Suburbs – The Anatomy of Dagenham and Redbridge
Intro note: In ‘Anatomy of a Club’, I try to write about a range of different FL clubs. This means that naturally I won’t always know as much as regular matchgoing fans of that side. If I make any errors below, just leave a comment and I’ll amend it. Cheers! ~ DB
A year is a long time in football, but for Dagenham & Redbridge, the situation here in mid-September is much akin to that of 12 months ago. Wayne Burnett’s side have performed respectably in every game – quite well in a few – so far this campaign, but results have been hard to come by. Still, the mere fact that a club named Dagenham & Redbridge F.C. is still in existence and undeniably competitive in the Football League would have impressed and surprised some who witnessed the club’s inception.
Whilst a year might be a long time, 23 years seems an eternity ago. But for some, the controversy which formed this suburban London football club is still fresh in the memory. The smaller football coverage of the pre-digital age and the fact that this was a merger, not a franchising meant that The Daggers have never been viewed with the hostility many retain for MK Dons, or for Livingston in Scotland. Still, a When Saturday Comes article from that long-distant summer exists as one of several artifacts of the cynicism towards the proposed merger of rival clubs Redbridge Forest and Dagenham F.C.
At one of the latter club’s away matches, a P.A. announcement in favour of the two clubs’ independence aways met with a “roar of approval” from both Dagenham fans and those of Carshalton, their hosts for that game. That columnist predicted the combined club would last for five years at most – in reality, The Daggers built a platform for sustained success when many expected them to slip into the abyss.
It took 15 years for the club to win promotion to the Football League, from an increasingly competitive, professional Conference National. They did so in 2007, under the tutelage of the experienced and personable John Still. The players who took them there then catapulted this small, East London club into the heady heights of League One. The continued influence and footballing talent of the likes of Paul Benson and Anwar Uddin throughout this period can’t be overstated. This was a club which respected the solid base of its Non-League years but knew it needed building on.
In the end, the dizzying heights of League One lasted for just a season, as the men in Blue & Red agonisingly missed out on survival following a 5-0 defeat to Peterborough United on the final day. The cold truth about modern football is that however well you use your funds, if your budget is slim, your crowds are small and wealthier clubs are picking off your prized on-field assets – there’s only so far you can go. Dagenham & Redbridge aren’t a big enough club to survive at League One level, and unfortunately for the Victoria Road faithful, that’s likely to remain the case.
Last season was a mixed bag for the Daggers. It began with a couple of humbling defeats, but ended with a standard which gaffer Wayne Burnett told footballleague.co.uk were “Play-Off performances and results”. However, despite a bright finish, being the league’s joint-eight top scorers (the Daggers 58 beating out the total of promoted Southend) and doing the double over a talented Bury side, it wasn’t all good news.
The side relied too much on 40-year-old veteran striker Jamie Cureton, and though he consistently delivered the goods last year, it’s unlikely his Indian Summer can last forever. Inconsistency also raises concerns. The Daggers didn’t score a league goal in the whole of December 2014. They conceded 3 or more goals on 8 occasions. They scored six times against Brentford and still lost – one of the craziest stats in recent football history.
This season has started unsteadily, but the club’s summer transfer recruits have impressed. Talented former Wycombe striker Matt McClure already has 3 league goals to his name. Nyron Nosworthy arrives with Premier League pedigree and a host of Jamaica caps to his name, whilst defender Josh Passley is one for the future. On a slender budget, Burnett has managed to attract a well-balanced group of players who are more than adept for League Two football. Despite a handful of departures, the squad looks slightly better on paper than last season’s.
So far this season, results haven’t really gone for the Daggers, but there have been positives in the performances. The narrow 2-1 home loss to Exeter saw Dagenham have a goal disallowed and come close with several chances, as well as witnessing a cracking goal from teenage prodigy Jodi Jones. They were lively against Stevenage, and deserved all three points. And, after a tough run of fixtures, struggling Newport County arrive on Saturday. With Burnett’s side playing an entertaining brand of football, and Butcher’s troops struggling desperately, this might be the moment for a Daggers run to develop.
My prediction this season? The Daggers to find that clinical touch in front of goal, as the new arrivals begin to gel with established, reliable players like Zavon Hines and Joss Labadie. The Daggers defence is still rather too porous to start dreaming of a Play-Off push, and inconsistencies are bound to remain, but I see a mid-table finish. I’ll stick my neck out and say 12th.