In appreciation of Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club
All hail Dagenham and Redbridge Football Club. Falling attendance figures and the continuing effect of the recession have become a regular theme of these pages over the last few months. So it is only right that we should tip our hat to a club that have taken action. Rich Prew pays tribute to the Daggers.
Times are tough. Throughout football, however, many clubs carry on regardless, seemingly oblivious to this. Ticket prices rise and big games are designated as “Gold” or “Platinum” fixtures, for which a premium is paid by fans. Meanwhile, supporters publicly resent player wage inflation and changing kick-off times at short notice due to the demands of television. These factors and more seem to be responsible for a decline in attendances across many Football League clubs in 2010-11.
Step forward Dagenham and Redbridge FC, which last weekend hosted a humdrum League One tie against Milton Keynes Dons. On all bar two occasions this year, the local derby against Leyton Orient and the visit of big guns Southampton, Dagenham and Redbridge have had home attendances of less than 3,000. They are a small fish even in the League One pond – a former non-league team with a reputation for attractive football and developing talent, but nonetheless finding their first season above League Two a struggle.
On Saturday, 4,446 people attended the match, won 1-0 by the visitors. So what? Well, the match was notable for two reasons. Marketed as an “Anti-Racism” fixture, as a fan you could purchase tickets in advance as below, including away supporters.
Adults – 99p
Concessions – 25p
Adults – £9.99
Concessions – £4.99
The ticket office opened early, the club courted publicity and those attending included the Honorary President of the Football League, Lord Mawhinney, and local and national politicians.
Secondly, the match was non-segregated. Supporters could watch the match from any standing area they fancied. This repeated an initiative from a game against Macclesfield last season, which drew a crowd of 3,500.
Let’s take the ticket price initiative first. The home game prior to the arrival of MK Dons had 2,000 fans. Certainly, despite a doubled home attendance, there would have been a negative financial effect in terms of gate receipts, albeit offset by food and drinks sales and the like.
However, what price the long term benefits of attracting more new fans to the club? Anecdotal evidence suggests that the loyalty engendered by the first game against Macclesfield produced repeat visits from a number of fans.
Dagenham and Redbridge sit in a tough catchment area. They compete indirectly with Premier League club West Ham United, amongst others, for fan custom. The area is overwhelmingly working class too, coping with a tough recession for the manufacturing industry in which many local fans will be employed. It is also proving a tough season for the Daggers and positive results are few. Not for this club the positive spin-off effects from an Olympic stadium in the area. It is a grind.
Rather than being happy with a tough lot, the club have speculated to accumulate. Let’s hope this gamble works in increasing the fanbase, getting the club some publicity and attracting sponsors.
Moving onto non-segregation, Dagenham and Redbridge summed up the move as follows:
We are especially proud today that, due to the friendly nature of both clubs and the way both clubs and sets of supporters are recognised as being truly community based family clubs, we have been able to dispense on this occasion with the traditional segregation and allow the supporters from both teams to mix freely.
Not since our days in the Ryman League have we been able to allow this but the Board of the club felt, after discussions with MK Dons, that this would be the right game for this to happen.
Of course, hoping that this might extend to higher-profile league fixtures in all-seater stadia is naïve, and a clash between two modestly supported clubs is hardly a litmus test of possible applicability elsewhere. However, it is another example of a small club thinking originally and testing what its supporters appreciate.
As supporters moved from one end of the stadium to the other at half time, to stand behind the goal their team was attacking in the second half, there was an air of excitement – part puzzlement and, for the older fans, part nostalgia.
What price more original thinking from other Football League clubs? Let’s hope more try to re-connect with their supporters, because the benefits are clear.