THE dAGGERS vOICE
'That' Jon Nurse goal at Wembley, the brilliant FA Cup trip to Everton, those famous non-league cup runs; these are all events intrinsically intertwined into our short quarter-century history. With a reputation for bringing through players and thriving on very little, Dagenham & Redbridge have a very distinct identity which seems to have been slightly lost over the last year or so. However, as the man behind most of it, John Still, walked out on the club while Barnet-bound last month, it marked a new era at the club which promises an unpredictable future.
For the very first time, the Daggers would be forced to look externally for a manager, and thus began a difficult process which involved over 70 applications. Amongst other things, supporters wanted a boss with the experience of his predecessor while also harbouring new, fresh ideas to inject into the club. Of course, he would also have to work under immense financial constraints and this would be a potentially huge deterrent to any potential candidates. It almost seemed like an impossible job to find anybody of Still's calibre yet, under a month later, here we are with an ex-England manager at the helm.
On the 5th June, Peter Taylor was appointed as manager and brought with him Terry Harris, our former assistant and somebody very familiar with the club's infrastructure. After losing John Still and Darren Currie in such a disappointing manner, it was brilliant news and offered a glimpse of optimism for our future. Apparently Taylor was in contention when the manager's job was last vacant and allegedly beat off competition from names such as Hakan Heyrettin, Kevin Nicholson and Garry Hill for the role.
The pleasing thing is that both join the club ''in full knowledge of the situation'' so are obviously aware of the challenge awaiting them, which will be monumental. The difficulty ahead will have only been reinforced in recent weeks as we've been forced to let go of Mark Cousins and sell Fejiri Okenabirhie (to Shrewsbury) and Craig Robson (to Barnet), with more players set to swap Essex for Edgware in the coming weeks.
That leaves Taylor with a threadbare squad so his contacts will be absolutely vital. Equipped with a diverse multitude of experience varying from the pinnacle of English football, the national job, to the very depths of the football pyramid, he has attributes which can lend themselves well to this challenge. Speaking to Daggers Youtube after his appointment, the new manager said,
I have known this club for a long time; I've been to lots of matches and have been here as a guest lots of times. I've always had a very good feeling while I've been at this football club but now, all of a sudden, it's a very different situation for the team. I'm looking forward to seeing if I can help the club push on.
During his solitary game in charge of England, a friendly defeat to Italy, Taylor made a big contribution by handing David Beckham the captaincy, while also selecting six players eligible for the under 21s including Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry and Jamie Carragher, showing his faith in youth. Despite only managing the national team for one game, he enjoyed spells in charge of the under 20 and under 21 sides.
Such was he regarded that Glenn Hoddle specifically asked him to take charge of the England u21 outfit in 1998, where he won eleven, drew three and lost just one of his fifteen games as manager while not conceding a single goal in the victories, only to be controversially replaced by Howard Wilkinson with three matches left. His second spell in 2004 then saw nine wins, five draws and two defeats, however his 2013 stint at the u20 side was unsuccessful as they finished bottom of their World Cup group with a squad containing Sam Byram, John Stones, Ross Barkley and Harry Kane.
This shows that he is comfortable working with youth, which he will probably have to do next season as many academy players will be needed for first-team duties. Having managed some of England's brightest raw talents, hopefully he can bring the best out of youngsters such as Elliot Bonds and Jordy Mongoy next season. His experiences at England, as well as New Zealand and Bahrain, can also command respect from the players, meaning they are more likely to buy into his methods.
At club level he has managed many sides from Crystal Palace to Dover Athletic, and most recently Gillingham. Speaking to fans of some of his former clubs, I was told he plays a defensive style of football. Apparently his teams are organised and solid, which is always a good thing given that we will have to withstand a lot of pressure next season. This philosophy is very different to what we've been used to in recent years, but only time will tell how we set up next campaign.
Overall, this appointment is an exciting one for the club and it's hard to see how we pulled it off. While Taylor has said he'd be happy with a fifth-bottom finish, hopefully we can defy expectations and enjoy a decent campaign, though nothing will really be expected of us. As a new era dawns on the club, they'll need the backing more than ever.
With plans outlined for a young and inexperienced squad to fulfil next campaign, it was expected that the Daggers would have to part with their best players in order to raise much-needed cash. Having arrived in 'full knowledge of the situation', new manager Peter Taylor knew that the team he initially inherited certainly wouldn't be the one fighting relegation next term. Therefore, there was a sense of inevitability around the sale of Fejiri Okenabirhie and though that at least softens the blow, there's no disputing that the loss of Fejiri will leave a gaping hole in our side - it's an absence that won't go unnoticed.
With rapid pace, superb strength and a brilliant eye for goal, Okenabirhie established himself as one of the most sought-after figures in the National League last season, and arguably the most promising young player to feature at Victoria Road since a raw Jodi Jones burst onto the scene in 2015. However, particularly in the second half of last campaign when everything seemed to be collapsing around him, the performances of Okenabirhie offered a glimmer of happiness for the supporters in a time period which offered anything but as he played with a maturity way beyond his 22 years.
He scored nine league goals for the Daggers in a scintillating run of form which more than made up for an overwhelmingly quiet start to 2017/18, where he only bagged two. His talent had been evident from the moment he joined as part of John Still's post-relegation rebuild but it was only after a sustained run of games that he really began to hit his stride, and the fact that he was named England C Player of the Year is a testament to his qualities, owing mainly to a fantastic performance against Wales C in which he got a hat-trick.
Another reason he was able to do so well after the Winter period was that he had escaped the shadow of Morgan Ferrier, who previously had dominated the attack, and later Corey Whitely. Obviously these departures weren't ideal for the club but they enabled Okenabirhie to flourish as the main man. For that alone he merits his opportunity at a higher level and though it's a big step-up to League 1 Shrewsbury, he should make the step-up in an effortless fashion befitting of a player with his quality.
His new manager, John Askey, will know a lot about him having faced the Daggers twice with his title-winning Macclesfield outfit. In both games against the Silkmen, Fejiri put in decent displays which obviously impressed Askey, who described him as the best striker in the division upon his arrival at Greenhous Meadow. If he's given opportunity, vocal backing and perseverance then he should do really well, especially for a side who like to play forward-thinking attacking football.
He has the makings of a really successful Football League player. He's scored big goals, including a very-last minute penalty at home to Torquay, which shows that he has composure and isn't overawed by big moments. Like every good winger, he can run at players and often has players backtracking, but also possesses a good football brain which allows him to see the bigger picture and find teammates in good positions. He was a typical John Still signing.
However, like every non-league signing, he does carry a risk because he was disappointing in the earlier stages of the season, and as soon as he fails to perform in League One he'll be labelled as somewhat of a failure. He also nearly got himself sent off in our Play-Off first leg against Forest Green in 2016 but in all fairness he put in a very good performance that evening. It's very hard to predict how non-league players will take to a higher level - like Ricky Miller's catastrophic time at Peterborough - but it can also go very right and after all the Daggers have a very good reputation for players.
As for how we move forward, it's a huge shame to lose Okenabirhie but after seeing so many adored figures depart last season it's not surprising anymore. Just like Corey Whitely, there are several more players like Okenabirhie lurking in non-league and Peter Taylor will do his best to find them. Hopefully, Fejiri does really well at Shrewsbury and justifies the potential he carries with him.
A turbulent and difficult season, played out against a backdrop of severe financial uncertainty, saw the Daggers unable to emulate the play-off position attained the previous May when John Still's newly-assembled side defied all expectations to finish fourth. Though they threatened to sustain another promotion challenge this time out, the withdrawal of investment from Glyn Hopkin not only yielded the departure of many key players essential to their faltering hopes, but shook the club to such an extent that our very future was put at stake. This was their 25th anniversary season but rather than proving to be a celebration of all which made that quarter-century so magical, Dagenham's loyal supporters were forced to watch their club transform into one barely recognisable amongst all the worries and fears which gripped the club.
While the eventual 11th-placed finish failed to satisfy earlier expectations, in the circumstances it was a great effort from the team, who didn't even know when or if they'd be paid at some points. To finish in the top half and to even harbour faint play-off hopes towards the end of the season is a testament to the squad, who showed resilience and courage in the face of adversity to ensure that we could at least cling onto some hope, when all optimism seemed lost as a dark cloud continuously hovered over Victoria Road. Some key players like Whitely, Ling and Ferrier may have been forced to depart the club much to the disappointment of the fans, but this paved the way for some other squad members to shine and prove their worth. Okenabirhie escaped the shadow of others and enjoyed a stunning second half to the season, while Pennell, Adams, Kandi and Bloomfield also put in impressive performances after having a good run of games in the side.
When you cast your mind back to August, it's hard to visualise just how things went so wrong in such a rapid space of time. We hade a blistering start to the campaign and looked every inch of potential champions, blowing teams away with a seemingly-endless supply of goals and also digging deep to grind out unlikely results. Barely had 2016/17 reached an abrupt end at the Forest Green play-off semi-final second leg when work commenced to prepare the team for another challenge at the top of the division. Loan players such as Maguire-Drew, Sheppard and Shaun Donnellan returned to their parent clubs having served us fantastically well, while others departed to resume their careers elsewhere. Legend Paul Benson headed to Boreham Wood having made a vital contribution in our run to the play-offs and fellow experienced player, Curtley Williams, left after a frustrating campaign restricted due to unfortunate injuries. Elsewhere, young right-back Josh Staunton swapped East London for Surrey, joining Woking, Frankie Raymond joined divisional rivals Bromley and others also waved goodbye to Victoria Road, as Luke Guttridge retired and Joe Widdowson rejected a new contract to link up with rivals Leyton Orient.
A fantastic summer of recruitment, however, not only softened the blow of losing some important players but left Daggers supporters severely excited for the season ahead, in anticipation of something potentially special. Two strikers were lured from other National League outfits, with the arrival of Michael Cheek and Morgan Ferrier forcing other teams to take notice. Cheek, a prolific non-league striker, was established at this level and scored a remarkable 20 league goals for relegated Braintree the campaign prior. Ferrier was a different mould of forward but his arrival was just as promising, bringing with him power and strength, the likes of which hadn't been seen at Victoria Road in many years. Though his finishing wasn't quite at the standard of his new strike partner, a goal and assist against the Daggers in 2016/17 while playing for Boreham Wood showed that he was capable of making things happen. Such was the anticipation of those two coups that some other potentially-good signings fell under the radar because Dan Sparkes, one of the shining lights in a struggling Torquay side, also bolstered an attack which was already looking to be a force. Moreover, Ben Nunn made the switch from Boreham Wood and was joined by fellow defender Bondz N'Gala, while midfielder and Charlee Adams arrived from Birmingham City having established himself as a keen distance shooter.
Those arrivals, coupled with a productive pre-season which enabled the new-look squad to gel, led to the Daggers being instilled as one of the main candidates for promotion, alongside the usual suspects such as Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham. Immediately Dagenham justified this prediction with a tremendous start to the season which saw them become one of just two unbeaten sides in the division by the end of the month. They quickly erased the memories of their devastating play-off exit to Forest Green in May, and with a hard-fought opening day win over Barrow laid the foundations for the campaign. They also picked up where they left off on their travels and, having amassed the most points on the road in 2016/17, won 2-1 at Boreham Wood to make it two victories in a row. Key to their rapid start was Corey Whitely and after a tremendous first season in the National League, the winger continued to show what he could do and he resumed this trend with two goals in their next fixture, a 2-2 draw at Eastleigh.
Despite their bright start, signs of weakness began to show and despite a first goal for the club for Ferrier, the Daggers needed a 94th minute leveller from Sam Ling to salvage a late point at Fylde, however what this did demonstrate was incredible resilience and a never-say-die attitude. It was more dropped points however after their previous match yielded a draw at home to Ebbsfleet even when Dagenham were twice leading by two goals. They were still unbeaten however and slight blip aside, managed to dispel any worries with an emphatic 5-1 win over Bromley, followed by a battling draw at Maidstone. Free-scoring Dagenham ended the month in second place with an on-fire Whitely bagging six of their sixteen, however despite the loan capture of Kevin Lokko on the eve of the season, they were still leaking an alarming amount of goals, and in the space of just three months would go on to draw as many games as the entire previous season. An injury to Michael Cheek looked to deal a disappointing blow to their progress, however Ferrier had proved to be a marauding presence and would be more than capable of controlling the attack, especially given the strength in depth Dagenham had. It is a testament to this that Oliver Hawkins was allowed to depart for League One Portsmouth on Deadline Day having struggled to make the Daggers XI in August.
Daggers' unbeaten start to the season was still intact as they entered September, which brought with it a number of tricky games including home matches against Sutton and Halifax, but firstly came the visit of sixth-placed Gateshead, which provided one of our toughest tests to date. John Still was awarded Manager of the Month and the curse looked to have typically struck as his side seemed unusually cautious and lacking a cutting edge, however still managed to prevail 3-1. Even after Ferrier missed a penalty early on, Dagenham's ability to constantly find a way to win yielded more success and they ended the day top of the league. Next up was the long journey north to Hartlepool, who had endured a difficult start to life in non-league.
What followed was arguably our best performance of the season; Daggers dominated and played some excellent football but managed to suffer a smash-and-grab defeat which was frustrating, but still offered many positives. Luckily they had a chance to instantly put things right as Sutton were the visitors to Victoria Road the subsequent Tuesday but a last-minute goal consigned them to a second-successive defeat. All of a sudden Dagenham went from seeming invincible to vulnerable and desperately needed to bounce back against Halifax to prevent their season from properly derailing. The Shaymen were league leaders but as the season constantly began to throw up surprises, were soundly beaten 3-1 in one of our most comfortable and confident displays of the campaign. This week of football, the two defeats followed by a win as convincing as this one, set the tone for a season which would be plagued by inconsistency. Not only had Dagenham made a bright start to the year but they'd managed to keep hold of Corey Whitely and the winger continued to flourish in his second year at the Daggers. Against Halifax he scored his eighth goal of the season and seemed to be making strides towards a remarkable campaign. Little did anybody know but it would prove to be his last ever goal for the side as the Daggers' superstar transformed into a misfiring figure barely recognisable from his previous form, and his fall from grace rather typified the season as a whole.
The next and final two fixtures of September provided two games which seemed straightforward but such was the unpredictability of the National League that they turned into two very difficult clashes. Both Solihull Moors and Torquay United were languishing towards the bottom of the division, already embroiled in a survival fight, yet in the end Dagenham were hugely fortunate to escape with four points from two clashes where they were second best in both. At Damson Park, an early Mason Bloomfield goal seemed to have set the Daggers up for a comfortable success but as Solihull turned it around, only a 94th minute goal from Jake Howells - a corner which sailed all the way in - salvaged the unlikeliest of points. These were the sort of games which denied Dagenham a closer grasp of top spot at that point, though in the circumstances they were delighted with anything. Fast forward a week and the situation was the same; Still's side were bitterly underwhelming against struggling Torquay but once again found a way to grind out the win, this time with Fejiri Okenabirhie's 90th minute penalty. Despite seeming as if they could always find a way to earn points, there was the distinct impression that Dagenham's luck would soon run out, and in October it did - in devastating fashion.
However, though it would transpire to be one of the worst months of the season, October began well as Dagenham battled to earn a point at promotion-chasing Aldershot, though it was another missed opportunity as the Shots played most of the second-half with ten men. The late equaliser, scored by the ever-improving Sam Ling, set them up for a return to Surrey four days later as they headed to Woking. Perennial strugglers turned high-flyers, Limbrick's outfit played exciting, attacking football and would provide a stern test, but the Daggers rose to the occasion with a dominant display on the road. However, in spite of one of their best performances, they somehow contrived to lose the game 1-0 after a wonder-strike from Charles-Cook. It was without doubt the most frustrating result of season; the Daggers were denied a penalty in the last minute for a blatant handball, Doe was hacked down by their player who should've been sent off and then to make matters worse the very same man fired home the winner. There were many positives to take, but this match reinforced the fact that possession without a cutting edge is nothing. However, on what was non-league day 2017, Dagenham had played their part in a very entertaining exhibition.
They would need to pick themselves up quickly because next up was an important FA Cup encounter. Playing in the 4th Qualifying Round for only the second time in a decade, the Daggers were pitted against local rivals Leyton Orient, so not only was a first round place at stake but there was also regional bragging rights to be had. Infront of a bumper crowd, Dagenham once again carved out most of the chances but couldn't convert it into goals and so had to settle for a goalless draw, ensuring a midweek excursion to E10. Another frustrating evening saw the Daggers downed by a Macauley Bonne strike despite a late onslaught where we threw everything at Orient, but it didn't yield a deserved reward. However, while it was disappointing not to make the first round of England's most prestigious competition, the focus always remained on the league and attentions immediately turned to that Saturday's home game against Wrexham, who had started the season exceptionally under Dean Keates as they looked to end their long exile from the Football League. It was always going to be a difficult encounter but the task became harder when Kevin Lokko was dismissed for a reckless challenge after just 32 minutes. Instead of Wrexham cruising to a comfortable victory though, Dagenham frustrated the Welsh side with a resilient display, as they continued to hold the upper hand despite the numerical disadvantage. They thought they'd nicked an unlikely winner through Mason Bloomfield late on but immediately after, disaster struck as a 93rd minute own goal rendered all that hard work worthless. Still, they could take solace from a fantastic showing which opposing manager Keates called 'outstanding'.
This was the first real rut Dagenham had been in during their first few months. Previously they'd managed to rely on the goalscoring prowess of Ferrier, Whitely and co to get them out of any rough patches, but now that ruthless edge seemed to have deserted them when they needed it most. With roughly a third of the fixtures played, they had slipped to ninth, having failed to score in the previous three, all while remaining vulnerable defensively. They desperately needed to regain their spark in their next game, which saw a midweek visit of the league leaders and eventual champions Macclesfield. What followed was a magnificent display as the Daggers, wearing their change white strip, battled to a hard-fought and thoroughly-deserved success, thanks in no small part to a determined performance from matchwinner Morgan Ferrier. A very talented Macc side were made to look almost ordinary in match which showed exactly what the Daggers were capable of. With displays like that, albeit on a more consistent basis, then they could certainly challenge for the title. Therefore it's such a shame that this season-high was followed by a devastating low, as cracks began to show and problems surfaced beyond the scenes, as we now know.
Initially things seemed stable as the Daggers salvaged a point at part-time Maidenhead to end October in sixth, just five points off top spot yet also just three off being in the bottom half. The draw at York Road also saw the return of Michael Cheek who had been absent since scoring a brace against Bromley in August and his leveller against Alan Devonshire's outfit was the perfect response. It seemed like the Daggers had been crying out for Cheek for weeks, where they'd been creating chances but simply failing to take them. Finally it looked like Dagenham could kick on but of course that's not how it worked out as their next National League outing, away at Tranmere Rovers exactly a fortnight later, saw them succumb 2-0 after a lacklustre showing which extended their winless run on the road to nine in all competitions. They proved that it was their away form letting them down as they proceeded to win their next two games, both at home, to climb up to fifth. Firstly came a tremendous comeback from two down to beat bottom side Guiseley, who had stunned Victoria Road early on. Obviously they should never have been allowed to be in that position - it once again highlighted what we already knew in regard to defence - but the result demonstrated great character.
However the fact that they'd only just scraped a victory over Guiseley left fans relatively pessimistic as next up was first placed Dover Athletic at Victoria Road, but for the third time that season Dagenham put in a brilliant display to stun the leaders and once again Ferrier proved the difference. Again this showed just what the Daggers were capable of on their day, and this only added to the frustration when they would inevitably disappoint the very subsequent week. They were now officially the best home side in the division but their next test would be on the road as they made their 2017/18 BT Sport debut. Usually a side like Chester, struggling towards the base of the table, would be a straightforward test but such was the unpredictability of our season, especially considering the disappointing away form, that it really could've gone either way. That sense of trepidation was retained in an opening 45 where not much happened but suddenly in the second half, the Daggers seized relentless control and after missing a penalty, proceeded to smash four past their sorry opponents in a devastating period. Ling and Howell found the net before a Cheek brace capped his team's biggest win of the campaign. Impressively, Dan Sparkes bagged himself an assist to offer a glimpse of his capabilities after missing the first few months through injury, and he would kick on in 2018.
All of a sudden, from the ashes of their worst form had emerged their best of the season so far as they amassed three wins in a row. As they entered December, though the weather deteriorated Still's side did not and they made it four straight victories away at Barrow, courtesy of the brilliant Ferrier, who was continuing to justify his tag as a fans' favourite. That result equalled their best form in over a decade - they seemed to really regain their sizzling form of August and this re-instilled faith into many supporters. Of course this inevitably culminated in disappointment as a Trophy loss at Hereford was the catalyst for a four-game winless run. They were beaten by a reinvigorated Eastleigh at Victoria Road after taking the lead with a Cheek header. That was a setback, but would all be forgiven if Dagenham could triumph at local rivals Orient in a match which was about so much more than just three points. It was about the bragging rights, so it hurt so much more when the Daggers were downed 2-0, falling with barely a whimper. The packed festive schedule, delivering four games in just ten days, offered a massive chance to gain momentum but had only left the Daggers disappointed. They at least had a chance to earn some points as they headed to Ebbsfleet four days later.
The Daggers ended the season with another local fixture at Ebbsfleet's Kuflink Stadium, where a much-improved showing offered hope that form was returning. Having fell behind to a first-half Coulson goal which came against the run of play, the Daggers' control was rewarded with a very late Mason Bloomfield equaliser and this put them in perfect stead for their second leg of the festive double header against Leyton Orient just two days later. The first of three home games in eight days, a goalless draw against the O's marked four games without scoring past our rivals, but was followed by a thumping victory over Hartlepool, who were blown away 4-2. Cheek and Okenabirhie netted for the Daggers in between Dan Sparkes' first two goals for the club. A quick-fire third would arrive for the winger the subsequent Tuesday but it came in a disappointing reverse to Boreham Wood. The game hinged on a one-minute spell when Ferrier, who bagged two assists from the bench during the Pools' match, missed a huge one-on-one opportunity before the visitors promptly went up the other end and scored a classic counter-attack opener. On a dark, gloomy night Wood took control and though Dagenham twice threatened a response through Cheek and Sparkes they were soundly beaten in the end, left to rue what could've been as they so often were.
Nearly two weeks later, the Daggers were back in action as they headed to Sutton for BT Sport's live lunchtime broadcast. This was an excellent chance to showcase their capabilities and reignite their season in front of a wide audience, and despite surviving an incredible first-half in which the hosts hit the woodwork over three times, they were eventually outdone and beaten 2-1 in a result which should've been a lot more convincing. Individual mistakes proved our undoing with Scott Doe playing an awful backpass to scorer Wright for the first, and then a sea of white leaving Bolarinwa unmarked in the box to crash a header home. Okenabirhie continued his good form with a consolation goal which threatened a late onslaught and though Ferrier should have a penalty that might've secured the unlikeliest of points, it would've only disguised a poor and lacklustre performance. However if that was bad, things were destined to get worse the following Saturday as Dagenham were humiliated at home by Solihull Moors. Although it was 'Daggers against Racism day', which delivers a larger crowd to Victoria Road, fans witnessed possibly the worst display of the season, with the only positive being a brilliant Okenabirhie goal on the turn. However at the time supporters were oblivious to what was going on behind the scenes.
The next Saturday brought another frustrating experience as the scheduled fixture at Halifax was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, with the decision coming barely an hour before kick-off with most travelling supporters having arrived in West Yorkshire. Things were destined to become more frustrating as the season became chaotic, and a terrible series of events unfolded. Firstly, a club statement the day before the scheduled Halifax trip revealed that Glyn Hopkin had resigned as a director and this caused a financial plight for the club, which battled to stay afloat. As on-pitch matters suddenly seemed insignificant, players began to leave to generate much-needed funds and it all happened so quickly. In a matter of hours, key players Sam Ling and Morgan Ferrier had both left the club, and would be followed by Scott Doe, who cited personal reasons as the reason behind his departure by mutual consent. A worrying state of affairs had developed and it was vital that fans got behind the team in the next game, a home fixture against Aldershot on BT Sport, and they did despite a 2-0 loss. However, it was a great performance considering the circumstances which had enveloped the match.
The team became galvanised and this was evident as they confidently swept aside Torquay at Plainmoor. Everything seemed to point to a home victory as the struggling Gulls were in top form, and Dagenham were without Cheek and Boucaud on top of the previous departures, which saw Whitely also leave for Ebbsfleet the day before. However, they put in a remarkable performance which left the 70-or-so travelling supporters delighted. Okenabirhie was excellent and scored twice with Craig Robson also cementing his place as a true leader by also finding the net in a solid performance from himself. The happiness was somewhat tarnished by a defeat to Dover three days later but once again the Daggers were good and only a remarkable Ryan Bird overhead kick denied them more points on the road. They soon got back to winning ways as they secured a dramatic 3-2 win over Chester for the second time in a row. Bizarrely, the details were exactly the same; Dagenham went one up, conceded twice as Chester turned it around and then scored twice in the closing stages to earn a dramatic three points. History repeated itself and after Okenabirhie scored two stunning goals either side of a Chester comeback, an own goal just before the final whistle ensured the points remained in East London, and left Chester in a perilous state.
March's first scheduled game was put paid to by the 'Beast from the East' - which brought torrential weather conditions and heavy snowfall, rendering Guiseley's Nethermoor Park surface unplayable - so it was onto the home game against Tranmere. In a game which epitomised our season, the Daggers edged the first-half against the high-flying Wirral-based outfit, missing several glaring opportunities before collapsing in the second half and losing 4-0 to a Cook and Norwood brace apiece. Another defeat, this time a 2-1 reverse, followed in the rearranged Halifax trip, before Daggers done themselves proud in a fundraising friendly against West Ham, who brought a very strong outfit in order to raise money for their neighbours. Dagenham lost 3-1 but at times were the better team in what was a surprisingly competitive game. They carried this feelgood factor into their next encounter where they beat free-scoring Fylde 2-0. John Still took a creative approach and lined up with Norwich-bound Bloomfield and Chike Kandi upfront and it paid off with both finding the net. This sparked a late playoff push as Daggers earned a point at Gateshead but a last-gasp missed penalty from Jake Howells could've yielded further reward.
Into April and the Daggers were victorious 2-1 over Kent side Maidstone at the Chigwell Construction Stadium in a confident display, courtesy of goals from Robson and Okenabirhie. By now fans were really starting to believe and though the Daggers earned a point at home to Woking, it was disappointing not to win in a game which should've resulted in 3 points. A long-range Dan Sparkes free-kick was a goal of the season contender as Dagenham began rapidly, but they lost concentration at the beginning of the second half and allowed ex-Dagger Josh Staunton to score what eventually earned Woking a point. It was testament to their recent form that making it four games unbeaten was seen as a disappointing result. However, Daggers shrugged this off to inflict only a third home victory on Wrexham, thanks in so small part to many huge slices of luck. Okenabirhie and Cheek were on target with goals against the run of play, while Wrexham threw everything at the Daggers to no avail. Two more quick-fire away games followed as Dagenham first lost at Bromley before winning a truly fascinating game at Guiseley 5-3, with an incredible seven goals occurring before the break. Having seen their faint playoff hopes dissipate with that loss at Bromley, Dagenham at least ended the season positively with a 1-0 victory over Maidenhead, before playing well but losing at champions Macclesfield.
A TIMELINE of Off-Pitch Matters
from a hectic year of financial turmoil, departures and all-round chaos
1st July - As pre-season dawned and with a training camp in the offing, the Daggers celebrated their 25-year anniversary on the first day of July. This marked a quarter-century since the merger between Dagenham FC and Redbridge Forest.
DAGGERS SIGN CHARLEE ADAMS
3rd July - As ground improvements continued on and off the pitch, the Daggers bolstered their squad even further with the signing of 22 year-old Charlee Adams. The midfielder would be joined by fellow signings Nunn, Ferrier, N'Gala, Wheeler, Cheek and Sparkes.
YOUNGSTERS PUT PEN TO PAPER
7th July - Jordy Mongoy and Liam Gordon were both rewarded for their progression within the academy with a professional one-year contract, with the option to extend for a further year.
SQUAD NUMBERS ANNOUNCED
21st July - With the friendly schedule well underway, Dagenham & Redbridge revealed the squad numbers for 2017/18 just under a month before the new season. New signings Cheek, Ferrier and Sparkes would wear the numbers 23, 10 and 14 respectively.
DAGGERS ANNOUNCE NAMES OF REFURBISHED SUITES
22nd July - Clubhouse refurbishment was complete, allowing the Daggers to reveal the names of their new-look suites. In recognition of some of the club's greatest servants, they were dedicated to Dave Andrews, Ted Hardy and Tony Roberts.
LOKKO SIGNS ON LOAN
4th August - On the eve of the new season, the Daggers announced the loan signing of Kevin Lokko, who'd recently moved to League 2 side Stevenage from Maidstone, where he impressed last campaign.
A13 STEEL BECOME NEW AWAY STAND SPONSORS
26th August - The club announced that they were delighted to agree a sponsorship deal with A13 Steel Ltd which would see them become the new sponsors of the West Stand, previously the TBS. It capped a great month for the side.
HAWKINS GETS FOOTBALL LEAGUE MOVE
31st August - 2016/17 top scorer Oliver Hawkins joined League One team Portsmouth on Deadline Day after a disappointing start to the season where he struggled to cement a place in the side.
MANAGER OF THE MONTH
3rd September - An excellent start to the season for his side culminated in John Still being awarded the Manager of the Month accolade before that afternoon's game against Gateshead at Victoria Road, which we won 3-1.
BT SPORT TO SHOW CHESTER GAME
5th September - Despite a scintillating start to the campaign, Daggers had so far been ignored by the BT Sport cameras, until they decided to broadcast our November trip to struggling Chester, which as a result would kick off at the earlier time of 12.30pm.
DAGGERS SNAP UP KANDI
12th September - Aged 21, promising youngster Chike Kandi became the latest to sign and would make his debut that night against Sutton United. The pacy forward signed for an undisclosed fee and said he was 'as happy as I can be' to join the Daggers.
FOUR DAGGERS PICKED FOR ENGLAND C
28th September - Paul Fairclough picked his 22-man England C squad for their latest training camp and amongst those players were four Daggers representatives - Morgan Ferrier, Fejiri Okenabirhie, Sam Ling and Matt Robinson.
CLUB STATEMENT - FAKE EMAIL
26th October - The club made a statement regarding the well-documented fake email. They reported that Glyn Hopkin was shown an email (believed to be real) by the Supporters Club supposedly sent to other NL teams in an attempt to discredit M.D, Thompson.
NICK WHEELER LEAVES
9th November - Having only recently signed a 1-year contract after impressing during pre-season, the Daggers parted ways with Nick Wheeler by mutual consent.
BONDZ LOANED OUT
23rd November - The club announced that defender Bondz N'Gala would be loaned out to local rivals and fellow National League outfit Leyton Orient, after making just five appearances for the Daggers.
SUTTON TRIP WILL BE SCREENED LIVE
7th December - BT Sport revealed their latest National League picks to be screened live and it featured Daggers' trip to promotion rivals Sutton United on January 20th, which would now kick off at 12.30pm.
N'GALA EXTENDS LOAN
9th November - After spending an initial month with Leyton Orient, Bondz N'Gala's loan spell at Brisbane Road was extended by a further four weeks, until the 20th January.
BT SPORT TO HEAD TO VICTORIA ROAD
4th January - BT Sport would be heading to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for Dagenham & Redbridge's home fixture against Aldershot Town, which would now be pushed back at a 5.30pm kickoff on the 10th February.
4th January - A club statement announced the news that all fans had been waiting for, that the transfer of the club the Glyn Hopkin consortium had been completed after a gruelling wait.
ROMAIN LOANED OUT
18th January - At around the same time as N'Gala would be returning from his loan at Orient, the club announced that striker Elliot Romain would be heading to Torquay on a non-permanent basis as the Devon outfit battled relegation.
WHITE SEALS DEADLINE SWITCH TO STEVENAGE
31st January - Very late into Deadline Day, Joe White joined League 2 side Stevenage in a deal which baffled Daggers fans, as White had only recently signed a 3-year contract. A Stevenage statement said that Dagenham were 'hoping to do some business'.
LOKKO RECALLED BY STEVENAGE
1st February - Just a day after the Joe White saga, Kevin Lokko also headed to Stevenage as his parent club recalled him from his loan at the Daggers.
CLUB STATEMENT - HOPKIN RESIGNS
2nd February - A worrying club statement revealed that the future of the club had been jeopardised after Glyn Hopkin resigned as a director, citing a disunity/divide as the main reason, and this explained recent departures, with more releases imminent.
CLUB STATEMENT - SCOTT DOE
6th February - John Still made a statement explaining that Scott Doe had been suffering from some personal problems and felt that it would be the right time to move on from the club.
FERRIER IS THE FIRST TO DEPART
7th February - Morgan Ferrier was the first to depart the club in the wake of the Glyn Hopkin revelation, and he returned to Boreham Wood. This was a huge blow but enabled us to generate some much-needed funds.
SAM LING HEADS TO ORIENT
7th February - Barely hours later, supporters had to digest the news of another big player leaving the club. This time it was fans' favourite Sam Ling who rejoined former team Leyton Orient.
DOE'S DEPARTURE CONFIRMED
8th February - Following the recent statement from John Still, it was confirmed that defender and captain Scott Doe had officially left the club my mutual consent.
WHITELY JOINS THE FLEET
16th February - On the eve of a long trip to Torquay United, the club announced the departure of Corey Whitely, the previous season's Dagger of the Year. He linked up with fellow National League team Ebbsfleet United and was the third big name to leave.
FUNDRAISING FRIENDLY ANNOUNCED
21st February - Thanks to a generous gesture from their neighbours, the Daggers announced a big fundraising friendly against Premier League West Ham United, who would be bringing a strong XI on 21st March.
OKENABIRHIE CALLED UP
1st March - Fejiri Okenabirhie was called up to the England C side again, for their friendly against Wales C on Tuesday 20th March, with kick off at 7.30pm.
DAGGERS CALL FANS' FORUM
7th March - Dagenham called a fans' forum on the 15th March with the purpose of updating supporters of the club's current financial plight. The meeting would be hosted in the clubhouse and attended by John Still, Thompson, Bennett and Gwinn.
BLOOMFIELD AGREES PRE-CONTRACT DEAL WITH NORWICH
23rd March - Mason Bloomfield would be joining Norwich City's development squad, it was announced the day before Dagenham prepared to host AFC Fylde.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
21st April - After the last home game of the season, Dagenham held their annual player awards on the pitch. Okenabirhie came third, just behind Robson but the overwhelming winner was goalkeeper Mark Cousins.
THREE DAGGERS CALLED UP
23rd April - Three Daggers players - Adams, Pennell and Okenabirhie - were called up for a friendly against a Republic of Ireland nominated side on Sunday 27th May, in Dublin.
25th April - The club auctioned a number of items to generate much-needed funds in order to secure the survival of the club. Amongst these were signed boots, a Jack Wilshere shirt and a shirt from Gareth Bale.
4th May - The club convened a meeting firstly for full and life members and then for all supporters in the Ted Hardy Suite on Thursday 17th May, to update all on the current situation.
MOMENTS WHICH MADE 2017/18
Though the season was devastating as a whole that doesn't mean there were some enjoyable moments. In August in particular we were treated to some remarkably classy performances from a side who looked every inch potential champions, and even when our documented problems were out in the open around February, the team looked galvanised and produced some great showings in the face of adversity.
Amazingly, one of my fondest memories from the season just gone came during our game at home to Aldershot Town. This may seem bizarre as it was during possibly the worst period in our history with all our financial problems emerging the week prior. However in a game shown live on BT Sport, the team produced a determined performance which evoked a strong sense of pride, despite a 2-0 defeat. Even when we fell behind early on, the backing for the team never stopped and as supporters continued to sing ''I'm Dagenham 'till I die'' - barely fazed by the Aldershot celebrations - that really hit me and sent out a really defiant message.
Around the same time came one of the best performances I've seen in a while, and without doubt my favourite of the campaign. What we'd been robbed of in terms of quality on the pitch was more than compensated with by an incredible spirit and work-rate on that glorious day in Torquay, as the Daggers gave everything they had. Even without Michael Cheek, who was in talks with another club before deciding to stay, and the departed Ferrier, Ling and Whitely, Dagenham oozed quality and even though the Gulls needed all they could in their pursuit of survival, there was nothing they could do on the day. John Still's side were galvanised and at that point the togetherness of the club seemed so high. It was a truly fantastic day out, until the coach broke down on the way home and we were stuck in the middle of Reading for three hours! Getting home at 2am was all worth it.
Okenabirhie was on fire as he has been for most of 2018, and his display in Devon was one of the best I can remember for a long time. He terrorised the Torquay defenders and added two goals to a tally which would eventually reach 12, including a brilliant first, and this came in the midst of an excellent run of form for the England C Player of the Year. The only individual performances which rival Fejiri's at Torquay, as I can remember, are probably: Cousins at Wrexham, Ferrier against Halifax, Robson against Maidstone, Cheek against Bromley, Boucaud against Ebbsfleet and perhaps a few others. However without doubt the best individual display was Okenabirhie's away at Torquay United, but that whole day was about the team, and as a result the all-round performance from everybody probably makes it stand out on that front too.
To produce a performance like that with all that was going on took a lot of mental strength and character, but it wasn't the only great display throughout the season - there were many. Away to Hartlepool and Woking in particular we were excellent throughout though somehow lost both games 1-0. Though those kinds of results are always hard to take, you can always take positives from a good performance and that was the case in both Durham and Surrey. Unfortunately it seemed too frequent that the Daggers would deserve something from games and ultimately get nothing. There were so many 'what if's' - the collapse against Ebbsfleet at Victoria Road, the last-minute Sutton defeat, the devastating last-minute Wrexham loss and the missed penalty at Gateshead to name just a few, as everything seemed to conspire against us at one point.
That said, there was also a time when everything seemed to be going for us, and we could do no wrong. During the first two months of the season we would regularly have luck on our side and it looked as if we could rely on our dangerous attackers to get us out of any situation, for example when the 94th minute leveller at Fylde, the 95th minute equaliser at Solihull and the last-gasp win at home to Torquay. The Daggers showed that they could withstand pressure and would fight until the very end, which often yielded unlikely points that often weren't deserved. The best evidence of this came at the Racecourse Ground in April, when Dagenham produced the unlikeliest of wins to inflict only a third home defeat all season on the Dragons, all but ending their promotion hopes. The fact that Daggers could do this against all odds made it even more frustrating when they'd put in underwhelming displays, and there were many...
Signs that Dagenham were beginning to slowly crumble surfaced around the time of the Fylde away fixture which, despite a 94th-minute equaliser keeping our unbeaten run alive, showed that we were susceptible to conceding from set-pieces, which would prove to be a recurring problem all campaign. From then on we struggled with inconsistency but it was only around December time that we would regularly fail to perform. Previously, there were glimpses of disappointment and the odd loss but fans had been generally satisfied because overall we were picking up points and always remained in touch with the playoff spots. Never was this inconsistency more evident than the two months before Christmas when the Daggers won four games before proceeding to suddenly collapse and embark on a five game winless run which included three straight defeats. However, John Still was insistent that the best sides always get going after the festive period and that it was only a matter of time before we resumed our pursuit of promotion.
Of course this was when our behind-the-scenes financial problems duplicated and this culminated in a really poor run of form, which at the time you couldn't attribute a cause to. The Solihull game at the end of January was not only a hugely disappointing display but also a wasted opportunity to lure potential new supporters as it was our annual 'Daggers against Racism Day', which always attracts a much-higher attendance to what we typically average. John Still later said to me that this was during one of the darkest weeks in our history as players didn't know whether they'd even be paid, so it perhaps explains that lethargic showing. The Sutton away game live on BT Sport a week earlier was also bitterly disappointing and our performance merited a much harsher defeat than the flattering 2-1 loss we eventually suffered. There were several other poor displays but these two were probably the worst. However, neither of those compare to the feeling of getting to FC Halifax Town at 1.30pm in February only for the match to be postponed.
Though seeing the back of that season felt more relieving than disappointing, after a long couple of months we'll all be raring to go, embracing another campaign which hopefully proves to be less chaotic as the last. Let's make sure we try to put everything that's happened behind us as we're in for a challenging nine months with a completely new managerial unit; a new manager, new coaches, new assistants and overall a fresh start. It was truly brilliant to follow the Daggers throughout a turbulent season and I look forward to the chance to do it all again in the company of some great people and we'll all need to provide the team with as much backing as we can. I'll be writing many articles during what promises to be an entertaining few weeks as the inevitable announcements come rolling in.
Others feel crushed, but after that season my passion for the Daggers has never been as strong.
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.