A Supporter's perspective
It's been nearly a month since our league campaign came to a sudden halt with a bitterly frustrating last-minute defeat to Fylde, the entire landscape of society having changed since then with football now the last thing on anyone's mind. This midweek, a healthy away contingent should've been flocking to Barnet's very inhospitable Hive home, the only concern being whether their mudbath of a pitch would finally be rendered playable at the third time of asking. However, a world where we can even contemplate such luxuries as travelling to support our football team seems so far in the past it is almost incomprehensible.
With the headline-dominating Coronavirus pandemic continuing to escalate to alarming proportions, and the significant majority of all sport around the globe consequently shut down, football supporters have had to delve into the archives to compensate for the temporary loss of the beautiful game. I've done just that, and here I pinpoint a number of players who have played a crucial role in the National League phase of the club's history, cementing themselves into the hearts of the Daggers fans in the process.
Largely, the last four years have been synonymous with frustration for the Daggers, with everything that looked good ultimately alluding to a disappointing end. Thankfully, and I write this both cautiously and tentatively, we seem to be heading towards a better future. Daryl McMahon has made a promising start to what we hope is a rewarding, prosperous managerial reign, and hopefully he can assemble a squad as fondly regarded as the below players.
Justham is one of just two surviving members from the 2016/17 team that reached the play-off semi finals (Matt Robinson being the other), and the fact that he was rewarded with a three year contract extension in November just epitomises how important a player he is to us. Affectionately regarded by the Daggers faithful, he has steadily matured into probably the best goalkeeper in the entire division, thanks in no small part to the logic-defying saves he is able to consistently produce week upon week. Many people wonder where we'd be without Elliot Justham. The answer, particularly last season, is probably the National League South.
Plucked from the darkest depths of the non-league pyramid in archetypal John Still style, Fejiri Okenabirhie enjoyed a brilliant start to life in the red and blue of Dagenham but it wasn't until the following campaign that he really started to leave a lasting impression on supporters at a time where all hope seemed lost amidst the financial ruin that resulted from Glyn Hopkin's resignation as a director. In the first few months of 2018, with the club collapsing all around him, Okenabirhie single-handedly kept morale high with a string of amazing performances. Ten goals in nine games, including a hat-trick for England C, ultimately earned him a move to League One that summer, and unsurprisingly he made the two-division transition with seamless ease.
Not many 19 year-olds can contend with the vicious and scrappy nature of the Vanarama National League, let alone thrive in it. Maguire-Drew was a revelation for the Daggers and accumulated a superb total of 14 goals and nine assists throughout the 2016/17 campaign, a tally no striker, let alone a winger, has been able to get anywhere near for us since. Some of those goals were crucial, such as the opening goal against Forest Green in March 2017 and the equaliser in the play-off home leg against the same opposition two months later.
A player that loved to be hated and would get immense satisfaction from celebrating in front of opposition fans; Conor Wilkinson was arrogant but he could certainly back it up. Pace, strength and skill, plus an ability to score goals from all angles and with all parts of his body, is what makes Wilkinson a one-off at this level. It was no surprise that he only lasted six months before heading back into the Football League, and a failure to replace him afterwards is what cost the Daggers dear this season. A deadly partnership with the equally-talented Ángelo Balanta sent the Daggers sailing up the division and away from the threat of the relegation zone.
Hawkins was far more than just a target man. He was an intelligent goalscorer whose dominance in the air meant that, as well as well as being a vital member of Daggers' strike force, he was also able to fill in at centre-back during an injury crisis midway through the 2016/17 campaign. Hawkins struck a hugely-impressive 18 goals in 38 games as John Still's side fought with Lincoln City, Forest Green and Tranmere Rovers for promotion, but an injury in April meant he wasn't fit enough to start either of the play-off games a month later. Nonetheless, he did enough to earn a move to League One Portsmouth in August 2017.
There were occasions in the 2015/16 season when Andre Boucaud, then captain of the ship that sunk solemnly out of the Football League, was booed when he came on the pitch for us, which is an almost inconceivable thought given the positive impact he had on the club in the two years thereafter. A supremely intelligent midfielder who dictated the tempo of the game as well as motivating those around him, he was an outstanding player to have at Victoria Road, even in the twilight of his footballing career. Boucaud was sorely missed after leaving for Barnet in the summer of 2018, and the gaping hole he vacated in the centre of midfield long went unfulfilled.
Whitely's best was better than anyone else in the National League, when he was on song there was simply no team that stood a chance of containing him. Sadly, though, that's not the full story and he was prone to spells of inconsistency that ultimately denied him the Football League career his talents merited. Despite this, he will be fondly remembered for the immense first twelve months of his spell here rather than the bitterly disappointing three months that bookended it, whereby he failed to find the net between September 2017 and March 2018 having embarked on a blistering run of eight goals in the ten games beforehand. However, his best accomplishment was winning Player of the Season for 2016/17 which, considering the plethora of attacking talent we had amongst our ranks that campaign, is a testament to just how good he was.
Our record without him tells the story of just how crucial a player Ángelo Balanta is to us. In the four months he was injured earlier this campaign, the Daggers fell from the cusp of the play-offs to the cusp of the relegation zone; Balanta's goals had papered over a lot of the existing cracks and it's no surprise that Peter Taylor soon lost his job without having Colombian to bail him out time and time again. Throughout his eighteen months at the club he's proven himself to be one of the most intelligent players in the division, with a superb eye for goal and an even better eye for a pass - exactly the player Daryl McMahon needs to build his team around next season.
On the surface, Craig Robson seems a no-nonsense centre back and, while that's undeniably accurate, it's also quite deceptive because he also has the ability to zip the ball around the pitch which is why he was frequently deployed as a central midfielder during his two years at Victoria Road. He made a positive contribution in both positions but his most effective place was certainly in the heart of defence where he added steel and strength to the backline, enabling the Daggers to recover possession quickly and, as a result, place more of an emphasis on attack. Robson was a proper, earthy non-league player and it was a big shame to lose him to Barnet due to our financial issues.
He could be in this list for 'that' goal at Hartlepool alone. While he's never been the most talented player amongst our ranks, Robinson has got progressively better throughout his four years at the club and is now one of our most reliable and dependable players. A gritty, determined presence, he put in the hard work for others such as Boucaud to be at their creative best and it's hoped he can perform the same role for players such as Deering next season. Off the pitch, he takes accountability by never hiding away from a poor result or performance, and that's a respectable characteristic too.
Peter Freund: We miss Victoria Road and can't wait until the lads are back on the pitch! See everyone soon.
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.