Oliver Hawkins. Morgan Ferrier. Sam Ling. Corey Whitely. Fejiri Okenabirhie. Mark Cousins. Michael Cheek. No set of supporters are more used to losing their best players than those of Dagenham & Redbridge in the last year. The fact that every website article or phone vibration could be delivering news that the latest fans' favourite is gone typifies the hardships we've had to endure and, although new ownership seems to have delivered a brighter future, it's clear that this trend looks set to continue.
Even the amount of departures in the last year couldn't lessen the sense of shock when the news filtered through that Elliott Romain, a player on whom our survival hopes are hugely reliant, had left for Maidstone United this afternoon. As usual the timing of the transfer was fantastic with an FA Cup tie at Boreham Wood, which offers the incentive of a potential 25k cash bonus, on the horizon and surely this means our preparations have been disrupted.
However, the fact that it came just a day before a cup clash surprisingly isn't the most bizarre thing about this sale. With our financial predicament now stable, there isn't actually a need to get rid of players, let alone important ones. Plus...why Maidstone? Selling to a direct relegation rival is practically footballing suicide. The only positive is that there will, undoubtedly, be new signings of a better calibre than Romain. This is what was suggested by the striker on Twitter, where he clarified the reasons for his departure.
''To avoid speculation...I was told team improvements/a change-up were going to be made and was asked if I'd be interested talking to Maidstone. I would have happily stayed if my position in the team wasn't going to be affected. Hope that clears things up.''
It bodes well that we seem to be lining up some big signings but getting rid of a big player before those are officially announced is risky at best. We've seen before how deals can be scuppered at the very last minute so I hope that we already have some guaranteed arrivals. That said, irrespective of who we're going to bring in, it would've been nice to keep Romain because he's been massive for us this season. Aside from that, he seems like a great character to have around.
In the not-too-distant past, hearing about the departure of Romain would've generated little more than a shrug of the shoulders because he'd largely been dismissed as an unsuccessful John Still signing. Despite arriving to a sea of optimism, he failed to really get going at Victoria Road and was twice loaned out as he struggled for minutes, living in the shadow of Ferrier, Whitely, Cheek etc. However, this season he's been a complete revelation and I doubt there will be a single Dagger happy to see him go.
Only time will tell whether the decision proves beneficial for us, but an undisputed fact is that we have helped a direct rival in the league and weakened ourselves in the process, albeit temporarily. Maidstone will get a fantastic player with a good eye for goal and work rate unrivalled by any in this division. He will be sorely missed here; his work-rate really epitomised what it meant to play for the club in a time where that mentality was rapidly waning. He's similar to Jamie Cureton in the sense that his love for the game is evident whenever he plays, and he's the type of player that will earn respect even if he doesn't plays well, because he always guarantees that no defender will get an easy ride.
That's what we've voluntarily sacrificed. Romain turned his fortunes around at the club and deserves tremendous credit for it. He either scored or assisted 42% of our goals this season which is a testament to the influence he had on the side. He will go on to better things in football I'm sure, but for us it's just another case of what could've been. I wonder whether we'll be dwelling on that very comment in April because, at the minute, this season only seems to be going one way.
If this departure will teach us anything it's that the new investors are here for the long-term, even if it means condoning strange short-term decisions. So far there's been no honeymoon period - we've picked up one point from a possible eighteen, our goalkeeping coach has left for a more stable job and now our top scorer has followed suit. However, with new signings imminent, there will be better times ahead. We simply have to spend money to have any chance of digging ourselves out of the gaping hole we find ourselves stuck in.
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.