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Soccer hardman Dean Windass reveals the highs and lows of a career that has taken him from building site to the Premiership
Exclusive by Mark Butler

ImageDean Windass is a footballer who has seen it all. He knows the joy of promotion and the pain of relegation, and has earned a reputation as an aggressive player out on the turf.

But behind the tough exterior is a man who has been haunted by his own personal demons, and in an exclusive interview the hardman of soccer has revealed how as a youngster he was left traumatised by the attempted suicide of his mother; how he battled against the booze, and how a tough upbringing made him who he is today.

Most of all though he emphasised the satisfaction he has felt in overcoming obstacles and defying his critics along the way, something he has had to fight to do ever since he was dropped by Hull as a youngster for being too small.

He said: “When I look back at my career the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve consistently proved people wrong. There have always been people who’ve said ‘you’ll never go for a million pounds’ or ‘you’ll never score 20 in a season’, and that spurred me on.

“It’s also part of the reason I want to keep on playing football and eventually go into management or coaching – I want to keep on proving people wrong.”

Over the years Dean has scrapped it out in the non-leagues, and played against the world’s best in Premiership palaces. He has enjoyed some real highs, and endured some genuine lows. And at the age of 38, he’s still going.

He said: “I’m not ready to quit because I enjoy it so much. I feel fit enough to keep playing until I’m 40 or more. Stuart McCall’s done it and Teddy Sheringham and I know I can carry on along the same lines. After all, you’re a long time retired.”

“People say I get myself into trouble because I'm honest.” Indeed, Dean might be in the twilight of a playing career that has seen him don the shirts of Bradford City, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough among others, but back at childhood club Hull City where his professional life first started, the Menstonbased forward continues to make a real impact.

When I spoke to him Hull were a solid 12th in the Championship, officially the top placed team in Yorkshire, and Dean was their top scorer with ten goals already for the season.

Image“Obviously going back to Hull has been a huge thing for me,” he said. “To get the goals has been a massive achievement and now the club is moving forward. If we can continue as we have been doing we’ve got a good chance of reaching the playoffs. I want to get 20 goals again this season and that might get us there. The icing on the cake would be to finish my career in the Premiership with Hull.”

Dean’s achievements as a player are considerable. He was voted one of Hull’s all-time greatest players by the club’s fans, he is Bradford City’s third highest goal-scorer of all time, and he has a one-in-three career scoring record of over 220 goals in around 680 professional games.

However, it’s been far from an easy journey to the top for Deano.

Born on April Fool’s Day 1969 in Hull to parents John and Doreen, his father worked on the docks as a fisherman, and then joined Tetley’s as a driver. The young sports-mad Dean played cricket and hockey for his school as well as football, a love of which began when he went to watch his Dad play in goal for a local team. He used to go and watch Hull City play at the old Boothferry Park ground and loved the atmosphere. As a youngster he showed promise, and Hull player Peter Skipper presented him with player of the year award for his performances in a Sunday league side while he was still at junior school.

But Dean’s teenage years were extremely difficult. His parents divorced when he was 13 after it emerged his dad had been having an affair, and he said the experience left him devastated.

"My teenage years made me strong because they taught me not to make the same mistakes my family made." His mother found it hard on her own and tried to commit suicide, which understandably terrified the young Dean. Over the next few years he says he was left largely to fend for himself. School went out of the window and he didn’t go at all in his final year. He started going out to pubs and drinking heavily at the age off 15 or 16 and, becoming increasingly aggressive, he got in a fight with his mum’s boyfriend and was kicked out of his home.

He talked about all of these things and more in frank detail in his recently published autobiography, and this has led to severe fallouts with several friends and relatives. But Dean is unapologetic.

“People say I get myself into trouble because I’m honest,” he said. “When I did the book I said ‘if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it properly’. I just told the truth. I’ve upset a lot of people but that’s the way it was – I’m not going to tell lies.

“My teenage years made me strong because they taught me not to make the same mistakes my family made,” he added. “I was determined that my kids would never have to go through what I went through. What happened has helped me in that respect.”

The main positive as a teenager was that his talent earned him an apprenticeship at Hull City by age 16, but it was not a glamorous life.

He said: “Back then I was polishing the pros’ boots, mopping floors and cleaning toilets, all for 30 quid a week and walking into the first-team changing room without asking first would get you a smack in the boll***s.”

ImageBut he insists this strict experience was a valuable one, and says todays young players could do with a similar regime.

“What happened when we were apprentices gave us an incentive,” he explained. “At the time I used to think ‘this is s**t’, but everything we did was related to football and it taught me respect and discipline and helped us all bond as a team.

“Now youngsters starting off in the game have it too easy. Kids today get away with murder and it leads to a lack of discipline.”

At age 18, being a late physical developer, Dean suffered a huge setback when he was dropped from Hull because of his small stature and lack of strength. He was forced to work in factories for a while, packing peas and doing other menial jobs. He had trials at York City and Cambridge United but was dropped due to financial constraints. He then began working on a building site.

But, just as he was beginning to lose hope, things started to pick up again. He began playing for nonleague North Ferriby in 1990 and his performances there soon got him noticed, earning him a second chance at Hull City where he so impressed manager Terry Dolan that he was offered a contract as a pro within days of his trial commencing.

“Some never get a second chance but I grabbed mine,” Dean said.

And boy did he grab it. In October 1991 he scored against Bradford on his home debut at Boothferry Park, delighting the crowd and, above all, himself. Dean Windass was now a professional footballer and goalscorer.

ImageSo began a career that was to see all kinds of incident. As well as hitting the back of the net on a regular basis, Dean has become known as a bit of a bad boy, notching up many a red card in his time. He was once sent off three times in one match while playing for Aberdeen - firstly for foul play, secondly for verbally abusing the referee, and finally for taking his anger out on the corner flag as he stormed off - and on another occasion a ref showed him the red card in a car park after the game!

“I play every game as though it’s my last,” said Dean, “and every time I go out there I know my job and do it to the best of my ability. I’m the world’s worst person to live with if I’m not playing football.”

But he refutes suggestions that he is a ‘legend’.

He said: “Real legends go to war, or raise money for charity – they should get honours like OBEs. Actually, my wife says she deserves an OBE for living with me!”

But legend or not, it’s clear he’s succeeded in answering his doubters – including himself.

He said. “If you’d have told me when I started out that I’d play for 18 years and score over 200 goals, I’d have smacked you in the mouth and said ‘don’t be stupid’!”

Dean Windass’s autobiography, ‘Deano: From Gipsyville to the Premiership’, is published in hardback by Great Northern Books priced £16.99.
Tel: 01274 735056.
PO Box 213, Ilkley, West Yorkshire LS29 9WS.
www.greatnorthernbooks.co.uk