30 May ~ Dagenham & Redbridge face Rotherham in the League Two play-off final today. This may surprise Derek Robinson who witnessed the amalgamation of several east London teams and in WSC 65 (July 1992) predicted a short life span for the new club.
In the beginning was Ilford. Then followed Leytonstone and Walthamstow Avenue, who were all successful, winning the odd Amateur Cup here, the odd Isthmian League title there, playing the odd FA Cup match at Old Trafford in Walthamstow's case and generally leading the non-League equivalent of The Good Life.
In 1977 Ilford found themselves a few pennies short and sold their ground for development. They moved in to share with Leytonstone while waiting to find a new ground. Within two years the taxman had taken away all their money. They were no nearer to finding a new ground and so were forced into a merger with their landlords. Leytonstone-Ilford was formed.
By 1985 the new club were themselves losing money hand over fist. Their Granleigh Road stadium was sold and they moved in with Walthamstow. Leytonstone-Ilford won the Isthmian League in 1989 but were denied promotion because their ground was not considered fit to stage Conference football. An upgrade was not considered worthwhile because, inevitably, the site had already been sold to developers. Leytonstone-Ilford moved again, this time to share Dagenham's Victoria Road ground. They encountered exactly the same problem, however, because in the year since Dagenham had been relegated from the Conference, ground standards had been upgraded. Victoria Road was no longer good enough. The club were obliged to remain in the Isthmian League.
A new site was found, straddling the borders of two boroughs, Waltham Forest and Redbridge, where a stadium would be built from the profits raised by the sale of the old Walthamstow ground. The club's name was changed to the rather cumbersome Redbridge Forest in anticipation, but the deal fell through. They were stuck in Dagenham.
For most of the 1991-92 season, Redbridge Forest behaved as if they owned Victoria Road. The home team just sat in the corner quietly humming to itself as their tenants charged up the Conference table and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy. By the end of March drastic action was decided upon.
Step one was to recall, as bar manager, a man whose financial wizardry had allegedly sent send two pubs careering headlong into bankruptcy and who had a hand on the purse-strings while Dagenham were at the height of their financial tailspin in the mid-Eighties. Step two was to tell club members that negotiations to merge with Redbridge Forest, called off in December 1990, had been reopened.
The beginnings of the end for Dagenham might be traced back to the early 1980s, when Vie Sparrow, who had been with the club since its inception in 1949, was replaced as Chairman by his son, Norman. Several financially apocalyptic seasons in the Conference then left the club in dire financial straits. We collected a stay of execution in 1986 after our goalkeeper, John Jacobs, scored with a drop-kick at Runcorn to earn us the point we so desperately wanted, but finally succeeded in achieving relegation in 1988. Now we are on our way back, but with the committees of both clubs having shown a complete inability to handle money, I give Dagenham & Redbridge FC five years at the most.
Our last away match was at Carshalton. By now the merger proposal was common knowledge but we were in an inexplicably good mood: ironic choruses of "We're going up with the Woking" caused confusion among the home fans. A week later (after the merger had been voted through), Dagenham won their last ever match, 5-2 at home to Harrow, with top scorer Leo West scoring all five goals. Redbridge finished their season by losing 4-1, 5-0 and 3-2 in the space of five days, the first two at home.
Perhaps the incident that summed it up was in the clubhouse at Carshalton. A message on the PA effectively wishing us good luck in our battle for independence from Redbridge was met by a big cheer from Carshalton fans, an even bigger roar from Dagenham supporters, and the mother of all huffs from Dagenham secretary Eric Ryan, who stormed out and was not seen again until Redbridge's next home match.
Five years. And that's being generous.