There can’t be too many people better placed to comment on Dagenham and Redbridge’s hopes of bouncing back into the Football League at the first attempt than Anwar Uddin.
The former Daggers captain made 188 appearances for the club in a six-year spell, a spell that coincided with the most successful period in the club’s history.
He captained them to a historic promotion into the Football League in 2007 and then in 2010 the Daggers, still led by Uddin, reached the highest point in their history as a 3-2 League Two play-off Final win over Rotherham United at Wembley sent them into English football’s third tier.
Their stay in League One lasted only one season and after last season’s relegation they find themselves back in non-league’s top tier, but club legend Uddin is hopeful they can make an immediate return.
He said “I think they can do it.
“I know clubs like to play down their chances of getting back when they come down. There is talk of reduced income, sacrifices being made, players leaving, but any club coming down has to try to bounce back at the first attempt.
“You don’t want to get stuck in a division, especially not the National League because it’s a strong league and it keeps getting stronger.
“There is the play-offs, there is a chance and the club can do it”
If the Daggers are to make an immediate return then Uddin believes they have the ideal man at the helm to lead them.
John Still is currently in his third spell at Victoria Road and was the manager that brought Uddin to the club from Bristol Rovers twelve years ago.
And his former captain praised the work done by Still, hailing the former Barnet and Luton Town boss as a “magician”.
He said “John Still is a magician and quite honestly he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
“Put it this way when we won the Conference, yes it was a decade ago, we were less equipped to win the league than the club is now.
“We were 80/1 outsiders to win it, we were a team of young players, rejects if you like.
“I had been injured for two years but we bought into John, we bought into the family-based ethos that the club has.
“We did that and had a decade in the Football League; the players have to do the same now because we come back into non-league a better club and a bigger club”
In preparation for their return to non-league Still has overhauled the Daggers squad.
Charlton Athletic defender Josh Staunton became the tenth new signing of the summer when he completed a move to Victoria Road two weeks ago.
But Uddin believes that the addition of one of his former team mates could be key for the club throughout the coming campaign.
“John has made some smart signings, signings that know the level well and will help us get used to being back in there.
“I played with Scott Doe (pictured right) and I really like that fact that John has brought him back in, he will be huge for the club this season.
“There are a couple of lads in from Luton Town and they will compliment the younger players around the place now.
“You have loads of players with potential and yes, it’s a new squad but they have had a
fantastic education. They will need time to get used to John’s style of play and it may take time but these are smart players.
They will learn so much about what he wants and what the club is about in pre-season.
“He has us in good stead and I am positive about the season ahead”
Uddin, now working as Diversity and Campaigns Manager with the Football Supporters Federation and Kick it Out, was honest in his assessment of the challenge that lies in wait for the Daggers this season.
The National League is very different from the division he led the club out of in 2007.
Now it is made up of largely professional clubs, with squads containing a whole host of former Football League, and in some cases Premier League players.
However he thinks the current group of Daggers players can look to the way his side sealed promotion almost ten years ago for inspiration.
“The league is much more difficult than when we got promoted, I would totally agree with that.
“Lower league football is better because of a number of factors. The overseas players coming into the English game, the money involved down the leagues, they make it harder.
“However it is all relative, when we won it we were up against Oxford United. They had a big budget; they played in a massive stadium and got good crowds.
“But we beat them to the league title, there will be powerhouses with big budgets and although it is harder, more professional, you just make the best of what you have and give it your all”
The past two years have been challenging for the clubs supporters.
With the club actively seeking investment and an energy sapping relegation, it’s no too tough to see why they Victoria Road faithful may be restless.
Uddin praised the work done by the supporters and understands why many feel they way they do at the moment and tipped them to play a big part in the club’s season.
“The supporters play such an important role at Dagenham and Redbridge, more so than at any other club I have played for.
“When I was there I knew the majority of fans that travelled away by name. You would go into the club and on a daily basis they would be the ones that would cook for you, they would wash the kit, they would get your boots for you.
“I loved that, it showed they care, they want to help the club in their free time.
“We had a magical time but I haven’t seen the club in a difficult position.
“They are unhappy but it isn’t because we went down, they can just about accept that. It’s more about how you lose and how you are relegated.
“Now we have to get back to what we do best and that is giving 100%, giving everything for the club and if the club have the fans onside that is your extra man and it makes the club a great place to be”
If there is one regret for Uddin it seems that is the fact he isn’t part of the squad trying to emulate Cheltenham Town in securing promotion back to the Football League just twelve months after being relegated.
And he urged everyone at the club to think positive, defiantly stating “We have dreamt before, why not dream again?”
He said “I wish I was still playing because if I was and we had just been relegated I would be thinking ‘Wow what a challenge this is’.
“We know we have done it before and why can’t we do it again.
“There is no time to be pessimistic, or dwell on the past, what’s done is done.
“We have gone from non-league to League One before and I am not saying it can happen again but we have dreamt before, why not dream again?”
Interview: Mark Carruthers