A Look At... Dagenham & Redbridge
"We will be the only league team sponsored by undertakers."—Anwar Uddin.
Dagenham and Redbridge were promoted to the Football League on 7 April 2007 and have never looked back.
They beat Oxford to earn the conference title that season, a club several times their size, thanks to wily boss John Still's tactical nous. He won London Manager of the Year for his efforts, beating Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho.
What is there to salute at Dagenham? Lots.
I experienced Dagenham's ground, Victoria Road, in December of last season. A lady was happy to take me to the ground when I got lost outside the train station, and it turned out she was one of many volunteers at the club.
The small staff, all unpaid, had an enchanting kindred manner, and it seemed everybody around the ground knew each other.
Inside the ground, close to the pitch terrace, it was a cauldron of atmosphere. They lost 1-0, but the ground was at no point silent.
Keeper Tony Roberts indulged in bouts of banter with the away fans, and the veteran just had the feel that he was playing for fun. I dare say he would play for free.
That brings me to Paul Benson. The star of the side, he is as good as any other striker in the division. Scoring 28 goals in the 2006-2007 season, he was the main reason the Daggers got to the football league.
His scoring totals have dropped recently, but he has also struggled with injuries. Nonetheless, he is the man that the Daggers fans talk fondly of, the spark of their side.
Anwar Uddin is a slightly-less glamorous player. A gritty old-fashioned centre-back, he is the Daggers skipper and the rock at the back. Of Bangladeshi origin, he is one of few British-Asian players around, but he makes his presence at Dagenham felt.
It is all working rather well for Dagenham this season, they have punched above their weight for months and are flirting with the playoffs. They have a five-point gap to recoup, but if Dagenham has one thing, it's spirit.
Be surprised, but do not be too surprised if they are at Wembley come May.
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