Daggers 2020: A Year In Review (Part 2)
The picture off the pitch was little else but bleak – in the wider world – nothing was happening. Nothing could happen: you were left locked in your house, hiding from an invisible killer.
A killer, that stopped you from meeting with good friends on the terraces and the stands of Victoria Road. You had to stop going; so you could go again – when it was safe. We thought that’d be October, it wasn’t. We thought that was December, it was, then wasn’t.
The latter with the new-found hope of a vaccine. But, now I sit here writing this like all Daggers, desperate to return after being teased once or twice – to return for good. Equally, I sit here knowing that’s not possible and won’t be until the last knockings of the season at best.
A new variant, kicking that ‘#LetFansIn’ can down the road, into the distance.
January this year, therefore, expected to be miserable off the pitch once again, as postponements are being made on it – so where is the hope at present? It is found in the uptick in form from McMahon’s side who have registered 3 wins on the spin (4 in 5) to round off the year on a high.
Though this has been a rollercoaster that has taken us from what we thought were lows, to new lows and things we take for granted to unimaginable highs. Standing side-by-side on concrete steps among like-minded souls being a highlight of your year?
After the appointment of Daryl McMahon on January 3rd, if I’d have said that would be your highlight [a one-off return to the home of the mighty Daggers], you’d have thought I was mad. “I do it every week, mate,” you’d think, returning to your conversations (beer in hand) “how can something you do all the time be a highlight?”
Equally, you wouldn’t have thought that Managing Director, Steve Thompson, would be on GMB pleading for more Government support – being interviewed by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid – saying that there is a real danger of a dozen clubs in the National League going under.
That same man, saying at a fans’ forum where only those allocated tickets could attend, “If it wasn’t for the furlough scheme, we wouldn’t have survived as a football club”. After the American owners: ambitious, responsible and in good faith – bought the club (saving it from the brink of collapse in 2018). You wouldn’t in your wildest dreams have thought of that being a possibility.
Though these things all happened in the space of a few months; in line with the rest of the globe – the football world and beyond – our lives were turned upside down.
Here, I discuss the key moments of a turbulent and difficult year at the Daggers. In spite of which, those at the top decided to spend big, backing their new manager to get players through the door and push for promotion.
The best way, I believe, to look back is to look at my thoughts in the moment – so, I’ve included my weekly fan blogs for each week (when we were in action). The feelings at the time are the best way to put across the feelings of those at the club and the fanbase.
1. SIGNINGS GALORE + FRIENDLY ACTION – AUGUST
The arrivals kept coming in August, two in the first day of the month, and it was a wealth of experience in midfielder Dean Rance and centre-half Callum Reynolds. Supporters delighted with the signings as some had questioned the tactics in the transfer market – waiting until August for certainty - when other clubs were snapping up talent in July.
But, that mood was dampened somewhat after the confirmation of Manny Onariase’s departure. The speculation was growing, not least because of his talent, but especially after the arrival of Reynolds. A big blow – and I, like all, - was sad to see the fan favourite depart.
Some more positive news was to follow in the busiest month of the year by far, the traditional red and blue colours had returned to the Daggers kit! Some wanted more, red and blue bespoke top and kit, but I was just happy to see the home kit back in red and blue!
The week was to end on another high, after the deflation of the Daggers fans at the departure of Manny, as prolific goal-scorer Paul McCallum arrived at Victoria Road… ELATION! My reaction to the signing is found here in my article titled: ‘Dagenham & Redbridge. We’re On Our Way Back!’.
Reinforcement at the back was to again follow, Elliot Johnson, bolstering the Daggers defences - another man with huge experience at the National League level. A break from signings, though we new there were a few more that are imminent, a Season Ticket Holder’s Fans’ Forum that I attended.
A range of topics were discussed: the full range can be found in this article I wrote. Though the key points were that of the playing style, McMahon’s attacking approach on the pitch popular proving popular with fans. Also, Thompson on the coronavirus: ‘if it wasn’t for the furlough scheme we may not have been able to survive as a club’. Furthermore, Thompson spoke on the return of fans as a must for the season to commence – giving supporters some relief.
So, there was promise for fans in attendance, or less promise, more certainty – the league saying it just isn’t financially viable without fans in the ground. Something Peter Freund alluded to in my interview back in July, so with the risk seemingly minimal – season tickets went on sale.
On sale, for a season which Steve Thompson said they had expectations of ‘being there or thereabouts’ – a lot of optimism going into the 2020/21 campaign. Next up on the signings front, joining the Daggers with the aim of achieving the aforementioned goal, was rapid striker – Darren McQueen. Adding another dimension to the attack, the Dartford goal-scorer was another exciting addition to Dagenham’s arsenal.
The return to training was finally complete at the end of August after testing of the players was complete, back on the training ground after 5 months! The last action of the month was on the pitch, a long-awaited return, and it was a 1-3 victory over Ebbsfleet in a behind-closed-doors friendly. A McCallum chip the pick of the goals, Daggers fans raving over the prospect of the striker leading the line in the league.
#LetFansIn + THOMPSON’S PLEA - SEPTEMBER
Heading into September and fans had the opportunity to witness the Daggers back on the pitch as they travelled to Great Wakering for a friendly match. McMahon’s side continued their 100% start to pre-season with a 2-3 win and anticipation for the new season continued to hot up!
Before the season’s commencement, the Daggers continued their pre-season, at local side Hornchurch – a fair few in attendance. It was my first glimpse of Dagenham back in action, and I watched from the press box, George Saunders making his return to Bridge Avenue – the story of the day. Though, he didn’t live up to the occasion, Trialist A however (Adrian Clifton) – with a thunderous strike – impressed in a 1-2 Daggers win.
Another trialist on the day was Will Wright who was released by McMahon at the end of the season, though he had worked his way back into the squad – re-signing as we headed into September – following the Hornchurch friendly. He had made big leaps forward in Lockdown with fitness and impressed in pre-season training, earning a return to Victoria Road.
This was on the eve of the fixture announcement, and the day had soon arrived, the first game of the season for Dagenham was to be – Halifax (a), followed by Barnet (h). After another pre-season win by the Daggers against Cheshunt, they returned to a behind-closed-doors game, Maidstone the opponents – their 100% record brought to an end after a 1-0 defeat.
They did though, bounce back with some ‘silverware’ in the Borough Cup, a resounding 0-6 victory over Barking! The silverware returned to Dagenham after a while and the fans also starved of a new signing for a week, finally saw another arrive – a trialist being given a contract – striker, Adrian Clifton.
Some more welcome news, then, but some speculation which wasn’t welcome was the prospect of tougher restrictions – putting the return of fans in real jeopardy. This came just as the Daggers were picked for a venue by the DCMS for a pilot event for a friendly against Concord Rangers. This did go ahead, and it was great to get back to Victoria Road after so long – but – the occasion was overshadowed by the simultaneous Downing Street address by the Prime Minister.
So, with National League football classed as ‘elite’ sport, no fans were allowed to attend for the start of the season – beginning in a matter of weeks! The lobbying duly began, for supporters to be admitted at non-league grounds and no longer be classed as ‘elite’ – the #LetFansIn campaign. But, the former unlikely to happen, financial support was demanded by non-league clubs as compensation – elsewise, the threat of clubs going under was very real.
This is something Dagenham Managing Director, Steve Thompson, was to take the lead on – GMB, BT Sport and BBC, Football Focus programme – among his media appearances. Good Morning Britain at Victoria Road, live, was one that took me by surprise – sitting there watching it and all of a sudden – Victoria Road came on my screen!
Local MPs also showed their support, the line from Thompson received a lot of praise – it was very simple – ‘non league clubs are the lifeblood of their communities, and there is a real risk of losing them’. Therefore, help was needed. The National League put out a statement saying, the league would not start without the security of a financial package.
Just 3 days before the initial start date, a support package was granted by the DCMS at the government and the National League season was to commence – without supporters in attendance – on October 3rd.
THE VIRTUAL SUPPORTING OF THE DAGGERS AS NEW SEASON BEGINS + OGOGO RETURNS – OCTOBER
National League forced to go ahead without fans in attendance at the eleventh hour, clubs were scrambling for streaming services to be installed in the grounds – so fans could still witness their side in action - ‘virtually’.
The Daggers had theirs installed and up and running for October 1st, their opponents and hosts for the season opener – Halifax – had the cameras in operation but just not the website. So, the first game of the season for Dagenham was to be watched at home after a turbulent month prior.
But, there were teething problems with the stream, and problems on it for the Daggers. A humbling 2-0 defeat to start the campaign for McMahon’s side; one goal though was not seen – a penalty. The automatic cameras not picking it up!
The streaming issues persisted at Barnet with the sensory cameras picking up movement on the other side of the pitch – away from the real action. The problems too, persisted on the pitch, as the Bees defeated McMahon’s men 1-2 at the death after going ahead – fans angry with the poor start – back-to-back defeats.
Though a win was to finally follow, a 1-0 victory at home to Wealdstone, Balanta getting the breakthrough in a hard-fought win. Prior to that game, came the announcement of a double signing – one being a return – Charlee Adams in centre midfield. Also, a young winner, Jaden Brissett who was in contrast to Adams – somewhat unknown.
Things were to take a turn for the worse again though, a defeat to Woking 0-2, huge injury blows for Dagenham – Paul McCallum going off injured, only then for his replacement in Clifton to do exactly the same! Their injuries looking fairly lengthy, the fanbase was left deflated as our injury woes came to haunt us yet again.
Following a point against Yeovil, just one win in five games, the injury-hit Daggers needed a lift. So, two signings were made to lift the spirits and get the side back on track. The first was a much-needed striker Scott Wilson, whom Daryl had worked with previously. Though, that would be overshadowed by a signing that sent supporters into ecstasy, a loan signing, but the return of a legend – Abu Ogogo. My reaction to which you can find here.
So, those two players in action, we turned to FA Cup action and it was a 1-0 win against Hartley Wintney to take us to the First Round Proper – though we made hard work of it. It was then to Maidenhead to round off a frustrating month, and it was typical of Dagenham’s start to the season, we had thrown away another three points due to defensive errors.
The Magpies came from behind following a certain goal of the season-contending strike from Sam Deering before the break. The Boreham Wood game postponed due to coronavirus, we headed into November following a jam-packed but frustrating month marred with injuries. The highlight no doubt the return of legend, Abu Ogogo – albeit on loan.
Fan Blogs in October:
Oct 3rd – Daggers Are Back With New Look Squad
Oct 10th – Daggers Face Newly-Promoted Wealdstone
Oct 17th – Daggers Welcome Yeovil Town
Oct 24th – Abu Ogogo Is Back For Daggers FA Cup Clash
IMPROVEMENT, WITH A SMALL CUP RUN BRINGING HOPE – NOVEMBER
Another signing, in former Salford centre-back Joey Jones, pleased supporters who saw that area of the pitch as vulnerable – just in time for the re-arranged Boreham Wood clash. It was a fantastic 0-1 win at Meadow Park, where the new arrival impressed on his debut.
A winning start to November, the Daggers had momentum, but infiltrating the Stockport camp was coronavirus, the game postponed. A good point for ten men Dagenham was to follow, after a 1-1 draw at Gander Green Lane – a better second half saw a late surge and Paul McCallum scoring after his return from injury. They could have gone on to win it but saw Kenny Clark sent off for a ‘stupid’ foul and second yellow.
There was some improvement of the coronavirus situation following a circuit-break November lockdown and the return of spectators seemed to again be upon us! The tiered system would grant access to crowds of up to half of capacity in Dagenham’s case – heading into December.
In the meantime, the Daggers had their biggest game for a while, heading to League 2 side Mansfield for a place in Round 3. Last minute heartbreak, it proved to be. The Daggers taking it to the last seconds of extra-time – Nicky Maynard netting in the 122nd minute. Dagenham put in a great performance giving a good account of themselves and fighting for every ball; getting it forward.
So, a vast improvement to end the month and the ‘Daggers Spirit’ many had spoken about in recent weeks – seemed to be there – after a long absence.
Fan Blogs for November:
Nov 7th – A Welcome League Break With McMahon Under Early Pressure
Nov 14th – A Turning Point; Are We Now Seeing The Real Daggers?
Nov 21 – Are Kenny Clark’s Days Numbered?
Nov 28th – It’s A Special Occasion At Mansfield In The FA Cup
THE END OF THE YEAR ON A HIGH - DECEMBER
Into December, and it kicked off with a 0-0 draw at home to Notts County before a 1-2 defeat to Aldershot. At the latter result and performance there was anger, McMahon coming under fire for team selection and Daryl labelling the first half performance a ‘disgrace’. For more on that game you can read my Match Reaction here.
That left the Daggers nine points adrift of the play-offs and two above the drop, 10 games gone and the fans expected better. They replied with a 2-3 win over strugglers Weymouth, not the most convincing of victories, but three points nonetheless – in which attacking prowess prevailed. Some scintillating attacking moves on show.
We moved from there to Victoria Road and FANS. WERE. BACK! I was over the moon to be able to return to watch the Daggers play competitively at Victoria Road and so was everyone else in attendance I’ve no doubt. Every person in the ground was to pay tribute to a true Daggers great before kick off – Ted Hardy – who had sadly passed away during the week. Many believe the club wouldn’t be where it is today without him.
To the game itself, frustrating. The players failed to live up to the occasion, as I wrote in my match reaction. Just very disappointing, again, McMahon coming under fire amid wide-spread anger and frustration at the lack of results being produced. The owner, Peter Freund, took to Twitter to have his say: demanding ‘Intensity. Passion. Commitment’.
Well, he was to get that in abundance as a real highlight of the year and McMahon’s reign came upon us – a fantastic display of grit, determination and passion saw Dagenham defeat league leaders Torquay. A Brundle red card before the break saw the winning team condemned to ten men, but a valiant defensive effort in the second ’45 saw McMahon’s men hold on. My Full Reaction to the match can be found here.
The team looked to bounce back, but the fans weren’t to be returning back to Victoria Road anytime soon as Tier 3 restrictions were imposed on London. The consequences of such measures meant no fans were to attend elite sports matches and therefore bringing an end to the brief return of supporters.
Some welcome news soon came for supporters after the Tier 3 restrictions being imposed brought a cloud over them – Liam Gordon, a fan favourite who departed in the summer, was to return on an initial one-month loan! A signing many were delighted about as the local lad returned home. His debut came in the FA Trophy where the Daggers came out 5-2 winners to progress – the attacking display something that pleased fans and wanted to see more of – albeit a weak opposition defence having a hand in a goal or two.
With the Bromley match on 28th December postponed, the last match of the year was a Boxing Day clash with Dover. A game the Daggers were expected to win and in a bid to continue a good winter run, they went out to take all three points – not in the best of conditions. They did do just that, though making hard work of it, defeating a struggling Dover side who went down to ten men.
Fan Blogs for December:
Dec 5 – Daggers Take Heart From Improved Performances
Dec 12 – Excitement As Eager Daggers Fans Return To Victoria Road After Nine Months Out
Dec 21 – A Not So Bleak Winter After All As Daggers Manager Finally Gets A Tune Out Of His Squad
So, that was to be the last game of a 2020 which started with hope and a new direction for the club and then unimaginable months of despair were to ensue. But, the hierarchy were to keep their word and invest hugely in the summer; despite that – the team on the pitch haven’t quite lived up to expectation. The hope is there now though for me, for McMahon’s men to kick on; in a season which is seeing increasing postponements. Though, I am hopeful that despite a pile-up of fixtures, they will be fulfilled even if the season is extended beyond May.
Watch out for my analysis of McMahon’s first year at the helm – the anniversary of which is tomorrow!
Thanks for reading,