A tribute to Dean Richards
‘A lion never dies, he sleeps’
All this week we were busy with the Carling Cup Final and regular Premier league, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A matches. Understandably so, given the closeness of the football season finale, yet last Saturday turned out to be a very sad day in football.
Dean Richards, formerly of Bradford City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, passed away on February 26 at the age of 36 after battling a long illness. A talented and commanding defender of his time, Dean Richards’ untimely demise has come as a shock to the football fraternity. Tributes have been pouring in from all quarters, especially from his boyhood club Bradford City and of course Tottenham Hotspur, the club where Richards played his last professional game in 2005 at the age of 30.
Let us pay tribute to Dean Richards in our own small way by remembering his career that was less illustrious, injury-hit yet fully committed and cent per cent professional. Boasting of over 400 senior appearances for various clubs over a period of thirteen years, Dean Richards was a classic British central defender who gave his all on the pitch till his ill-timed retirement due to an illness that was initially diagnosed to be an inner ear infection but later proved to be mysterious and life threatening.
Dean was born in Bradford on 9th June, 1974 and represented Bradford Boys as a schoolboy while studying at the Rhodesway school before progressing to become a trainee at Bradford City immediately on leaving school. At the age of 17, Dean Richards made his senior debut for City away to Bournemouth on 26th October, 1991 and scored in the Bantams’ 3-1 victory in the Division Two clash.
In the summer of 1992 Dean Richards signed his first professional contract with Bradford City. A regular in the line-up from the start of the 1993-94 campaign, he began to impress bigger clubs with his old fashioned no nonsense stylish and commanding defending and in March 1995 he signed for Wolves for 1.85 million pounds after playing 102 times for his hometown club Bradford City. The defender’s career started progressing well at Molineux and his performance attracted the upper echelons of English football as Richards was called up into the England U-21 squad in the summer of 1995.
Richards was selected by his fellow professionals for a place in the PFA Division One Team of the year for the season 1995-1996 despite suffering a knee injury caused by a car accident in January of that season.
In the summer of 1999, Dean Richards signed for Southampton where the defender proved himself to be a very capable Premier League player and his ability to score goals from set pieces became an extra bonus for the South Coast club that declared their towering centre-half as the Player of the Season. Yet, injuries continued to disrupt Richards’ international aspirations but when Glenn Hoddle left the Southampton job for Tottenham, he signed the defender for a reported fee of eight million pounds in September 2001.
At White Hart Lane, Dean reached the peak of his career. He was outstanding in the air, comfortable on the ball, powerful and effective in both defending and pushing forward to support the attack. He seemed to have an excellent chance of selection for the full England squad as Sven Goran Eriksson had him in his plans for the 2002 World Cup finals before injuries ruled him out.
Thereafter Richards struggled more and more with injuries before announcing his retirement on medical advice in March 2005 after suffering dizzy spells and headaches. He remained in the game and was involved in youth coaching, including a spell back at Valley Parade.
Tributes are flying in from the various clubs that he had played for and a statement on the official Tottenham website read, “There will be a tribute paid to the defender ahead of our fixture next Sunday at Molineux against his former club Wolves.
“We extend our sincere condolences to the family of Dean Richards at this very sad time.”
Bradford City chairman Mark Lawn said a minute’s silence would be held in memory of the footballer at the team’s next home game against Rotherham on Tuesday, March 8.
Mr Lawn said: “Dean Richards was the sort of man that anybody would want at their football club. On the pitch he was a hard-working player who gave everything for the club, off the pitch he was a very humble, intelligent human being.
When he stopped playing football he came back to coach youth football before he became too ill to do so. The world will be worse off without him. He never forgot his roots and I would like to pass on condolences to his family from everyone at Bradford City.”
Wolves boss Mick McCarthy said: “I can’t tell you how sad I feel for him and his family – 36 years of age. It is just devastating for them.
“He was a nice fella, and he is well remembered here. Anybody who dies at that age, it’s devastating.” Richards made 145 for the Midlands club after moving from Bradford and his four-year spell in the Black country made him a crowd favourite and everybody is going to miss the humble, gentle and yet a tough professional that was Dean Richards.