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The remarkable rise of Dagenham & Redbridge

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Paul Fletcher | 20:30 UK time, Sunday, 30 May 2010

At Wembley Stadium

Something truly, truly special happened at Wembley on Sunday afternoon as, in the words of their veteran goalkeeper Tony Roberts, a pub team from Essex reached League One.

Dagenham & Redbridge, formed in 1992 after a series of mergers involving non-league clubs, defeated Rotherham 3-2 to win a pulsating League Two play-off final.

The Daggers have only been a Football League club since 2007. They had an average attendance of 2,088 last season and their most expensive player on Sunday, left-back Damien McCrory, cost £10,000 when he was signed shortly after the turn of the year.

"It is a fairy story," said emotional manager John Still after the match.

Still took charge of the club for a second time in 2004. Chairman Dave Andrews got in touch but Still had only recently left Bristol Rovers and felt he had better offers to consider elsewhere.

It was Still's wife Barbara who persuaded him that the club was in his blood and that he should return home from a holiday in Cyprus and accept the position.

Dagenham & Redbridge manager John Still Sunday's victory was rich reward for Still's hard work

The 60-year-old Still's first thought after the final whistle on Sunday was of his late dad Len, a Daggers supporter. His mum Pat was too nervous to attend the match but Still telephoned her straight away as he tried to absorb the scale of his team's achievement.

As with Blackpool's remarkable promotion to the Premier League a week earlier, there was a slight sense of disbelief as the final whistle confirmed the Essex's club promotion to the third tier of English football.

It was another victory that proved you don't need a flash stadium or deep pockets to succeed in the modern game.

Afterwards in Wembley's cavernous press conference room, Still spoke directly and honestly as he explained how the club have managed to punch so far above their weight.

Time and time again he talked about the type of person who is fit to be called a Dagger. It is obviously something that matters to him a great deal.

"No one comes to this club unless they are a Dagger," he explained. "It is about hard work and about being 100% behind what you do.

"We're Daggers, we always keep going, nothing fazes us, nothing stops us."

Still had met numerous players down the years that he quickly realised would not be right for the club. They talked too much about money and not enough about ambition and self-improvement.

Goalkeeper Roberts added: "The manager and his team watch players eight or nine times to make sure they are a Dagger.

"We have not got the biggest fanbase so we have to believe in each other and that is what Still seems to get out of everybody."

The Daggers missed out on last season's play-offs by one point and lost seven influential players during the summer months.

Nobody expected much this campaign but they had not reckoned on the rebuilding job done by Still, who blended a series of loan signings with some shrewd finds from non-league.

Danny Green, for example, scored the Daggers second goal at Wembley after joining from Bishop's Stortford last July.

"It is all about hard work, about getting out in the car and watching games and it is amazing what you can achieve when no one is worried about taking the credit," added Still.

Still has found, polished and sold numerous players from non-league football over the years, including Soloman Taiwo, Tresor Kandol and Craig Mackail-Smith.

Paul Benson, another Wembley goalscorer, was signed in 2005 from White Ensign, who play in the Essex Intermediate League, 11 levels below League One.

Benson is part of Dagenham's experienced spine, along with keeper Roberts, defender Mark Arber and midfielder Peter Gain.

Roberts has been at the club for a decade and at the ripe old age of 40 has now fulfilled his ambition of playing at Wembley.

The nearest the Welshman had come to playing there prior to Sunday's match was as an extra in the film Mike Bassett: England Manager.

"I was the big Belgium number four, in goal when England missed a penalty and an outfield player for Norwich," Roberts told me.

A finger injury had forced his retirement from professional football in 1998. He joined the Daggers in 2000 and, when the club reached League Two, he had to pay back part of the £150,000 compensation package he received when he quit the pro game.

He has never been full-time at the club and currently trains Arsenal's youth keepers from Monday to Thursday before hooking up with his club on Friday ahead of their match the following day.

"When I first arrived I did not think we would ever see days like this," said Roberts of the Wembley win.

A decade ago the Daggers celebrated promotion from the Ryman Premier League. Sheffield Wednesday, Southampton and Charlton were playing in the Premier League back then but they will meet as equals next season.

"I am sure that Mr Irvine and Mr Pardew will be quaking in their boots," added Still. "But hopefully we can write another chapter and keep the club playing within that level."

Not surprisingly, Still had already started planning for next season before the final and had four trialists across from Spain last week.

He is confident that his talent for unearthing and developing non-league players will still reap rich dividends now that he is managing at a rarified level for a club of modest standing.

Still will return to his favourite spot in northern Cyprus and take with him a few photos of the Wembley day out to show the friends he and his wife have made there.

Obviously, he and his coaching staff of Wayne Burnett and Terry Harris will stagger their holidays to ensure that they do not miss out on any potential signings.

One season has ended, but in some ways another has already begun and I get the feeling that Still would not have it any other way.

"When they decide the bald bloke has had his time I will then be on the terraces watching because I am a fan of this club," said Still, whose sense of achievement is clearly heightened because of his true feelings for the club.

Somehow I get the feeling he will be waiting for quite a long time before that happens.

You can follow me throughout the season at


  • Comment number 1.

    Fantastic achievement for my local club and one I wouldn't have dreamt possible a decade ago.

    Congratulations to everyone connected with the club and the best of luck for next Season in League One (Third Division for us old codgers!).

    It's been a very successful year for London clubs with three of the top four in the Premier League (first time that's ever happened), Millwall getting promoted to the Championship and now the Daggers winning the League Two play-off.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm delighted for Dagenham and Redbridge (had a soft spot for them for some time now), but I do wonder what it's going to take for Rotherham to get out of League Two.
    I also reckon the Daggers will find it tough going next season (especially with the four relegation places League One offers) but we shall see.

  • Comment number 3.

    Congratulations to D&R! As stated above, it is a fantastic achievement for a club that has pretty much come from nowhere. I just hope that they can consolidate in the league above and don't become victims of their own success.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well done Dagenham, looking forward to seeing you in the Premiership in 2 years!

  • Comment number 5.

    A great blog as always Paul, it's refreshing to hear about life outside the Premiership.

    As a Bradford supporter I don't believe that Dagenham should be in the same Division as us, and I guess now they aren't!

    It just shows what you can achieve through good organisation and everybody playing for each other.

    Easily one of the greatest success stories of this and many other seasons; a fantastic achievement.

    I'm just disappointed that I won't be able to witness a Tony Roberts dance in front of the Kop next season!

  • Comment number 6.

    I first went to watch Leytonstone/ ilford v harlow in the cup (it was my first non league game) and from then on, followed Leytonstone/ Ilford everywhere. Funnily enough John Still was their manager back then, and sure enough he took them to non league successes (4 trophies in one season). I used to have a perennial bet with a daggers fan about who would end up higher in the isthmian league back then. Of course the clubs merged (leytonsonte merged with Ilford who then jointly merged with walthamstow to form Redbridge and finally with Dagenham, so we all ended up on the same side. As we went to play Wembley (not play at wembley but play wembley the team) in the isthmian all those years ago, who would have ever thought I would have been there yesterday. along with my betting partner both celebrating the victory and looking forward to the charlton, orient, and brentford derbies next season. Oh and thank the lord Millwall got promoted!

  • Comment number 7.

    I first went to Dagenham in the early 80's and have been a regular visitor since. I never dreamed of league status, so to be in League One with the likes of Sheff Wed, Southampton & Charlton is just incredible. They must be odds on to go back down but it doesn't matter. What an achievement and one that gives hope to fans of every non league team.

  • Comment number 8.

    Brilliant achievement by the Daggers!
    I became disillusioned with big money football some years ago and started to go to my local non-league club Bedford Town for the banter, the queue at the sweetie hut and the pint in the clubhouse while watching the big scores come in. Not sure if the Daggers passed us by many years ago but certainly Ebbsfleet did, then in the form of Gravesend & Northfleet - indeed, they actually won the league at Bedford or they had won it and had been presented with the trophy.
    The Daggers' experience is what it's all about. Whilst I delight in Chelsea's double, I still remember the dark days and celebrate the unsung journeyman players we had. And, to tie link this up, in 1983, The Mighty Chels lost 0-6 at Rotherham, yes, the same Rotherham! OMG!
    Well done, Daggers with your first win, I believe, over the Millers - oh, but what a win!! GOOD LUCK IN LEAGUE ONE!

  • Comment number 9.

    Now then - thanks for the comments.

    I thought that the Daggers triumph on Sunday was something to savour, a boost for all those fans of unfashionable and unfancied clubs who dream that one day something special and unexpected might happen.

    It should give hope to so many.

    On another note, this is, I think, my last piece of the Football League season. I just want to says thanks to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to read my blogs over the season and to those that have posted comments.

    For much of the time between now and the next FL season, I'll be over in South Africa blogging from the World Cup. And rest assured, I'll be keeping a keen eye on how the numerous Football League stars on show perform out there.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hip Hip Hurray Daggers !!!
    Your are very welcome at Division 1. Our Bermondsey Boys just left them. It will be very very hard for you but you have shown committent and pride and you did the "old school" of english football proud. You have shown that you do not needs those money grabbing people like Abramas, Glaziers ... and all you need is a fine typical old style english stadium filled up with your locals. All Millwall folks like typical hard working footies like the Daggers ...

  • Comment number 11.

    It has been a season to remember at Victoria Road, that's for sure! Reaching the dizzy heights of being 1st in League Two early in the season for a week, then it all seemed to grind to a halt as we began to slip backwards. Credit to everyone involved in the team, though, as they held it together to bring us into the playoffs.

    The day out at Wembley was amazing! Never expected to see the Daggers in such an important match at Wembley. The match itself just flew by for the first 80 minutes, and then the final 10 (+ a ridiculous 4 minutes of injury time REFEREE!) lasted for what felt like a lifetime.

    But once that final whistle went, there was that moment of disbelief followed by sheer jubilation. The unthinkable had happened and Dagenham & Redbridge were now a League One club.

    The matches next season against the likes of Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton, and the other London derby matches are something to really look forward to now. But I know that John and the lads won't be going up to League One just as tourists. The real hard work has only just begun, and survival in League One is the new goal. A goal that I really believe to be achieveable by the pub team from Essex!

  • Comment number 12.

    Congratulations to the Daggers. Their promotion draws disturbing parallels to my recent Fifa 10 exploits. I fancied a challenge upon starting the manager mode on legendary, and so began an unforgettable journey with the Daggers. Shrewd Still-esque management and the consistent brilliance of Paul Benson led to consecutive promotions and the triple completed in the 5th season. Abu Ogogo became a persistent target for the Gooners! Seriously, well played lads, all the best for league 1, will be following with great interest from Abu Dhabi

  • Comment number 13.

    Just throwing the situation forward a touch - will the Daggers stay up next season? Or will life on a shoestring not work in League One?

  • Comment number 14.

    Being a Dagger, I have to back them to stay up, of course! :-D

    But actually staying up would be a bigger achievement than getting there in the first place!

    First off, I would hope that there won't be a mass exodus of players like there was last season, and now we're a League One team, I see no reason for this to happen. I reckon Tony might just have one season left in him, so that is the goalkeeper spot taken care of. I see Benson adjusting to life in League One quite easily, and I think he could possibly play as high as the Championship. (although obviously hope he doesn't get that opportunity, unless it was with the Daggers!) Green has been exceptional at times this season, and rightly man of the match yesterday. He should be fine in League One.

    The defence does worry me more than the attack, though. I think we have the talent in midfield and up front to cause League One teams some problems, but we sometimes do get careless at the back, and if John Still has spotted any potential defenders in non-league football that could make the step up to the football league, now is the time to sign them up!

    Obviously though, Dagenham & Redbridge operate on a tiny budget. If we're unlucky with injuries that could well seal our fate on its own.

  • Comment number 15.

    Congratulations to the Daggers for making it to the third tier of English football!
    My first experience of them was watching my non-league side Tamworth beating them 2-0 back in 03/4. Have they still got that giant of a bloke as their physio????

  • Comment number 16.

    To say i'm on cloud nine is an understatement. Dagenham have risen from the non-leagues to show you don't need high paid money grabbing prima donnas to win something. Ok maybe we didn't win the league but to win the play offs will do for me.

    John Still is Dagenham through and through. Hes one of us "A DAGGER!". His passion for this club shows and the backroom staff are 100% behind him. Dagenham average just over 2000 and its almost like one big family.

    I'm living in Oxford now and to hear the oxford fans every week moaning that cos they have the biggest ground and biggest fanbase in non-league (last season) they have the right to be in the league. well they're there now so good luck to em. As for us wether we're punching above our weight or not the boys have worked very hard to get there so win lose or draw the Daggers fans will be there singing and cheering the boys on.

    On that note Digger Dagger oi oi oi.

  • Comment number 17.

    What a fantastic achievement - I doubt even Fergie could achieve that on such a small budget. Those of us with longer memories remember the great old days of all the former Daggers incarnations. I was at Wembley for the last ever Amateur FA Cup Final and who played that day? Ilford. Ok we got trashed but so what. Football's a great game when played in the right spirit, and if D&R ever get as far as the Premier league they'll show some of the so called greats a thing or two about how the game should be played. You don't have to be overpaid and over here to be a great footballer.
    I'm not convinced they'll go straight back down either. John Still will have worked out that by winning ten games and drawing ten, they'll probably have enough points to stay up. Easier said then done but then everyone said Rotherham were going to win on Saturday so nothing's set in stone.

  • Comment number 18.

    Congratulations to the Daggers. Having taken 3 points off my team (Bournemouth) this season, I'm happy for them to go up. And what a good season for both clubs - limited resources but great hearts!

  • Comment number 19.

    As a Saints fan, I warmly welcome the Daggers to League One. We don't often see feel-good stories in football behind the scandals of the Premier League, and I can only dream of experiencing the same joy the Daggers' fans have. Maybe this season, Saints will, and along the way I'll be hoping that Dagenham and Redbridge will stay up. Whether it happens or not, we don't know, and it will be tough, but they'll give it their best shot, and in the end that's all the fans can ask of them.

    Good luck Daggers! See you at St Mary's nezxt season!

  • Comment number 20.

    Number 17 - herdkilla ... I think ANY team would be lucky to stay up with only 10 wins and 10 draws out of 46 played!! Unless I'm mistaken, I do believe your prediction only amounts to 40 points. Anyway - very well done on Sunday ... your game was more open than ours the day before, but at the end of the day it was about one thing, and we both achieved what we set out to do - PROMOTION! What a great feeling, winning at Wembley is :-)

  • Comment number 21.

    Gaining promotion is a fantastic achievement for John Still, but keeping them in League One next season will be even better. It is great to see clubs of modest stature doing so well.

  • Comment number 22.

    Well done Daggers!! As a Southend fan i'm disappointed that we won't be playing you next season, but the success you have had shows what a good managment team can do. Paul Benson was a good young player as a lad playing for Catholic Boys in the Southend & District Junior league but the Blues ignored him. They ignored him again when he was playing for White Ensign but John Still saw he had the potential and snapped him up. John has always proven to be a great spotter of talent - lets hope he can unearth some more gems for you.

  • Comment number 23.

    I am a Dagenham exile living in Bristol. I lived in Dagenham (off Whalebone Lane) up until the age of 18. I attended the playoff final with family and friends. It was such a great day out for everyone involved and especially the London Boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, and Redbridge. I never thought I would see the Daggers playing the likes of Southampton and Charlton. What a great job John Still has done and a refreshing fairytale which has demonstrated what football should be about.

  • Comment number 24.

    It's great to see that there's still some magic left in football. Well done to the Daggers. Dream it and you can do it!

  • Comment number 25.

    Fantastic achievement for the Daggers. It's excellent for football to see clubs like the Daggers progressinig up the league. Good luck for the next season from a Stokie.

  • Comment number 26.

    Tony Roberts is a real character and deserves his Wembley appearance and success. Cold Boxing Day 2008 at Daggers my team, Gillingham, contrived to kick off and concede within 17 seconds. A dire performance saw us lose 2-0. The only saving grace from the day was the banter we enjoyed with Tony Roberts and his reaction to us as he walked away at half time. Top man, top keeper.

  • Comment number 27.

    i would like to say a massive thank you to john still and all staff and the players for there efforts on sunday . Me and my family had the most exciting and memorable day ill never ever forget for as long as i live . My first game was against sutton utd in 1998 in ryman premier , getting to league two was massive , league one is unbeleivable ! No matter what happens next season im proud of what they have acheived and i hope it continues , an tony roberts ur a star !! very best of luck next season ill b there cheering u on

  • Comment number 28.

    Wow! This news is exhilarating. At the very first time I came across the name of Dagenham in FIFA 2010. I started out with managing this club and in the process have developed a soft corner for it. Can anyone please help me to understand, that what factors drives the revenues of a club up? As has been mentioned in some comments above that Dagenham works on a very limited amount of money. Now that it is in League I, shouldn't be it's revenues be going up?

    Also, unlike Alabaster, it was Thomas rather than Benson (though of course, he had the maximum number of assists) who scored the most goals for me :).

  • Comment number 29.

    I am also connected to Dagenham's Club and i am really very happy for this achivement. Inside Dagenham, We work very hard. Some of us also do off time practice to become superior, I should say that really, i am really enjoying this time frame. Love you my club

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