It’s extremely rare these days to see a football manager stay at a club for over five years, with only six managers out of the ninety-two clubs currently enjoying a longer tenure. That’s why it’s such an achievement that Dagenham & Redbridge’s John Still has just come up to his 8th anniversary in charge of the Essex side, from his beginnings at the club back in April 2004 (his second stint), no one could have imagined the journey he could take his beloved club on.
John comes out with famous cliché’s such as, “To Be a Dagger”, which has endeared him to the Victoria Road support for many years now, the sheer motivational factor is worth recognition on its own. That single four letter phrase is one which has taken on so much
meaning, a phrase which is actually needed to get into the club. If you’re not, “A Dagger,” you won’t play for this club it’s as simple as that, amplified by Stuart Lewis leaving for a breach of club conduct just three months into his contract here.
The club legend is not only a fantastic man manager, he’s also taken the small club with modest attendances to the best positions in their history, something that will never been forgotten. The first of these was the magnificent promotion to The Football League back in 2007, something that is widely regarded as the biggest achievement by the club. The Daggers were only formed in 1992 and just 15 years on they were in The Football League for the first time in their history thanks to John Still and the group of players he brought in, unimaginable when 10 years previous they were playing teams such as Leigh RMI.
There’s much more than the results side of the business with this club though, the sheer enjoyment of watching players come through the system is one that not many other clubs can boast. Over the years John and his staff have brought through and sold gems such as Craig Mackail Smith, Shane Blackett, Sam Saunders, Magnus Okuanghe, Sam Saunders, Scott Griffths, Danny Green, Romain Vincelot and the biggest success story of all Paul Benson. It wasn’t just a pleasure watching them play at Victoria Road and develop into fantastic players, it’s the pleasure of seeing them play in higher divisions knowing that it was our club that made them who they are and bettered them. Once again that’s testament to John Still.
He wasn’t finished on the playing side of things mind, after two seasons where we narrowly stayed in the league and then narrowly finished outside of the play off places against all of the odds; we were then treated to the ultimate in footballing experiences. A side that was tipped to go down following a mass exodus of key players in the previous summer managed to clamber into the League Two Play Offs when no one expected them to even be near the top half. Following a simply spectacular 7-2 win in the semi final, the Daggers defeated Rotherham in the final to move up to League One; a position no one could have ever dreamed of.
We were now in a position that was beyond the belief of anyone, ten years previous and we were just being promoted back to the Conference yet now we were rubbing shoulders with former Premier League clubs. I can honestly say that the Play off Final was the best day of my life and that’s all testament to John Still and the players he brought in, without him, we probably would have languished in the bottom half.
It’s more than that though; it’s the rapport he has built with the fans and the directors. I can near enough guarantee you that Stilly has probably had over 10 offers to leave for higher placed clubs with far better finances that ourselves during his tenure, yet every time he has rejected them to stay with us. That is a quality that has gone missing in football these days, loyalty. When times were tough this season, we have repaid him with our patience which has seen him keep us up and become the fourth longest serving manager in English Football, a sensational feat for someone who manages his boyhood club.
Under his stewardship we’ve undergone the transition from a semi-pro mid table Conference side into an established full time professional league club, something that would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago. Not only that but we’ve gained plaudits from clubs in our division and higher, including exceptional praise from Harry Redknapp towards John Still, two old school managers who clearly have a good relationship. People seem to like our club, the way we’re run and the management team which is down to John and the supporters creating a family club vibe that people like to relate to, it really is testament to his tenure.
All of these reasons are just testament to how fantastic a manager he is. He manages to scrape the barrel year upon year and find gems that no other manager would that are then polished and sold onto higher leagues. He constantly gets the best out of his players and the supporters even when times are incredibly tough. He may not have won a major trophy, he probably won’t ever get the chance too either, but keeping Dagenham & Redbridge in the Football League will be a bigger achievement than any trophy won by any club this season or any other season.
What I’m really trying to say is thank you John. Thank you for bringing in players that I’ve had the privilege to watch grace Victoria Road over the years, thank you for making our history season upon season and thank you for being so loyal to us throughout everything in the past eight years. You’ll be hard pushed to find a club anywhere in The Football League as tight knit us ours and where the manager and the fans enjoy such a tremendous rapport. I’ve never known anyone but John Still to manage this club since I’ve been supporting us and for that I am truly thankful.