Andy Dawson: model professional.
Ten years, seven managers, more than 300 appearances. No issues. No arguments. No rants and raves.
As Dawson’s tenth and final season as a player at Hull City concludes, the glowing tributes to him as player and man are well deserved. And yet, despite a well-supported testimonial campaign, he remains under the radar, his existence as humble and modest as the man himself. This, somehow, seems extremely fitting.
Dawson has not been in the first team picture for some time and has not played anything more than a casual role in City’s second promotion to the Premier League. The emergence of Joe Dudgeon and then, crucially, the switch in formation by Steve Bruce pretty much ended his City career. For as long as the Tigers were winning games and climbing the table in a 3-5-2 set-up, Dawson’s chances of playing were virtually nil, a position further proved by his frequent absence from even the substitutes’ bench.
But for all that, unlike the kind of egotist that City fans, and football fans as a whole, recognise all the time within the game, we didn’t hear a peep from him. There was no banging on doors, no delusions of grandeur, no question marks about respect. It’s football. It’s about the sport, the club, the team.
Model professional, you see.
Dawson joined the Tigers on a free transfer in the summer of 2003 after his contract expired at Scunthorpe United. He had been there for four years after being released by his apprenticeship club Nottingham Forest, where he was the eldest of three brothers on the books, following one solitary League Cup appearance. At Glanford Park, he was fiercely consistent, marauding up and down the left wing as an attacking full back whose positional sense and exquisite crossing made up for a career-long lack of pace. He was also, from the start, a masterful tackler and a brilliant exponent of the set-piece art, something that would quickly define him as a player with the Tigers when Peter Taylor snapped him up, six months short of his 24th birthday. “Reformed Scunt”, was how one Hull City website quaintly summarised him for a good few years afterwards. Such was his awe at his potential new surroundings when shown round the KC for the first time he agreed to join before personal terms had even been discussed.
City had real issues at left back at the time. Damien Delaney had arrived under Taylor the previous season but had failed to convince in the role, needing instead to push into the centre of defence. Shaun Smith, signed by Taylor’s predecessor Jan Mølby, had been little short of woeful while Taylor didn’t seem to believe in the longer-serving Andy Holt, a survivor from the Brian Little era and, by now, a perennial substitute. Dawson wasn’t fit when the 2003/04 season began, prolonging Delaney’s agony for five games, before debuting in as unspectacular a manner as possible in a 0-0 draw at Doncaster Rovers.
However, his first game at City’s gleaming new stadium was memorable, as he scored from a free kick in a 3-2 win over Southend United. Settled already, he didn’t miss a game until picking up an injury on Valentine’s Day 2004 that ruled him out for seven weeks. He wasn’t given the best of welcomes by the Scunthorpe fans on his return there in December 2003, but played well in a 1-1 draw. By the end of the season he had solved all City’s left back problems, provided support for the rejuvenated (and ever-present) Delaney beside him, and scored three goals in 33 league games as City finished behind Doncaster to climb out of the bottom tier after eight horrid years.
Taylor released Smith and Holt in the summer and therefore had only one left back “in the building” by the time City began the 2004/05 League One campaign. The manager had always said that left back was the position that gave him the most sleepless nights, as such was its specialism he always needed two natural exponents of it in his squad. Delaney’s return to the role in the event of Dawson becoming stricken was a non-starter, so well was he playing in the centre of defence, and so Taylor brought in Roland Edge, whom he’d known from his Gillingham days. There would begin a rather unbalanced but still endearing battle for the left back spot.
Dawson was always number one, and the received wisdom was that Edge would only get a game whenever Taylor wanted to play more defensively – Edge was never a marauder like Dawson – or if the game was an especially tough one away from home. While Edge was rarely out of sorts, it was something of a one-sided fight for places as City stormed through League One, with Dawson missing one three game spell in December (as City embarked on a thunderous eight straight wins) and very occasional odd matches otherwise. City again ended the season in second place and with another promotion, and Dawson played 34 times. Perhaps surprisingly, he didn’t score a goal all season.
To the Championship, then. Dawson struggled with injuries through it, making just 19 appearances. Edge deputised gamely but with his usual restrictive style, and after suffering an injury of his own, was given permission by City to terminate his contract and go back south. Taylor brought in Alan Rogers on loan from Nottingham Forest who played nine times and, despite his rather notable girth, looked a glove-like fit for the role. Much was made of Rogers, out of favour at the City Ground, signing permanently in the summer and Taylor himself confirmed at the spring fans’ forum that he was in talks about getting the player in, but Rogers’ daftly went overboard with his wage demands and the deal was scrapped. Dawson got back into the team in April and another threat to his position had been overcome. City, barring a fortnight or so of real worry, ended the season in comfort with a lower mid-table position.
Taylor quit for Crystal Palace and in came Phil Parkinson, whose relationship with the senior professionals soon became strained as City really struggled. While there were issues involving Nick Barmby and Ian Ashbee with the fresh-faced new gaffer, Dawson’s name was never mentioned in the same context. His personality was such that he didn’t do politics, he didn’t brief outsiders, he didn’t head cliques, he didn’t act up. He just played or trained his heart out and went back home to his family on the south bank each day.
He had a fine individual season, despite City’s woes as a team, and was further galvanised when Phil Brown took over in December 2006. Dawson scored twice in an FA Cup replay at Premier League side Middlesbrough, including his only headed goal for the club (and one of only two in his whole City career that wasn’t a free kick; the other was a piledriver at home to Kidderminster in his first season) and slapped in two more free kicks in league games against Derby and Norwich. He was in the team, regular as clockwork and as unfussy and reliable as ever, as City won 1-0 at Cardiff on the penultimate day to stay up.
A particularly big tribute to Dawson’s talent and dependability came within this season as Parkinson signed Sam Ricketts from Swansea City for a tidy £300,000. Ricketts was a Welsh international full back who was equally competent on either side but had been used more as a left back for his country. Dawson’s presence, plus the lack of another decent, consistent or specialist right back for some time in the squad, meant that Ricketts was almost always placed on the right side of defence and Dawson on the left, a motif that would be maintained to the very heights of English club football. Occasionally, Delaney would play at left back again, this time a much more improved player than the one Dawson initially replaced in the bottom tier, but when Brown surprisingly sold him to QPR in January 2008, we got used again to Dawson and Ricketts on either side of the Michael Turner and Wayne Brown duo of destructive legend as City, buoyed by Brown’s restoration of the status quo with Ashbee and Barmby, plus a couple of other astute signings, finished third in the Championship and won the play-offs.
Dawson had been a play-off winner before with Scunthorpe, earning promotion from the bottom tier in 1999 with a 1-0 win over Leyton Orient at the old Empire Stadium. Now, after a sweltering 90 minutes against a resurgent (and unlucky) Bristol City, he was a play-off winner again, this time at the new Wembley. The Sky cameras momentarily showed Dawson celebrating about ten seconds after the final whistle sounded, before returning to Dean Windass sobbing before the amassed Tiger Nation. He had survived a comically awful emergency spell at right back – this a very, very left-footed player indeed – and the odd elevation of Delaney, to again be a dominant yardstick for consistency and maturity throughout the season, and had earned a great reward for it.
In five seasons with the Tigers, Dawson had now achieved three promotions. He wasn’t alone; Boaz Myhill, Ryan France and skipper Ashbee had also risen with City from bottom to top. As had happened following promotion to the Championship, questions were raised about whether Dawson, among some of the other stalwarts associated with the lower leagues who remained in the squad, could adapt to Premier League football. In Dawson’s case, there proved to be nothing at all to worry about.
City invested heavily and, as it turned out, often to unwise levels, in the first team squad but there was plenty of familiarity in the side that opened against Fulham, and Dawson was there among them. Despite the pace, trickery and general brilliance of Premier League wingers, the kind of which Dawson rarely had to deal with when up against Simon Baldry or Jamal Campbell-Ryce, he was rarely exposed and thrived on his natural tenacity, his professionalism and spirit and, more than anything, his actual ability. We always knew he was a good left back. In the Premier League, he grew in his new surroundings and became, for a season, a great left back.
Never more was this in evidence than when City travelled to Arsenal in September 2008 for a teatime game which would be beamed live to the world and for any number of obvious reasons had been cast as a gimme for the home team. In the first half, a ball through to Theo Walcott allowed the indecently quick England man a yard on the defence and, as he careered through the inside right channel and looked up to assess Myhill’s position, a left foot wrapped round his ankles and pinched the ball away in a manner and style as clean as any silversmith’s favourite whistle. The foot belonged to Dawson, two months shy of his 30th birthday and any number of km/h short of Walcott when both were at full burst. To many, it will remain the greatest single act of defending in the cause of Hull City; to all, it will always be as big a part of the club’s Premier League heritage as Geovanni’s goal in the same game or Myhill’s immaculate goalkeeping at Tottenham a year later. Dawson also took the corner that led to Daniel Cousin’s winner at the Emirates; later setting up a header for the same player with a free kick at Old Trafford as City heroically lost 4-3 to Manchester United.
Ricketts was by now his country’s first choice left back, but still he remained principally on City’s right as Dawson stayed ferociously consistent through the campaign. He did have an injury lay-off and with Ricketts having to move, Brown brought in Paul McShane on loan to cover the right back spot, an act that questioned Dawson’s long-term future a little further. He had little cause for worry on that score, as Brown’s relationship with Ricketts began to disintegrate over contractual issues and McShane was recalled by a panicky Sunderland. Brown purchased an international left back in Kevin Kilbane during this period but played him mainly in midfield.
Dawson’s discipline was always very good, although his yellow card tally did grow in the Premier League as cynicism and talent combined to put him off the scent on occasions. Rarely did he get properly angry, however, so when he raged at a referee and linesman together, pointing at a very blooded face following an unpunished elbow by a Millwall player in a stormy FA Cup tie, it was a side to him we had hardly known existed. Never sedate as such, he was nonetheless largely unflappable and, fortunately for all concerned, his anger on this occasion was to the officials for their blindness rather than the perpetrator for his actions. He was mopped up, bandaged and played the whole game as City won 2-0.
Though the second half of the Tigers’ first Premier League season was a disaster on the pitch, Dawson stuck with characteristic stoicism and nerve to his task, and in a 2-1 home defeat to the dreaded Stoke City, he scored his first top flight goal from, as ever, a free kick. He was 30 and a half years old. City survived on the last day, as much despite themselves as because of themselves, and Brown was given another chance in top flight management.
The second Premier League campaign for Dawson and City as a whole proved much harder, though the free kick he curled in during a 3-2 home win over Everton in November 2009, his last goal for the club, was probably the best set-piece of his lot. City were demoted with not much of a whimper and the club officially declared a financial basket case.
As high-earning, high-calibre and high-ego players were shipped out and a new owner desperately sought, Dawson stuck around. He received his expected contractual reward during the rise to the top but never became a massive earner and so Nigel Pearson had much need for him when he became the new manager in the summer of 2010. When Ashbee departed in January 2011, Dawson was given the captaincy of the team.
He missed only one league game as City threatened the play-offs in the second half of the campaign before tailing away, and was again a regular feature of the side, complete with one-year extension to his contract, as Pearson and then Barmby again led City to a laudable, if ultimately unsuccessful, run in the Championship. Yet again, Dawson had to fend off competition, and despite the obvious immediate claims of Manchester United graduate Dudgeon to the left back role, it was clear that he had been signed as a long-term option as much as anything else.
Dawson was granted a testimonial with the award of his extension and, with the departure of Richard Garcia the same summer, became the last survivor of the Wembley side on the playing staff of the club, an achievement all the more admirable considering all of that side, with the exception of Ashbee, had actually joined City after him. Steve Bruce arrived and initially picked Dudgeon as left back, holding on to Dawson from the bench as City then deployed an effective 3-5-2 with Dudgeon playing as a scampering wing back, something Dawson’s pace and age prevented him from doing. Three straight losses and a consequent switch back to 4-4-2 for a trip to Sheffield Wednesday earned Dawson his first league appearance of the season in October 2012, and he featured three times more in the Championship until Bruce altered the formation again and restored Dudgeon.
Dawson’s final appearance for City was in January 2013 in the FA Cup replay victory at Leyton Orient, and Bruce’s view of the 34 year old’s future was made candidly clear when he re-signed Robbie Brady, initially on loan, as cover in order to maintain the 3-5-2 formation after Dudgeon suffered a season-ending injury, rather than revert to 4-4-2 and pick Dawson again. Dawson has since been seen occasionally on the bench but has not played, though his lack of action shouldn’t for a moment suggest he hasn’t contributed to City’s promotion back to the Premier League, as one can imagine his nous and gravitas on the training pitch and the players’ mess has been crucial in guiding some of the younger, more impressionable players in the squad.
He leaves City with 317 first team appearances under his belt, 293 of which were in the four divisions of football in England. He scored ten goals: two of them were in the Premier League, three in the Championship, three in the bottom division and two in the FA Cup. Eight of these goals were free kicks. This author hasn’t seen all of them, but the curler against Everton, just because of the distance involved, plus a superb and more powerful than usual effort in a 3-0 win over Preston in the 2007/08 season of glory, are the ones that leap quickest to mind.
Dawson is the first player since Steve Wilson in 2000 to complete ten unbroken years with Hull City, and the first of these since Garreth Roberts in 1991 to receive a testimonial for it, though Roberts got a meagre game with Spurs (featuring a teenage Barmby) from a more austere club back then, whereas Dawson was rightly granted a whole season of celebration. He’ll be 35 in November and, while nobody would deny him the opportunity to continue playing for a lower division club who would be blessed by his experience, it would feel somehow proper if there was eventually a role found for him at the Circle when he hangs up his boots. A well-spoken, thoughtful and amiable individual, he would also be a fine choice by a media organisation for summarising or punditry duty.
Let’s be straight here; he has earned every compliment, handshake and clap on the back he gets. Ten years, four divisions, all those free kicks, that tackle and, more than anything, not an iota of bother or controversy caused to anyone, on or off the pitch. It feels unlikely we will see his like again for a very, very long time, if ever – a modest man with nothing to be modest about. Should he feel the urge to shout about his brilliance and achievements from a rooftop of his choosing, he’d be more entitled than most who actually do. We know, of course, he won’t.
So yes, Andy Dawson: model professional. City fans salute you.