a tremendous group of players, it became reality. Even now I don't think it's sunk in. It's still remarkable, and the joy is as raw as ever.
This season, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played their part as Liverpool reached the Champions League final in Kiev. Who'd have known, when they were facing the Daggers at Victoria Road, that seven years later they'd be appearing on the biggest footballing stage of all? While our League One opponents had future Premier League and UCL players amongst their ranks, we had people such as Danny Green, Scott Doe and Peter Gain. That group of players gave all they had for this club, and it was that mentality which served us so well.
Even when you look at our Wembley opponents, Rotherham, you realise how big that victory was. The Millers are now readying themselves for a season in the Championship. They're a massive town, with a large support, but on the day they were thoroughly beaten. Against a backdrop of sun and clear skies, Dagenham were determined and battled to the very last minute. Unfazed, we took a while to find our stride but kept calm throughout.
Eleven heroes in yellow all played their part in the day. You had our French maestro Romain Vincelot, whose powerfully-saved overhead kick really outlined our intentions. Tony Roberts was a hero as he always was, sweeping everything up. When that first Daggers goal hit the net, it took a while for the surreal moment to register. Paul Benson, signed from the very depths of the footballing pyramid, had a Wembley goal and this led to an outstanding piece of commentary.
''Dagenham & Redbridge look a very different side to about ten or fifteen minutes ago, when they were on the back foot, and here's Benson.....BRILLIANT! Paul Benson...with the stuff of fairytales. We're talking about League 2, but that would grace the Premier League'' - that piece of brilliance was the catalyst for an incredible day, with excitement and nerves in equal measure. We'd twice been pegged back, but wouldn't give up and in the end it was Jon Nurse's goal that won it.
Cue chaos, celebrations and delight. The victory meant so much to players and supporters alike. But we'd done it. Dagenham & Redbridge were in League One. Things may be incredibly difficult at the club at the moment but when you think back to this day, it will always bring a smile to your face. This isn't a reminder of how far we'd fallen, it is a reminder of how far we came. There may be no players left at the club from that day, but the memories will be forever ingrained into our folklore.
30th May 2010, the greatest day in our history and for many of us, the greatest day of our lives.
Generally, the close-season guarantees a welcome break from the stresses and strains of a hectic football calendar which otherwise dominates your life, however for the Daggers, the problems which overwhelmed them last campaign will continue during the summer. Amidst all the uncertainty came a fans' forum on Thursday 17th May which served the purpose of updating all supporters on the current situation at the club. A strong base of 200 or so supporters gathered at the Victoria Road clubhouse, all desperate for some positive news to emerge after a season which delivered much the opposite, and the night didn't disappoint with many revelations and concerns being voiced.
Present were Steve Thompson, Paul Gwinn, Dave Bennett and John Still; while the tone of their voices initially indicated a sense of trepidation, they announced a plan to keep the club afloat which depended on donations (a 150k target has been set which can be contributed to via the season ticket forms, which were also distributed), volunteering and everybody pulling together to reach a united cause. The most important thing is that, despite being told to liquidate the club in January, we will at least be competing next season, which is all us supporters can hope for. Admittedly it will be with a significantly trimmed squad as both player and staff cuts were inevitable, and this culminated in the shock news that John Still had resigned from his position as manager. What it means is that we now face a very difficult campaign from August onwards, although Paul Gwinn is confident we can compete at a high standard. Basically, the message of the night was that we will have to thrive on minimal resources, but this isn't necessarily the worst thing as it will reunite the club of the mentality and values which served us so well in the past years.
A summary of the topics and themes is below, and can also be viewed on separate Dagenham & Redbridge FC fansite diggerdagger.com, via this link.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS:
- Steve Thompson told of how he was advised to liquidate the club in January but would do everything in his power to keep us going. With that in mind, he and many others devised a plan which involves volunteering and living by our means for next season, though acknowledged how difficult that will be.
- Since the departure of Glyn Hopkin as a majority shareholder the club have been actively seeking a source of investment, however there are still parties interested. We have also secured some minimal funding. Despite an investor being needed, the club remains debt free - barring a loan from the council covering the A13 Steel Stand, a small fee to the brewery and other running costs such as bills - as last month's wages were paid by Hopkin.
- Though nothing aside from interest has been expressed as of yet, the board remain optimistic and pointed out that the club could be a good prospect to any investor, as we have a Football League standard ground, coupled with changing rooms fit for use up until Championship level.
- The board announced that the only way we would be able to survive was through budget cuts to the playing staff, amongst other things, and this will lead to many redundancies within our youth setup particularly. As the highest earner at the club, John Still has agreed to resign as manager, but said he didn't want a 40-year career to end with a season as turbulent and disastrous as the last, so he will seek another job in football. Since then, he has been announced as Barnet's new boss on a two-year contract.
- It is understood that the role will be offered to assistant manager Darren Currie, who has been at the club as a player then a coach since the 2009/10 season. However, Currie is currently on holiday abroad and so talks have not been held as of yet. John Still, however, said that some assistants simply don't want to take on the main role and so while Currie may have first refusal at the job, there are other avenues to be explored. That said, considering the current financial situation, it seems likely that the club would want to promote from within.
- It is a tradition of the club to introduce a new team shirt every season and usually this would mean changing our away strip this time around. However in another attempt to cut costs, Paul Gwinn announced that there will be no new kit and that we will continue to use our current white away strip next campaign.
- Season ticket forms were also handed out and while many expressed their displeasure at the increase in price, generally people were fairly satisfied. This year's early bird offer is valid until the 16th June. Also on the season ticket form is an option to make a donation to the club because despite being reluctant to allow this to happen, Thompson has now set a 150k target. There is also a Crowdfunding page which was previously set up, this can be found at https://uk.gofundme.com/save-the-daggers.
- The club will continue to operate on a full-time basis next season as going part time didn't seem viable. Many contracts come to an end on the 30th June but others are valid until 2019, so when all those have expired the club may re-evaluate the situation. Interest has also been expressed towards many of our current players, but no further details were specified.
The fundamental thing is that there is at least a way for us to survive into next season and this is cause for optimism but of course the situation remains worrying and we still need an investor. However, those present on the night did remain confident that we could entice one to the club, which was portrayed as an exciting preposition to anybody because of the fact that all of our facilities are up to standard. The most interesting comment was that we would have to return to how we were fifteen or so years ago and that at least offers hope that the club will return to it's roots.
Next season will be hard, incredibly difficult, but the fact that 200 people gave up their night to be there shows how much the team means to all of us. If our help is needed than we have so many loyal supporters who would be willing to contribute. Either way, the most important thing is that the Daggers are going to exist.
Of course, losing John Still is a devastating blow because his experience and knowhow was vital in helping us through this situation, and working to a tight budget is something he thrives on. With John gone it'll be hard to attract players to the club, but whoever takes charge now will receive a good backing I'm sure.
It promises to be a very hectic Summer, but at least we can look forward to August. Surely things can only get better from here.
PAUL GWINN: 'I can assure you that we are doing our utmost to keep this club alive.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'Those (playing) contracts cannot be serviced by a club of our size'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'We're still speaking to people, all over the world, indeed after the last fans' forum we had a guy from Spain who was very interested.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'We looked at where we were 10/12 years ago. We looked at the level of staff we had. We looked at the level of playing squad we had. And we decided that this club was worth fighting for. It's going to be a difficult twelve months, however you look at it.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'We're sure we can stabilise the ship over the next twelve months.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'When you've got people telling us to liquidate the company during the season, none of us thought it was right to ask you to put your hard-earned money into season tickets or into donations, without us knowing it wouldn't be going into a black hole.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'We are now in a reasonable position where we think we can trade our way out of this over the next twelve months. It's not gonna be pretty, it's going to be very hard, we'll lose a lot of people, but it will be there. So we will launch the sale of season tickets, and we will ask if people would like to put a donation into the football club - it would be gratefully received. We set a target of those donations of 150k.'
STEVE THOMPSON: Some of them (staff) are going to have to go. With a club of our size, the size of our support base, without a benefactor we will have to run with a much smaller playing staff.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'Of the six scholars we have, some of them are going to be needed in the first team.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'This saddens me...John's stepped down. He's the highest paid employee at the club. It's going to be a blow because much of our success is down to this man.'
STEVE THOMPSON: 'We will have to rely on volunteers. If there are people who can do something, take responsibility of this or that, then please step up to the mark.'
JOHN STILL: 'Over the years I've always tried to split John Still the supporter from John Still the manager, and have to try and find the right balance. I'm going to be really honest, if what has happened this season hadn't have happened and whether we were successful or not, in my head I would've finished this year.'
JOHN STILL: 'I cannot finish like that. I had no control over it. I'd have hated my last year to have been this. When all this originated, since then with the selling of players, I've had lots of opportunities from clubs in the Football League, and clubs in our league, to go. I said to the board that the right thing for me to do was to step down as soon as I know what the club is doing. Now I know what the club is doing, I can't finish my career on this, so I will go somewhere else.'
JOHN STILL: 'I'm never not going to be a Dagenham supporter.'
I am Joel Page, an avid Dagger who travels across the country watching the club. Over the last few years, I've absorbed the turbulent rollercoaster ride that comes with supporting the Daggers and have seen us both at our highest and our lowest. From 'that' day at Wembley to watching us suffer a devastating drop into non-league, it's all a part of the journey.