To the casual observer everything seemed to be going well for Dagenham & Redbridge in the early months of the season. The Daggers were one of a number of teams competing for a return to the Football League. Their metaphorical duck looked serene above the surface, but underneath it was paddling frantically.
The early weeks of February at the Essex club resembled a ‘going out of business sale’ that would usually be reserved for one of the local used car dealerships. Several first team stars have had a wipe down and been rolled off the lot.
Striker Morgan Ferrier, who joined from Boreham Wood in the summer, scored nine goals and then returned to the Hertfordshire club. In the same week promising young defender Sam Ling also returned to a former club, the Daggers local rivals Leyton Orient.
Club Captain Scott Doe didn’t even wait to be sold, he terminated his contract and drove himself from the Forecourt, before joining National League South club Whitehawk. Defender Kevin Lokko was recalled by Stevenage and the same League Two club picked up youth prospect Joe White.
Just what is happening at the club that looked to be one of the front runners for National League promotion?
A little over 12 months ago a consortium led by Glyn Hopkin took over the club. At the start of the month Hopkin resigned as director and refused to invest any further monies into the club.
Hopkin cited a lack of unity amongst the clubs supporters and a ‘vicious campaign’ that some had lodged against Steve Thompson the club’s managing director.
The full story of Hopkin’s takeover and speedy retreat into the background goes back a couple of years. It begins with an attempted takeover by the most talked about man in non-league football, Glenn Tamplin, and features flags representing Donald Trump and North Korea.
Dagenham & Redbridge have packed a lot in to their short history. The club was only formed in 1992, the result of a merger between two successful, local non-league clubs, Dagenham and Redbridge Forest.
The Daggers nearly made the Football League within a decade of their formation, finishing second in the National League, then known as the Football Conference.
They missed out on promotion on goal difference, but champions Boston United were deducted four points for illegal player payments. The deduction however, was applied to the following season meaning the Daggers remained in non-league football for the time being.
Dagenham eventually achieved their dream and won a place in the Football League in 2007. Three years later they made it to League One, the highest level they’ve achieved. The promotion, however, signalled the beginning of a period of gradual decline.
The Daggers were relegated back into League Two after one season in the third tier. There was a sense they had over indulged in the Football League and weren’t ready to financially compete at that level.
They only managed one top half finish in four seasons back in League Two and the Daggers returned to non-league football in 2016. Several potential investors, however, were lining up to bankroll a return to the Football League.
One consortium in particular was headed by current Billericay Town owner Glenn Tamplin. The local businessmen had previously enquired about a possible deal to buy Brentwood Town and discussions about a potential takeover at Bishop’s Stortford were halted as he heard about an opportunity at Victoria Road.
When it became apparent that he could get involved with the Daggers, who are just one level out of the Football League, he reportedly jumped at the chance.
The deal seemed to be progressing, but parts of the club’s fanbase raised concerns about Tamplin’s business record. Fans were worried that they would face a similar fate to local non-league sparring partners Hornchurch.
The Daggers Essex based rivals had been taken over in the early 2000's and were known by many as the ‘non-league Chelsea’. The Urchins, however, found themselves in administration and eventually folded. Daggers fans were determined that they’re club would not suffer the same fate.
Tamplin’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but Hopkin, who had been a member of his consortium, formed his own group and successfully took over the club.
Fan discontentment continued in some quarters, however, and this manifested itself in a series of incidents aimed at Managing Director Steve Thompson. Firstly fans displayed a North Korean flag in protest at policies implemented by Thompson.
This was followed by an American confederate flag adorned by the words ‘Daggers’ and ‘Trump’. The flags combined with a crowd disturbance during an away game at Eastleigh led to Hopkin banning the flags.
A group of Daggers fans then produced a copy of an email that they alleged was written by Thomson. The email warned upcoming opponents of the existence of the flags and advised clubs that the flags were not permitted at Victoria Road.
The email was thought to be fake, but the incidents were enough for Hopkin to effectively pull his investment from the club just a year after taking over. The board are currently now looking for new buyers while selling off players to bring in extra revenue.
West Ham have recently stepped in to help their struggling neighbours. The Premier League club have agreed to play a friendly against the non-league side in March with 100% of the proceeds going to the Essex club.
Dagenham’s average attendance is just 1,493, the 18th best in the league, meaning that the immediate future promises greater insecurity. They are safely in mid-table but the final months of the season and the following summer could be a tense time for Daggers fans.