All change please at Victoria Road

No club likes losing a popular manager, but in the sign of the times, Dagenham have just lost their long serving boss to the Non Leagues.  Was anyone bothered?  We sent the Daggers Diary team to investigate.

Towards the end of the 2003-04 season, Garry Hill resigned as manager of Dagenham & Redbridge. After a particularly tepid 0-0 at Scarborough, he boarded the supporter’s club coach and announced his decision to those that had travelled, saying that he needed a rest but would see out the rest of the season.

One week later, the home game against Gravesend was anything but tepid, as arguably the most lack lustre Daggers performance in years (and that included the 0-9 humiliation at home to Hereford a few weeks earlier) saw us beaten 0-4 at home, and with the manager sitting in the dugout at half time with his hands in his pockets. A few hours after the game, he was gone, still needing that rest. It was a shame that a successful period for the club, which had included winning the Isthmian League, three straight appearances in the third round of the FA Cup (which included one trip to round four), and a conference play off final should end with such an image as that.

The club turned to the first manager it had appointed after the merger in 1992, John Still. Ten years after leaving for Peterborough, he had returned to steady the ship. While our performances in the FA Cup haven’t been anything to write home about (we’ve reached the third round just twice while he was in charge), it has been onwards and upwards since in terms of our league position. Two mid-table finishes preceded the conference title in 2007, which was followed by a near miss at the League Two play offs in 2009, although twelve months later was the crowning glory in the win at Wembley and a day that no Daggers fan will ever forget.

stillOn Tuesday, it was announced that John Still had left the club, to take over at Luton Town. In charge for just under nine years, Still has left the club in a much better position league wise than when he arrived. While some would have not quite admired some of the football played in that spell, it has undeniably been successful. And to regard the teams that we have had in that time as purely playing long ball team is not quite right. We had players like Craig Mackail Smith in that time, who has certainly gone on to bigger and better things. There have also been some decent central midfield players who have been here, such as Glen Southam, Matt Saunders, and Luke Howell, who may not have been so influential if that area of the field had been completely bypassed.

For a club of our size to be in the Football League at all is quite something, especially when you have a look at the clubs that currently make up the Conference National division. To be still here (and to have been relatively successful as well) for a sixth season is not only down to the players that have worn the jersey in that time, but also down to the manager and his coaching staff.

Much has been made of the scouting network that has bought so many players to the club from further down the pyramid. While Mackail-Smith is the most successful example, there have been plenty of others as well. It is the stuff of legend that Paul Benson was playing park football before he arrived (well, not quite, as it was the Essex Intermediate League), but Sam Saunders (now at Brentford) and Danny Green have all progressed, as have plenty of others.

However, things do change. According to the pieces that have appeared online this week, the chance to lead Luton not only back into the football league, but beyond League One is the reason why Still has felt the need to leave, raising the spectacle of a possible meeting at some point in the future. We all know about the limitations regarding the Daggers, and while it is great to see someone with ambition still having that drive to succeed, it’s a pity that it couldn’t be with us.

The main concern for the summer though, is who are we going to get that will work with such a limited budget? I am not for one minute advocating that we spend what we don’t have, as that will destroy the club, but it’s going to take some extraordinary convincing to get a new manager here that will be able to keep the club in the football league, as well as persuading them to do it with next to nothing to spend on new players.

Whatever way you look at it though, nine years is a long time to be in charge of a club, and now that his departure has been confirmed, it brings to an end the fourth longest reign in either the premier or football league.

Now we have to move on. Like in life, things happen that you have to deal with and get on with. While losing a successful manager is not great, the club have appointed Wayne Burnett to take charge for the rest of the season, which may mean that he has to stop getting involved with the pre-match warm up with the substitutes.

The appointment of a new manager should (hopefully) be the main pre-occupying thought of the club’s board for the next few months. Of a more pressing nature though, results recently haven’t been great. My last Daggers game was a whole three weeks ago, against Cheltenham. Since then defeats at Gillingham, and then at home to AFC Wimbledon have dented the confidence somewhat. Then the manager departs, and within twenty four hours, we have a trip to Bradford City.

Results the night before the trip to the League Cup finalists meant that the gap between us and the bottom two has narrowed to five points. Neither Bradford, nor ourselves went into the game with great form in the League and a draw was certainly a good result for us. A missed penalty in the second half didn’t cost us in the end, although Abu Ogogo hacking the ball of the line for us towards the end meant that we maintained a decent record at Valley Parade.

 Saturday 2nd March 2013, Dagenham & Redbridge v Chesterfield, Victoria Road

With a new managerial appointment comes new ideas, and as we walk round to our usual spot in the covered terrace, we see the defence being coached separately from the rest of the players, all of whom are involved in their respective warm ups. There have been times in the past when it has looked like those starting the game are just seeing how far across the pitch they can lump the ball, but today appears to be different. It’s a good different though, and it will be interesting to see how long it lasts.

Both Burnett and Darren Currie (promoted along with Warren Hackett to first team coaches) have been named as substitutes for our one and only Essex Senior Cup tie this season, but it is Hackett and Currie who are leading the pre-match routines on the pitch; perhaps Wayne has been told to leave well alone in the last hour or so before the game.

With attendances dropping, the crowd about ten minutes before kick off is small, and we murmur that the crowd could be less than a thousand, although it does pick up, and there will eventually be about sixteen hundred or so inside Victoria Road.

If the draw had started Burnett’s tenure in charge on a positive note, then this game was a big let down. An own goal by Abu Ogogo, (providing the chance for those who put the goal scorers on your television screens to type “Ogogo o.g.”) after nineteen minutes proved to be the only goal of what was a faintly disappointing game. With apparently no communication amongst the back line following a cross from the right wing, the ball looked like it hit a turning Ogogo on the shoulder and looped into the top corner of the net. After a bright opening twenty minutes from the home team, it put us out of our stride for a while.

There were bright spots for the Daggers, the main one being that we actually got the ball on the ground and played. While the long ball was always an option, it wasn’t the primary one, and that was great to see. Many of us have got used over the years of seeing the ball disappear from view once it goes more than twenty foot in the air (thanks to the low roof on the terrace), so it was great to see the team try to keep possession, instead of a lump upfield.

If we are to play this new way, then we will certainly need players that are going to anticipate where the ball is going to end up, as the runners from midfield weren’t exactly numerous. However, that will come with time, and with a week before the next game (at Rotherham), they will have more time to come acquainted with the new style.

There were chances for the Daggers today, but while Tommy Lee in the Chesterfield goal made a couple of good stops, notably from Ben Strevens and Jake Reed, he could do nothing about an injury time header from Luke Wilkinson, which annoyingly for us (and that’s being polite) bounced off the top of the crossbar and out for a goal kick. With no time to take this, the game was over, and we left the ground in almost the same silence as there had been throughout the game, save for the warm applause that the team got as they started their warm down as we left the ground.

There were times during the game where we could hear the players shouting, which in itself is not good. While the atmosphere at Victoria Road can be as good as any, there are times when it is ridiculously quiet, and today was certainly one of those. Perhaps it was the shock of seeing us passing the ball (or at least trying to) that did it.

Many will be eager that Wayne Burnett will be given a chance to prove himself that he is the right person to be the next manager. He will need to learn quickly, as the gap towards the bottom teams has narrowed again today, and as we go into the last ten games of the season, we are now only six points ahead of the teams occupying the bottom two positions. We may have hung onto fifteenth place after today, but with the teams below us starting to pick up points, this may not be the (relatively) care free run in to the end of the season we were all hoping for.


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