Our first away game in the Football League sees us brave a thirty-six stop marathon down the District line for a trip to Dagenham. In a way its a visit to a club that provide a template for our clubs immediate ambition… consolidation in League Two, followed by a promotion effort a couple of years down the line. It took Dagenham just two years to reach the third tier of English football, but unfortunately only one year up in League One, a victim of the fluid movement between the two divisions four up-four down brings.
Still, an incredible performance… an example for smaller clubs showing success can be achieved in League Two, and relatively quickly to boot, providing the club is well run. Dagenham have already achieved more in League football than some clubs do in decades. Much of the credit must go to manager John Still, a man current Dons boss Terry Brown clearly has a lot of respect for, something that perhaps eased through Gareth Gwillim’s permanent move across London during the summer… that Dagenham didn’t kick up a fuss and try to demand a fee (however small) for a player we clearly wanted, speaks highly of the integrity of club and management, and I hope we get the opportunity to repay that in some way in the future, even if all that means is selling out their stand come Saturday afternoon.
We’ve come across clubs with fractured histories in the past during our rampage through the non-league game, none more so than the Daggers themselves. There’s enough history in the clubs that eventually came together to form the current entity to write three articles… Ilford, Leytonstone and Walthamstow Avenue won the FA Amateur Cup on seven occasions, including Leytonstone’s 1947 victory over the Dons, and you can throw Dagenham’s 1980 FA Trophy victory into the mix.
The series of mergers began when Ilford and Leytonstone came together in 1979, picking up Walthamstow Avenue along the way and becoming Redbridge Forest in 1989. The new club shared Dagenham’s Victoria Road ground and eventually merged in 1992, by which time Redbridge Forest had earned a place in the Conference.
The now fully formed Dagenham & Redbridge FC initially found themselves bach in the Isthmian League a few year s later, winning promotion once more in 2000 and becoming a real force in the Conference. To say the club knocked on the door of the Conference is an understatement, runners-up for the title in 2002… and they would have been champions too had it not been for some hardcore cheating from Steve Evans and Boston United – the Daggers two games against Crawley this season should prove very interesting…
After a few seasons rebuilding, including John Still returning effectively for the fourth time (after two spells as Leytonstone/Ilford manager, and a stint around the period Dagenham and Redbridge came together) in 2004, the Daggers finally made it to the Football League in 2007, pipping Oxford to the title. For a club of Dagenham’s size, mere survival was the initial ambition, and the club managed a 20th place finish in their first season.
A year later the club were at the right end of the table, finishing 8th and only missing out on a playoff place on the final day of the season. They were to go one better next time around, not just in terms of finishing in an all important seventh place, but defeating Morecambe (7-2 on aggregate) and Rotherham to claim a place in League One for the first time.
Dagenham far from made up the numbers in League One last season, despite being the smallest side in the division. Despite those intimidating four relegation spots, and aided in a way by the self-destruction of Plymouth and Swindon, the Daggers fought to the very last day. Unfortunately they slipped to their biggest defeat of the season, 0-5 at rampant (and soon to be promoted via the playoffs) Peterborough, meaning Walsall stayed up despite a 3-1 defeat at Southampton.
A season that was always going to be a struggle probably wasn’t helped by the clubs inability to keep clean sheets, only six, the lowest in the division. If they had converted just one single goal defeat into a point they would have stayed up, instead they find themselves back in the basement, presumably the experience gained will ensure they will remain a tough opponent, even if an immediate return to League One is beyond them for now.
The problem traditionally non-league teams face, one that the Dons are currently feeling and which Dagenham are in the process of dealing with, is that an impressive non-league stadium provides barely adequate once in the Football League. While the Dons seating issues will be resolved next summer with the construction of the new stand, Dagenham are one step ahead with their seating solution, and Dons fans will benefit from the new Marcus James stand on Saturday.
With the exception of the Main (Carling) Stand the rest of the ground is terracing, covered down the side and open at the end (with added scoreboard). With a capacity of just over 6000 Victoria Road (or the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium) has now fulfilled Football League requirements
Dons fans already in possession of tickets will have taken advantage of Dagenham’s pre-purchase deal, with a sharp markup on those tickets bought on the day (in brackets);
Adults £19 (£22)
Concessions £13 (£15)
I haven’t compared them with Dons prices because not having seating behind the goal at the moment doesn’t make for an accurate comparison, but those who buy on the day on Saturday (and invariably will get stuck in the corner) will find they have paid £3 more than the best seats in the house at Kingsmeadow…
I’m not going down my normal route of delving into the history of WFC encounters with the Daggers previous incarnations, as there were just too many of them… 94 meetings with Ilford, and 9o with Leytonstone, as well as 54 encounters with Walthamstow Avenue. and not forgetting the six times we faced Dagenham.
In the modern era, for both clubs, this is the first competitive encounter, however the Dons went down 0-1 in a pre-season game at Victoria Road back in 2004.