During West Ham’s three week break I attended the fundraising friendly with Dagenham and Redbridge. The East London club have recently fallen on tough economic times, despite a decent season so far and 2017’s failed playoff run. This fixture was the culmination of the #SavetheDaggers campaign and highlights an issue common to several small clubs.
The Daggers 25th season started well enough and they looked bound to repeat last year’s 4th place finish. At the end of the 2015/16 season Dagenham tumbled into the National League; ending their nine-year tenure in the Football League and forcing the closure of the academy system.
This season’s trouble began when major benefactor Glyn Hopkin resigned as a director and stopped funding the club. Dagenham needed £250,000 for running costs until the end of the season, and it is hoped that a home friendly with Premier League opposition would buy time to find an investor.
The friendly also came at a fortunate time for the Hammers, a welcome distraction from the unpleasant turmoil witnessed at London Stadium during the Burnley defeat. With many players on international duty and the large gap between first team activities, West Ham named a strong team. We saw two well-taken goals from Michail Antonio – who could have had a hattrick – and Jordan Hugill scoring his first for the club (more on him later).
Sir Trevor Brooking and his wife were in attendance at the game; local West Ham fan Gary Singh took charge of Dagenham from the dugout, adding to the relaxed vibe. He even won man of the match as his team performed well and mustered a goal against a Premier League club. Based on recent West Ham performances that’s not a hard thing to do.
Split allegiances are commonplace and it was encouraging to see so many West Ham fans turn out to support Dagenham at the wonderfully old fashioned Victoria Road. The near sell-out 4,515 crowd was awash with Hammers talk speculating about whether Jordan Hugill was the answer to our problems and whether we’d stay up.
The East London football community turned out to give their support. The money raised will hopefully make a big difference to the club. “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” was even heard in the home section. Many of the stadium staff were working for free, most notably the stewards who shepherded fans unaccustomed to Victoria Road’s standing terraces.
It was encouraging to see good performances from teenagers Ben Johnson and Alfie Lewis. However, Jordan Hugill spent a lot of the game looking out of sync with his teammates, but his goal will surely improve his confidence and connection with teammates. Hugill worked hard off the ball, chasing people down, but his efforts were wasted with several misplaced passes. Despite these reservations, it feels like a good start.
Lower league football is in serious danger, it is no coincidence that Orient and Dagenham are in severe jeopardy and these are not isolated cases. Many lower league clubs are in trouble, including Waltham Forest (formerly Leyton Pennant). Another local team that has fallen on hard times, losing control of their ground and struggling to attract more than 100 fans for home games. Their proud history stretches back 150 years and shows their vast importance to the community.
It’s important to support the lower leagues of football because the financial repercussions are grave and we’ve seen several clubs go out of business in recent times. Without the network of diehard local fans, these great teams would disappear. Hence the power of having West Ham visit their neighbours.
There was a time when the Premier League side would make annual friendly trips to Dagenham, Leyton Orient and Southend; but in this age of international friendly tournaments these trips are jettisoned in favour of lucrative voyages.