Dagenham & Redbridge are looking to celebrate their 25th anniversary with a return to the Football League in 2017-18.
It was in 1992 that the club was formed from a merger of Dagenham FC and Redbridge Forest, gaining promotion to the Football League 15 years later, then dropping out in 2016.
In the dug-out for the third time at Victoria Road, aka the Chigwell Construction Stadium, is wily scout John Still, whose own playing and managerial career dovetailed with Dag & Red and their antecedents from the 1970s onwards.
As a defender, Still left Leytonstone FC for Dagenham FC. He then went back to manage Leytonstone, then led Leytonstone & Ilford to their first Isthmian League title in 1982. Unwittingly, Still wove himself into the many-stranded history of The Daggers – even before taking over Redbridge Forest in 1989.
After they merged with Dagenham, Still remained in place. Later returning for a longer stint, he took Dag & Red into the Football League in 2007.
As Still would well remember, though, the club’s heritage is rooted in the top-level amateur game at this far eastern edge of London where it borders with Essex. Here the wooded swathes of Redbridge are centrepieced by the retail hub of Ilford, where football was first taken up in 1881.
Formed by local teenagers, Ilford FC later became a leading light in the Isthmian League, much like Leytonstone FC and Walthamstow Avenue, all one club by 1989 when it was renamed Redbridge Forest.
Neither have immediate links to Redbridge Forest, nor Dagenham & Redbridge, though the Oakside outfit grew out of the factory team at Ford in Dagenham. Ilford were revived in 1987, many bitter at the memory of the former club’s 1978 merger with Leytonstone.
The original Ilford FC had been founder members of the Southern League, London League and Isthmian League between 1894 and 1905. The club’s heyday came in the late 1920s, twice reaching the Second Round of the FA Cup and twice winning the Amateur Cup.
Ilford were based at Lynn Road, an 18,000-capacity ground that staged two games as part of the 1948 Olympics. It was here that India famously played their first international in bandage-wrapped feet, holding France to 1-1 until defeat came in the 89th minute. Two days later, Turkey and ‘China’, ie Taiwan, met at Green Pond Road, home of Walthamstow Avenue.
The demise of each ground had a direct bearing on the fate of each of its long-term tenants.
Strapped for cash and unable to move to a new site in 1977, Ilford merged with Leytonstone, founded in 1886, equally former winners of the FA Amateur Cup and Isthmian League.
By the time Leytonstone & Ilford won the Isthmian League again in 1989, they had swallowed up Walthamstow. Founded in 1900, The A’s had also lifted the FA Amateur Cup and Isthmian League title, in the immediate post-war era when Leytonstone were otherwise dominant. With Walthamstow’s Green Pond Road ground sold to developers, the newly merged club, as Redbridge Forest, moved into Victoria Road – home of Dagenham FC.
Century-old Victoria Road first hosted the works team for the Sterling telecommunications, later munitions, factory next door. The following tenant, Briggs Sports, merged with Ford Sports to create Ford United, today’s Redbridge FC in the Essex Senior League.
Founded in 1949, Dagenham FC moved into Victoria Road in 1955, reaching consecutive FA Amateur Cup finals in 1970 and 1971, and winning the FA Trophy in 1980.
Sharing Victoria Road and Isthmian League status in 1990-91, John Still’s Redbridge Forest and Dagenham FC played out two draws. That season, Forest won the title and joined the Conference.
Staying up that first season while Dagenham struggled, Redbridge Forest were able to provide the newly amalgamated Dagenham & Redbridge with a fifth-tier berth.
Still immediately took Dag & Red to third place in the Conference, a runners-up spot denied due to a one-point deduction. With Still poached by Peterborough, The Daggers sank back to the Isthmian League in 1996.
Under Garry Hill, Dag & Red returned to the Conference in 2000, goals from former Luton, Stoke and Chelsea star Mark Stein lifting the club to third place in 2001, then runners-up a year later. Once more, a points deduction counted against Dagenham & Redbridge, finishing level with champions Boston United, who were then retrospectively punished for improper player registration the following season.
Hill and Stein again took the club within a whisker of promotion, Doncaster’s golden goal settling matters at the 2003 play-off final, before manager and striker fell out over alleged racist comments.
A record 9-0 home defeat to Hereford saw Hill dismissed and Still rehired in 2004.
Bringing in talent such as later Scotland cap Craig Mackail-Smith and the prolific Paul Benson, Still took Dag & Red to the Conference title by a whopping 14 points in 2006-07, gaining the club long-sought League status.
With Ben Strevens taking over goalscoring duties from the injured Benson, The Daggers survived a first season in League Two. The returning Benson then hit 20-plus in each of the following two seasons, a first strike in the League Two play-off final of 2010 setting up a ding-dong battle at Wembley. Twice Dag & Red went ahead, twice Rotherham hit back, before a deflected effort by Barbados international Jon Nurse settled the tie.
Selling Benson to Charlton, Dag & Red spent the subsequent third-tier campaign camped in the relegation zone. Following the drop, poor form continued in League Two until a string of defeats in 2015-16 led to the rehiring of John Still halfway through – and another winless streak.
Condemned to the National League, The Daggers persuaded back the now veteran Paul Benson to inspire an immediate return in 2016-17. Another Still find, Oliver Hawkins, then provided the goals that took Dag & Red to the play-offs. The manager then left the striker on the bench for both legs of the semi-final with deserved winners Forest Green Rovers.
With Hawkins sold to Portsmouth, Dag & Red’s attacking punch is now provided by former Arsenal youth winger Fejiri Okenabirhie and Morgan Ferrier, also in his early 20s, signed from Boreham Wood.
Still hemmed in by industrial units a century after opening as the adjoining home pitch of a factory XI, Victoria Road is a neat ground whose modern-day improvements mirror the decade-long climb from Isthmian to League One after 2000.
With a capacity of 6,000, the officially named Chigwell Construction Stadium comprises five stands, three providing seating for 2,200. Opened before fans of Southampton, Brighton and Bournemouth occupied it over the course of 2010-11, the away Pondfield end is modern and all-seated, now sponsored by A13 Steel but still referred to as the Traditional Builders Stand.
Arriving via the main entrance on Victoria Road, the away turnstiles are at the far end through the car park, walking past the Family Stand and main Carling Stand, both all-seated. The open standing of the home end nearest Victoria Road and old-school roofed terrace of the North Stand echo the pre-Football League era.
The ground is near Dagenham East Tube, in zone 5 on the District line. Travelling direct from Embankment, near Charing Cross, the journey takes 45min but if you’re anywhere near the Central line, after a simple platform crossover at Mile End, you’ll be at Dagenham East within 25min.
Once at Dagenham East, exit left onto main Rainham Road and the ground is an easy, signposted 5-7min walk, turning left at Victoria Road. Almost halfway along, you’ll pass the Pipe Major pub on your right.
The sat nav code for Chigwell Construction Stadium is RM10 7XL. There is pay-and-display parking at Heathway Shopping Centre (RM10 8RE) one stop from Dagenham East, 15min walk to the ground, as well as limited street parking on and off Rainham Road.
Tickets for the next two home games are sold at the hut housing the club shop, which opens in the afternoons before match day and from 2hrs before kick-off. Advance purchases by phone (020 8592 1549 extension 21) involve a £1.50 surcharge and collection from the clubhouse (11am-9pm), online 50p extra and collection from the club shop on match day only.
Turnstile admission is cash-only.
A seat in the main Carling Stand or away A13 Steel Stand is £21. Home standing is £15. Concessionary prices of £15/£10 are for over-65s and card-carrying students. Under-16s are charged £12/£8, under-10s sit for £2 and stand for free.
Open on match days and the previous afternoon, the club shop is housed in a red hut behind the main stand.
Home half-and-half red-and-blue shirts reflect the club’s twin heritage – away tops for 2017-18 are white with red-and-blue markings.
Other merchandise includes Daggers coasters, USB sticks and fixture-list mouse pads, plus there are old-school bar scarves, autograph books and club ties.
Walking up from Dagenham East station, about 100 metres on the right, the Pipe Major is a family-friendly carvery pub with a beer garden and children’s playground attached. Food is of the classic, traditional buffet variety (‘with lashings of gravy’), cask ales come from the Marston’s stable, framed vintage photos display Victorian-era Dagenham and Ford Cortinas in construction. Visiting supporters are welcome, as they are in the Clubhouse by the shop/ticket office at the ground. Admission is usually 50p, occasionally waived, Sky Sports TV and standard beers on offer. Hot snacks are served elsewhere around the ground.