By Jon Couch
He’s spent the best part of half a century in football, 32 of those years occupying the manager’s hotseat, but Peter Taylor is enjoying life more than ever right now.
Many thought the 65-year-old former England caretaker manager had committed career suicide when he agreed to take over the reins at Dagenham & Redbridge in the summer with the club strapped for cash and having to sell their best players to balance the books.
But fast forward three months and the future suddenly looks a lot rosier at Victoria Road.
Under new American owners, the Daggers have steadied the ship off the field and re-built their squad on it and after an impressive run of six wins out of seven, have established themselves as one of the National League’s most in-form sides.
Taylor, as one of football’s most respected figures, has learned more than most how to take the rough with the smooth.
A glittering management career which started in Non-League at Dartford in 1986 took in a plethora of clubs such as Gillingham, Leicester City, Hull City and Stevenage Borough and peaked with a one-match stint as caretaker manager of England in 2000 where he will be forever known as the first manager to hand David Beckham the captain’s armband for the national team.
Now the wily campaigner from Southend-on-Sea can start reflecting on another gamble which appears to be paying off, against all the odds.
After taking just eight points from their opening ten games, in came the Americans to save the Daggers’ bacon, in the form of a consortium led by Peter B. Freund, Craig Unger and former Manchester United goalkeeper and United States international Tim Howard.
Since then, a number of high-profile new arrivals, such as Boreham Wood pair Angelo Balanta and Alex Davey, loan striker Conor Wilkinson and, more recently, Ebbsfleet stalwart Kenny Clark, have helped lift the Daggers out of danger and imperiously up the National League table.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying it, and it’s nice that I’m beginning to enjoy matchdays too now,” Taylor told The NLP. “It’s no coincidence that results have improved since the new owners came in. I’ve met them a couple of times now, they are desperate to do well and have told me they will back me in whatever I want to do to improve the team.
“I’m in regular contact with them on email and they’ve delivered in everything they say they would do. It’s a good place to be right now.
“I was fully aware of the club’s situation and the problems it had when I came to the club. Everyone was completely honest with me about the limited budget we had and it wasn’t something I went into blind.
“People said to me at the time ‘why would you want to take that on’, but I did it for the right reasons, because I still love coaching and managing young players. It felt right and I’m delighted that I did take it on and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Although this is Taylor’s first job in Non-League football since leaving Dover Athletic in 1996, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace winger wasn’t caught out cold by the quality of the National League and believes the fifth tier is gaining more recognition than ever from the higher echelons.
“It’s a really, really good league and I definitely feel the Football League clubs respect it more,” Taylor added.
“A few years ago the fifth tier was regarded as ‘Non-League’ but it’s not Non-League anymore. These are professional clubs playing at a high standard in a very competitive division.
“I wasn’t surprised at all by the standard. Before I came to Dagenham I was doing a bit of scouting for Portsmouth covering the National League so I knew what a good level of football it was and it’s getting stronger all the time.”
Four wins on the trot may have only hoisted Dagenham up to 15th in the table after a sticky start, but with the division so closely stacked and a play-off place up for grabs for the seventh-place team, is Taylor looking at completing one of the division’s most decorated turnarounds?
“Well, if you’d have told me we would get 15 points from our last six matches I’d have snapped your hand off,” he continued. “But, of course, we have to be realistic. We are in a very competitive division and we have a lot of work to do if we’re going to start talking about play-offs.
“We set ourselves a target of getting to 30 points by Christmas and seeing where we go from there, but we’ve got some very tough games ahead of us. We’ve got Leyton Orient twice and then John [Still] coming back to us with Barnet – those are massive games and anything we can pick up from them will be a bonus.
“We may bring a few more players in but I like to give the young players a chance. They’ve been playing with other young players but now we’ve brought in a bit more experience in order to help them progress.
“If they can continue to do that, then the club will be heading in the right direction.”
Tagged Dagenham & Redbridge FC