Football / Non-League Notebook: Exciting new script for East Enders

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The Independent Online
AN EAST London club that did not even exist last season have made a ruthlessly impressive start to the new GM Vauxhall Conference campaign, and head the table as one of only two sides with a 100 per cent record.

While Dagenham and Redbridge are a new club, their players are by no means strangers to each other. The club was formed in the close season when Dagenham, of the Diadora League, merged with their ambitious tenants at their Victoria Road ground, Redbridge Forest. After finishing seventh in their debut Conference season last term, the majority of the Forest side now represent the new club, who have hired only three of last season's Dagenham players.

Redbridge Forest were themselves the product of an amalgamation of two East End clubs: Walthamstow Avenue and Leytonstone and Ilford (who were the result of a much earlier merger).

When the merger with Dagenham was under negotiation last season, some Daggers fans were very unhappy at the prospect of their club losing their identity. However, Dave Andrews, the former Forest chairman who, with his Dagenham counterpart, Norman Sparrow, is the joint chairman of the new club, insists the merger was essential.

'Neither club would have survived for long on their own,' Andrews said prior to Tuesday's impressive 5-1 win over Farnborough, which followed last weekend's 2-0 success at Merthyr Tydfil. 'The merger was the only answer for both clubs.'

'Our ambition is to progress to the Football League,' Andrews added, 'but we need good gates to realise that goal.' Bringing punters through the turnstiles was a problem for Forest last season, whose average crowd was just 719, compared to 3,606 at Wycombe, the runners-up and favourites to finish one place higher this term. Tuesday's gate of 1,318 was a step in the right direction.

John Still, Forest's manager last season, is in charge of the new club, and has brought the number of England semi-professional internationals in his squad to seven, with the summer recruitment of the highly rated goalkeeper, John McKenna, and the right-back Paul Shirtliff from Boston United.