There's a sense of trepidation mixed with nervous excitement as the Daggers get a new season underway against our local rivals Boreham Wood, in what marks a new era at the club. After a turbulent summer which yielded several departures, Dagenham have a fresh identity; a new manager at the helm, different backroom staff and an overhauled squad. Despite the team being young and inexperienced, Peter Taylor has already got us playing organised football in pre-season and his managerial know-how will lend itself well to what will be a challenging campaign for us, both on the pitch and behind the scenes.
With the pain from last season still cutting deep, our supporters are understandably pessimistic but Peter Taylor has injected new life into the club, especially during a time where hope seemed to have faded away. While we still can only afford to issue one-year contracts and are still asking for volunteers, the situation isn't anywhere near as bleak as it seemed just months ago. Infact, we've managed to assemble a squad better than our financial status deserves and have placed our faith mainly in young players, with experience intertwined into the side.
Lamar Reynolds, our key signing, offers a bright spark to the team, and Taylor's other signings have also been astute. He's brought in Ollie Harfield at right-back, experienced Gavin Hoyte at right-back, Alex Davey in the centre, Harry Phipps in midfield and James Blanchfield, who's a central midfielder. In addition to this we've made many loan signings; Harry Donovan (CM), Ben Goodliffe (CB) and Will Wright (CB) join the team on a temporary basis and all offer something different to the side.
Throughout pre-season the new signings have bedded in well and gelled much quicker than I expected. There were some niggles which make some players doubtful for the clash at Boreham Wood. Lamar Reynolds was taken off against Colchester after a scything challenge and he hasn't played a game since, with Taylor saying he might not be fit enough to start at Meadow Park. Another not to feature much in pre-season was new captain Ben Nunn who was also suffering from an injury. Elsewhere, Blanchfield is a concern, but Pennell seems to be fully fit again after a slight problem.
The buildup to the clash this weekend has been extraordinary as, just on Thursday, our preparations were dealt a huge blow with the untimely sale of Michael Cheek to fellow National League outfit Ebbsfleet, who beat off competition from Boreham Wood for his signature. However, incredibly, us selling Cheek two days before the season started was outdone by Boreham Wood, who were forced to sell their prized asset Morgan Ferrier to Walsall for 35k just yesterday, on the eve of the season. Therefore, it's been a panicked few hours for both clubs as they desperately try to find replacements.
For us, not having to contend with Ferrier is absolutely crucial - it's honestly the difference between potentially getting a draw and collecting three points. Ferrier was probably the best player in the division but he's not the first name Boreham Wood have had to wave goodbye to in recent weeks, as duo Grant Smith and Bruno Andrade departed for Lincoln. However, Ferrier was a bigger player for them than Cheek was to us, so that puts us in a good position ahead of the game.
That said, it'll still be tough. Every curtain raiser is because teams are itching to play competitive football and nail down their place in the starting lineups. Boreham Wood may have lost most of their main players but will still provide a stern test, especially at home where they were fantastic last season. They'll know a lot about us as well given that many of our players - Nunn, Davey, Harfield and Goodliffe - have featured for them in the past. This well also add more of a fierce edge to the game, which is something many Wood/Daggers games have had in the past.
Last season, 8 goals were shared in the two matches, the year before it was 6, so there will certainly be chances. The only thing I worry about is the attacking prowess of Romain and Kandi. Both are decent forwards in their own right but aren't like a Michael Cheek who will bag goal after goal. However, I'm confident that we have the players capable of breaching their defence. After all, we have a young and energetic team looking to defy expectations this season. Well, this is the time to start.
Dagenham are something of an unknown quantity at the minute so literally anything could happen today. It will be a highly competitive match played on an immaculate service which will serve both teams well. Hopefully we can capitalise on Wood's highly disshevelled summer to cap Peter Taylor's first game in charge with a victory.
The opening day is so important as it sets the tone for the season. A win leaves you upbeat going into a demanding run of mixtures where momentum is key. Conversely, if you start off with a loss, it's hard to pick yourself up so quickly for the next one. That's why it's so vital to get off to a good start in Hertfordshire this afternoon.
So the day has finally arrived. Here we are - a brand new season. Who knows where we'll be at the end of this one? The rollercoaster begins. Let's go!
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.