Written By Scott W [Twitter: @ScottMHC14] – Non-League & EAL Writer
Hello and welcome to a ‘bonus’ instalment of ‘In-Focus’ blogs for Summer 2021. In this fourth article, I caught up with Essex Alliance League (EAL) side Dagenham Utd, who also competed in the group-only Essex Alliance League Cup since the resumption of Football in March this year.
The ‘Daggers’ have had a side in the EAL divisions since 2017, and although their first team are a more recent addition after coming over from the Olympian League.
In this article, I’m pleased to be joined by First Team player-boss (and Adult Section Chairman) Chris Mascall (CM) and First Team Secretary & Physio Jamie Mascall (JM) to give their thoughts on how the recent League Cup has been to compete in, the season as a whole, the inside track on the club and their thoughts on the change coming for the EAL next season. My thanks to them both for their time & Jamie for the Action images shown here.
SW: It’s fair to say that the 2020-21 campaign has been disrupted by the various lockdowns, but what positives would you all take from this campaign?
CM: “It’s a pleasure Scott, thanks for taking the time to talk to us also.”
“It has been a frustrating campaign again in terms of the stop start of lockdown etc., but we do take some positives from the last lockdown as it allowed a couple of our key players to return from substantial injuries they suffered at the start of the season which disrupted our season towards the Xmas period.
In terms of positives on the pitch this season, we had a strong showing in our league division, pushing at the top of the table for promotion for the majority of the season and picking up some very good results along the way. The restart of the league cup groups yielded some of our best results as we introduced a new system and style of play, which lead to us winning all of our cup group games bar one, narrowly missing out on silverware”
SW: What was the favourite match of the season and why?
CM: “There have been some great matches this season but for the neutral, there’s only one that can really spring to mind. We had a home game early on in the season (on October 3rd 2020 – Ed) vs Forest Green which ended 5 – 4 to us with a winner in the 88th min, an outrageous goal from our winger Rodeny Dos Santos Varela whom cut in on the edge of the box and curled one into the opposite corner lobbing the keeper and leaving him stranded, the absolutely scenes that followed were amazing as it was pure euphoria and a goal worthy of winning any game at any level! Our Reserve team were playing at home too that week and won their game also and so the joint celebrations that took place immediately after the games were fantastic with both teams coming together to enjoy the results in what was a great show of the real family feel we have at this club.”
SW: On or off-the-pitch, what was your most memorable moment/s from this season?
JM: “I would say it would have to be the game Chris just mentioned , the togetherness of the teams and the pure elation they both had for each other’s results was beautiful to see. It was a lovely day weather-wise, both teams winning in spectacular fashion and really felt like it was one of those moments that makes all the hard work running and organising these teams worth it. It was a real ‘this is why we do it’ moment.”
SW: I vaguely remember the club’s first team being among the sides competing in Essex Olympian League (EOFL). How has it been competing in the Alliance League (EAL) since you came over at Division Two level?
CM: “Yes that’s right, our first team used to compete in the Essex Olympian league and moved across to the Alliance League last season. After transferring to Dagenham, I started my journey as First Team Captain and then moved into a management role with the Reserve team whom were entered into the Essex Alliance League in 2016/17 season I believe it was. It was a real ‘start from scratch’ project. I then moved into the First Team Managers role and the Adult Section chairman position, setting out a five-year progression plan for the men’s teams to aim towards. This was when we entered First & Reserve teams into the Alliance, comprised of a few key players from the Reserve team and a lot of new additions whom were eager to join the exciting project and we haven’t looked back since as I enter my 5th season managing within the EAL.
In terms of abilities of the teams within the respective leagues, I genuinely don’t see much difference In quality, and the EAL have some great teams and players amongst the leagues.”
SW: You competed in Group D of the hastily-convened Essex Alliance League Cup finishing in third spot, two points behind leaders Cowley Community. How was it to return to playing after such a long lay-off?
CM: “To be fair, as I mentioned earlier, the break almost done us good in a sense that it allowed injured players to return, but of course you then loose the momentum of the team being together etc. What did really impress me however was that a large number of the first team especially took up 1-2-1 coaching with myself and really looked after themselves during the break, which was evident when we returned to action, where as I mentioned, we were unbeaten, bar one.”
“The final Cup table makes for a slightly distorted view of the way the cup unfolded. We were joint-top along with Unitey after 3 games, both sides winning three a piece going into our encounter with them. We proceeded to draw that game which opened the door to Cowley to sneak up the mini group. We went into the final game of the season against Cowley joint top but with 3 less goal difference then Unitey, meaning we either required Unitey to draw or for us to beat Cowley by a four-goal margin at least, should Unitey win for us to lift the title. I think this lack of clarity slightly affected us in the final fixture and we deviated from the way we had been playing so successfully since the restart, ultimately losing the final game 2-3 to Cowley, with Unitey drawing their final game a result that would have been ideal, meaning Cowley sneaked in and took the title.
Absolutely full credit to them for clinching the title as the ‘dark horses’ when it seemed like race between two sides, they are a nice bunch of lads who were simply better on the day, but we take pride in the fact we were so close to silverware and intend to make sure we get our hands on some ourselves next time around ha!”
SW: It was announced recently that the Senior Division of the Essex Alliance League has been given Step 7 status by the FA, putting it on par with the Premier Division of the Essex Olympian League. Is reaching that division an ambition of the club & what is your reaction to the news as an EAL club?
CM: “It’s fantastic news for the league and all those whom make it tick and fully deserved for all their hard work in getting to that level. On a personal note, Barry [Fitzgerald], Rob [Parker] and Alan Spike for example have been extremely supportive towards us as a team and me personally, and this is evident in the piece you did with Rob a couple of weeks ago, where he name-checked Dagenham United as being one of the big teams that are looking likely progress up the footballing ladder, which is a great compliment to read [Pleasure to assist! – Ed).
In terms of step 7 for us, absolutely, we’ve made no secret of hiding the fact that is very much the plan, to keep climbing up the footballing ladder and into the Non League system etc. We are delighted that we have gained promotion for the coming season to the Premier Division (next season’s EAL second-tier, below the Senior Division) from Div 2 and again feel it shows our progression as a club and our intent to wake what I feel is a sleeping giant of a club.”
SW: How important is it that the EAL matches are covered by Independent amateur media, particularly with the said focus elsewhere on other divisions higher up the Non-League pyramid?
CM: “I think it’s fantastic that people like yourselves are starting to shine a light on grassroots football and highlighting the hard work that goes into these teams and the quality that Is actually within these leagues that very often get missed. As you mention, coverage higher up the pyramid is strong, but at this level is few and far between, but what it does mean, is that when independent amateur media like yourself do take the time out of your days to cover and focus on teams, you have the chance to really build relationships and respect from the teams and leagues you are covering, which I think is a great thing on a personal level, as often in football, especially higher up, that personal touch element often gets missed and it becomes very business orientated.”
SW: In my research for this article, I saw you are one of a number of clubs now who film highlights of matches & then put them on your YouTube channel. How important do you feel doing things like that are to raise the profile of the club (and perhaps the League) as a whole?
CM: “I actually believe we were one of the first to really push the filming of fixtures, investing in a Veo Camera prior to pre-season to automatically record our games and create highlights of match days and other media content. The social media aspect is huge in today’s day and age and by far one of the easiest ways to attract interest in the club as it’s a physical representation of your team and whom you are and allows you to express your identity”
JM: “We not only use the filming of games to create highlight pieces etc, but use the footage for tactical analysis of games which has been crucial throughout the season in being able to Identify any areas of improvement whilst also highlighting the positives for individuals that many players often don’t have. Even at a good semi-pro standard, until recently very few games were recorded and so lots of players don’t have the opportunities to see themselves play and identify these areas to work on.”
CM: In terms of the league’s social media coverage, I genuinely believe they are by far one of the best at any level in terms of engagement with their teams and individuals in the divisions and are very supportive of the social media content put out by clubs. The filming of the games from the league can only be a positive and shows their desire to offer that extra ‘personal touch’ each week.
SW: What do you believe is the main difference between Intermediate/Grassroots Football and the top four steps of the Senior Non-League game?
CM: “Finances. Pure and simple in my honest opinion. Grassroots football has come under so much pressure with lack of help for funding, with costs rising exponentially each year for facilities especially, as quite simply there will always be more teams then there are good venues, meaning most places of hire can charge what they want, with very few teams owning or having leases to their own grounds at this level, every season you see the same story, teams folding left, right and centre, majority of the time simply down to lack of finances. I genuinely believe there are a lot of clubs out there, ourselves being one of them that have real potential to climb the footballing ladder, but football costs money and many are unfortunately ‘priced out’ of progression.”
JM: “I agree, finances play a huge part in the gap between the standards of the senior non league game and grassroots football. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the financial strains get placed upon the managers of these teams to keep the teams afloat let alone progressing forward.
Thankfully, I’m fully supportive of Chris’s plans for the teams and the ambition he has to keep building the project, meaning the adult section have been fortunate enough to have the financial backing from ourselves to keep progressing. We take pride in the fact we can match what a lot of senior non-league teams can in terms of kits, equipment etc but that ultimately comes down to the passion and drive to want to be able to do this as-well, as we see the teams and the players as extended family and feel that is another of the key differences between the levels.”
SW: Looking on now to the 2021/22 season, what are the short-term aspirations of the club?
CM: “To get some silverware under our belt and ultimately to gain promotion to the Senior Division, after a positive year this season which culminated in a promotion from Div 2 to the Premier Division.
We would like to add some fresh faces to our current teams that believe in the project we have and can appreciate the progression we have made and to compliment the existing players we have. We have keen focus of developing young players and providing a pathway into men’s football as well, a luxury which is often not afforded. In our last game for example, we had four 17 year old players in the first team squad, with another 3 under 21’s and that is something we are committed to continue doing in the 21/22 season.”
SW: Finally, what other developments are on the way for the club in the future that you’d like to share?
CM: “As cliché as it sounds, We’ve got some really exciting plans in the pipeline that will elevate the club to another level. We have transferred to a 4G pitch for our men’s first team to ensure we have a better standard of playing surface to compliment the attractive football we play, whilst also securing a partnership which sees us gain the use of a clubhouse and bar for post-game socials, something we had been sorely missing in the last few seasons.”
“With our ambitions to progress into the Senior division and continue up the footballing pyramid, we are in positive talks to secure a stadium and pitch for the 2022/2023 season [Readers, Ground-grading is a factor in Step 7 divisions – Ed] and have a secure home base with the fantastic current owners whom we are building a good relationship with.”
If you’d like to catch up with the others article in this ‘In-Focus’ series relating to the Essex Alliance League, you can find them here
Essex Alliance League – The Future: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/11/2021-in-focus-essex-alliance-league-the-future-eal/
Club In-Focus – Chadwell Heath Spartans: https://survivor16b.wordpress.com/2021/06/14/2021-club-in-focus-chadwell-heath-spartans/