Daggers 2020: A Year In Review (Part 1)
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. McMAHON IS APPOINTED – THE STORY OF JANUARY
2 points and 1 place off the drop on New Years’ Day, manager-less Dagenham & Redbridge football club needed a saviour in the dugout who could turn the tides and avoid relegation. But, also then start to rebuild a squad – fit to challenge for play-offs in the next campaign.
Delight. A young, hungry manager whose playing style consisted of: fluid, attacking and expansive football – always looking to be on the front foot – was appointed. A far cry from his predecessor who had caused anger and frustration – above all else – in the months prior.
This anger and frustration led to his sacking, and the caretaker charge of Jody Brown and Terry Harris going into the new year. Before the appointment of a successor, the caretaker team did an okay job in steadying the ship.
The fanbase tipped McMahon as a favourite, along with Boreham Wood boss Luke Garrard (of the same mould), Daryl was to be the man to bring excitement back to the club. A clear change in direction from the top, people who ever questioned their (the owners) ambition – dismissed it as all talk – were given an answer.
His success – or progress shall we say – to date has been documented in my article (to be released on Jan 3).
But, a summary overall from me is despite his slow start to the campaign with the team, things are starting to click and he has the players capable of achieving such things.
Into the specifics of the month, the games played totalled to 4, 3 in the league in which we went unbeaten! But, a defeat in the FA Trophy also among them. That game being the first of the McMahon era, and despite defeat, the attacking intent excited supporters.
The next game was another against the same tough opposition, Notts County, but this time in the league and the Daggers got it spot on! An exciting new striker signed on loan, Alex Reid, with the brace against the Magpies.
By the end of the month, the league position had improved with a three-game unbeaten run in the league, including a win. Though, very much remaining in a relegation fight,
My Week-by-Week assessments of January can be found below:
Jan 3rd - McMahon Taylor-Made for Managerial Post
Jan 17th – Now’s The Time To Strike With Forward Planning
2. THE DARYL EFFECT – THE STORY OF FEBRUARY
With improved peformances, came an extension of the unbeaten run, from 3 to 6. Though, it unfortunately was ended by a high-flying Barrow side – falling to a narrow 2-1 defeat. Before that though were 2 draws to start the month, before a 2-0 victory at home to Solihull Moors.
That important victory kept the Daggers above the relegation zone by a point – 12 games left to play. Despite the run without a defeat, only 2 wins were included in that run – the battle for survival very much remained alive.
Aside from the league, the Daggers had reached a cup final, though not in the most prestigious of competitions! Set for a match-up with Billericay at the Colchester United stadium in the Essex Senior Cup after a semi-final win on penalties against Concord Rangers.
Off the pitch, there was an arrival in Myles Weston at the beginning of the month though he was soon injured after his introduction to the pitch. A player who Daryl was familiar with following his time at former club Ebbsfleet.
The last home game of the month was the only victory, against Solihull Moors, and it was on ‘Daggers Celebrate Diversity Day’ – a great day with a bumper crowd in attendance and a win to top it off!
Week-By-Week assessments of February can be found below:
Feb 7th – Daryl’s Men Deserved More in Daggers’ Deadlock
3. SEASON GROUND TO A HALT AND EVENTUALLY DECIDED ON PPG – MARCH & APRIL
During the previous two months an epidemic originating in Wuhan, China was quickly becoming a pandemic, that was to affect the world on an unimaginable scale – spreading wide-spread destruction. By March, this coronavirus had arrived in the UK.
Before the eventual postponement of the season, there were two games played at the beginning of the month – the extent to which our lives would be turned upside down remained unknown. The first clash was away to rivals Aldershot, Dagenham coming out 0-1 victors, a boost for survival chances heading into the business end of the season.
But, then a defeat to Fylde, a last-minute winner for the Coasters – gutting. Not only the manner of the defeat, but what it plunged us into, a relegation scrap as Fylde were down there with us.
Though, that was to be our last game in 7 months, the Woking game called off just hours before kick-off due to the risk posed by coronavirus. I remember being in the car, on the way to Victoria Road to get on the Supporters’ coach – knowing it would be the last game for a while. But, the match never took place – called off at the 11th hour! Daggers co-owner Peter Freund said you were mad if you were to go; eventually though, nobody did!
The cancellation of the season however, wasn’t confirmed until nearly a month later – though it seemed inevitable. In late March, all staff and players at the club were furloughed amid the biggest domestic crisis since wartime – football now at the back of many people’s minds – paling into insignificance.
Steve Thompson was to put out monthly statements – the first two of which can be found below – reading them back it’s quite incredible how far we’ve come since then. In the world of football, thanks to science.
In the latter, he cautioned against a return of football anytime soon, a line which made me think of just how far we’ve come is: ‘the club is preparing to enter a lengthy period of hibernation’. We’re now out of that and the players are back out on the pitch, though we’re not there just quite yet.
Going into May, the resolution of how the table was going to end up in the weirdest season of all, became a little clearer – the PPG (Points Per Game) solution became increasingly popular across the leagues.
Fan Blogs for March:
Mar 6th - A Great Reid Goal In Rare Loss
Managing Director, Steve Thompson’s statements:
March Statement - https://daggers.co.uk/news/-M3X48WjGZ_D4stihWyi
April Statement - https://daggers.co.uk/news/-M5vrzP8EP5SbCOYVh7L
4. INTERVIEW WITH PETER FREUND, RETAINED LIST + 1 SIGNING! – MAY, JUNE, JULY
Lockdown fatigue kicking in, everyone was itching to return to football, but that wasn’t expected to happen at the National League level until September at best – as per Steve Thompson’s statement. So, no Dagenham, but the Premier League did return to resume their season in ‘Project Restart’ to give football fans their ‘fix’.
I got in contact with co-owner, Peter Freund, many supporters missing any talk of the Daggers or conversation about the club. So, I arranged an interview with Freund to give the Daggers supporters something to be excited about and something to look ahead to in the future – start up some Dagenham conversation.
It was a privilege to interview him for a second time in as many years, especially during such a pandemic, I was eager to see what he had to say – as was everyone else. The key points of the interview can be read here in more detail. But, just a couple of quotes that stood out included the praise for ‘mentor’ Peter Taylor.
The sacking of the manager one that was necessary but also something that is the hardest part of the job for Peter. The line that reassured many Daggers fans was, “our goals are the same” and the consortium is more committed than ever”.
With the situation around coronavirus moving along in a more positive direction, things would begin to open up come July/August and a new signing on the last days of the month – with the retained list also announced. The National League confirming their intentions to commence on October 3rd !
Few surprises were in the retained list, a fair few released, though some would have liked to see Chike Kandi and Will Wright offered contracts for example. Others players, supporters were sad to see go, but the excitement and anticipation of new arrivals was to build.
Following this statement from Thompson a day prior, promise of a mix of youth and experience – excitement began to be whipped up. We didn’t have to wait long for the first signing and it was a local boy who had supported the Daggers, George Saunders, from Hornchurch.
An exciting attacker, which made fans believe, after a few years of recruiting average players – this different approach could just work!
That rounded off three months of uncertainty, light at the end of the tunnel, for football at least. Dagenham supporters now excited after a July which saw a retained list announced and a first signing!
Steve Thompson’s Statements:
Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year!
Watch out for Part Two as the commencement of the season took place and the signings came thick and fast…