By Hugo Varley,
In an age where egotistical and unapproachable owners are becoming increasingly prevalent within the game, Dagenham & Redbridge have represented a refreshing defiance to the trend.
This time last year the East London club were staring at a perilous future, with financial problems threatening to derail the Daggers’ proud history.
When August came about and the former Football League club started the campaign on a paper-thin budget, fears for their immediate destiny were raised to unprecedented levels, until a little known American consortium suddenly stepped in a few weeks into the season.
Trinity Sports Holdings had previously invested in a number of sports teams in their native United States, however this represented their first venture across the pond.
Questions were immediately asked. How would the new owners adapt to the vastly different sporting culture in the UK?
Well, so far the signs are resoundingly positive.
Despite residing over 3,000 miles away from the club’s Victoria Road home, Dagenham’s Executive Chairman Peter Freund has refused to hide away.
Instead, he frequently makes the overnight trip across the Atlantic, whilst also taking a leaf out of Peterborough United’s US-based owner Darragh MacAnthony’s book by maintaining a regular social media presence.
“The fans have been really welcoming to me and that has made everything worthwhile,” Freund told The NLP.
“My background is in baseball ownership where there are lots of breaks between play which gives me the opportunity to walk around and shake hands with everyone, however at a football match that is harder to do.
“I have therefore come over for fans’ forums as well as maintaining a presence on Twitter because that gives me the chance to get to know everyone.
“This is the fans’ club and it is vital that they know exactly what is going on.
“You get a lot of owners who come in and believe that they have the knowledge to build a championship winning team on their own but that is not what we are all about.
“We are all about the business side. We leave the football to Peter Taylor and Steve Thompson (Managing Director).”
The purchase of Dagenham last year marked the end of an extensive search for a British football club by Freund and his fellow investors, during which time the American businessman fully immersed himself in the beautiful game.
Freund continued: “I completely embraced the footballing culture in the UK and went to watch as many games as I could.
“I fell in love with everything that I saw off the pitch, the passion of the fans and the way generations of families follow their teams.
“We looked at a few opportunities in League One and Two before choosing to pursue the purchase of Dagenham.
“There are a number of reasons why we chose the Daggers. Certainly the London location makes it an easy place for us to get to, but the club also has such a great history and a brilliant home that we can enhance.
“The club was a bit like a diamond in the rough. It had fallen on hard times and needed some love and attention, but we knew that we could make an immediate impact.”
Indeed, the consortium, which also contains former Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard and fellow American Craig Unger, stayed true to their word and immediately invested both on and off the pitch.
Plans for building work around Victoria Road have coincided with the arrival of high-profile additions such as Angelo Balanta, Connor Wilkinson and Kenny Clark and as the ownership group prepare for their first full campaign in charge of Dagenham, Freund, who has previously declared an ambition to push for promotion this season, has had his first taste of the frantic summer transfer window.
“The last few weeks have been both an exciting and frustrating time,” he admits.
“It is difficult because you build up a list of transfer targets and when they don’t pay off you have to go right back to where you started. We are not just going to get the chequebook out and spend recklessly. We want to do this in a sustainable manner and be smart about who we bring in.
“In some ways I was my own worst enemy for saying that our ambition is to break into the Football League because it has raised expectations!
“I am loving the overall experience though. I would say that it is the most stressful, but also the most fun job that I have ever had.
“When I start a project I throw myself into it 100 per cent. I will be completely honest, I am in my mid 40s now and for the first 40 years of my life I didn’t particularly follow football. However, now it is a big part of my life and it has been such a fun ride so far!”