A Supporter's perspective
Ever since the Daggers tumbled back into the crazy world of non-league football in 2016, it's been a continuous flow of dramatic turbulence, with battles at both ends of the table and a financial situation that has escalated from one extreme to the other. After play-off semi-final heartbreak in 2016/17, John Still looked to forge another promotion challenge the subsequent year but saw it derailed by the departure of investor Glyn Hopkin which prompted a desperate period in our history. A mass exodus of personnel followed as the club desperately tried to plug the monetary gap, and this culminated in a 2018/19 campaign in which the sole focus was survival, as a team consisting of young, inexperienced players battled valiantly against the odds. Two months into this herculean battle to beat the drop, however, there was another twist in fortune as the takeover by an American consortium was announced, suddenly restoring life to a club seemingly devoid of optimism and hope. Within a few weeks everything had changed and, ultimately, the Daggers secured a lower mid-table finish.
That brings us to 2019/20, a season where Dagenham were supposed to reignite their ambitions of returning to the Football League. A season where the Daggers were supposed to consign the traumas of the previous two years firmly to the history books, as a brighter future emerged in it's place. A season where the supporters who had persevered and given unwavering backing to their struggling team were looking forward to experiencing some joy at long last. Except, none of this happened. The Daggers supporters learned that a budget in the wrong hands was akin to no budget at all as one of the most depressing seasons imaginable unfolded before their eyes. Peter Taylor's long-overdue sacking came, very aptly, after the very last game of the decade and Daryl McMahon arrived to lead a new era, but he was unable to undo the damage perpetrated by his predecessor. In the end, what could've been a good season was sabotaged by a man who was unable to adapt to modern football and exhibited a safety-first mentality that was soul-destroying to watch.
The story of 2019/20 commences well before the first ball was kicked on that scintillating summer's afternoon against Woking. It was on Good Friday in April of the previous campaign. A day when the Daggers defeated Eastleigh 2-0 was made better by a statement from Executive Chairman Peter Freund published inside the matchday programme and also on the club website, in which he declared that his mindset was ''next year we return to the Football League and we don't look back''. This, coupled with the announcement with the new badge and also the sponsorship from Nike, seemed symptomatic of a new era. This was one of two significant days prior to pre-season starting, the other being Monday 17th June. That was the day Conor Wilkinson left for Leyton Orient, disastrous news for the Daggers supporters who knew that the striker was virtually irreplaceable. Tall, pacy, skilful and potent from all angles, be it with his head or either foot, he was a one-off at this level - not recruiting a striker even half as good to fill the void was a catastrophic mistake, an appalling miscalculation. However, the statement from Freund meant excitement amongst the fanbase was still high and this was supplemented by a summer of recruitment that, on the surface, didn't appear nearly as bad as it ultimately proved to be.
Several new faces joined the club as Peter Taylor openly expressed a desire for two players in each position. Of those, only Joe Quigley seemed initially to be a poor signing, with his unappealing record at a multitude of other National League clubs sparking concern. The area in which the Daggers appeared to improve the most was the middle of the park, with Mitch Brundle and Harold Odametey arriving with good pedigree from Dover Athletic and Maidenhead United respectively. Also arriving from another team in our division was right-back Andrew Eleftheriou (Braintree), wingers James Dobson (Sutton) and Bagasan Graham (Ebbsfleet), and forward Reece Grant (Aldershot). Meanwhile, Joan Luque made the switch from Concord Rangers after being scouted by Taylor for some time. Centre-backs Luke Croll and previous loanee Manny Onariase joined the club after playing for an EFL side before pitching up at Victoria Road, as did Will Wood who had featured for Accrington in 2018/19. Like Onariase, Will Wright made his loan spell permanent and he added strength to the right-back position vacated by the departing Ben Nunn, who was one of eleven players to be released in a list that also included Jack Munns, Gavin Hoyte and Tomi Adeloye.
Pre-season was indifferent, most of the friendlies ending in a draw, which whet the appetite for the real thing. Finally, months of nervous anticipation made way for the eagerly-awaited curtain-raiser at home to newly-promoted Woking in the first weekend of August. However, all of that hope and optimism dissipated in a bitterly-underwhelming 90 minutes that cast misery over a gloriously sunny day. A goal seven minutes into either half did the damage for Dagenham as they slumped to a 2-0 defeat that sucked the life out of the supporters. However, the luxury of the August schedule is that the next game is never too far away and just three days later came the third consecutive evening trip to Dover, where a brilliant performance secured all three points on the English Channel. Just half a week into the new campaign and there had been two very contrasting displays, the first indication of the inconsistent spells that would plague Dagenham's season. The big question, though, was which of these performances was the real Dagenham? Was it the side who were awful against Woking, or the side that were full of attacking energy at Dover? That question seemed to have been answered a week later after two straight defeats, to Halifax and Boreham Wood.
Not just cracks but gaping holes had appeared, and a number of questionable decisions from Peter Taylor led to significant supporter discontent even this early in the season. With the Daggers one down at the Shay with fifteen minutes remaining, he took off three of the better performers on the day before becoming embroiled in an angry confrontation with frustrated members of the travelling contingent after the full-time whistle. Adding salt into the wound was his comical statement in the post-match interview referencing the fact that Halifax were top of the league before kick-off, something which obviously doesn't mean much two weeks into the season but in the world of Peter Taylor seemed to justify the latest defeat. Three days later, a crushing 3-0 loss at home to Boreham Wood, with an incredible double-substitution after half an hour fuelling the fire further. The cracks had become bigger, but just like that they were papered over with an eleven-game unbeaten run that left them perched, quite unbelievably, in 5th place. It started with a fantastic triumph over Harrogate Town and spanned five weeks before an unfortunate reverse at Notts County brought the club crashing back down to earth, with victories against Yeovil, Maidenhead, Hartlepool and Sutton, plus draws to Eastleigh, Chesterfield, Bromley, Torquay, Chorley and Barnet inbetween.
However, while it was a decent spell of games, it did conceal a number of problems at the time. It seemed as if Peter Taylor was happy to accept a point simply because it continued the run, and this led to a number of poor results like Chorley (H) and Chesterfield (A), two games against sides in the drop zone that Daggers ought to have beaten. Six draws may seem reasonable on paper but it's only the same as two wins and four losses, which is far less worthy of credit. This was undoubtedly where the season peaked for Dagenham, but after this peak came a rapid descent as they reverted to type. A pathetic yet not unsurprising loss at Isthmian Premier outfit Carshalton cost the Daggers a place in the first round of the FA Cup for the third year in a row, and with it a healthy sum of money. The following weekend came a much-needed win over Wrexham but it was soured by an injury to Ángelo Balanta, Daggers' best player by far and one they were significantly dependent on. He'd struck seven goals at that point and it's no coincidence that in the four-or-so months he was sidelined the Daggers managed just two measly wins.
Click HERE for Part 2, which covers the demise of Peter Taylor and the subsequent managerial appointment that yielded a long-overdue improvement in form.
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.