Thursday, 29 March 2012

Interview with Brian Deane - Part 1 (Back from adversity)

Following on from recent interviews with former Blades players, Tony Agana, Alan Kelly and Jamie Hoyland; it was a great pleasure to have a couple of lengthy chats with three times Blade and England international Brian Deane. Even after such interesting conversations, there were parts of his career that we still didn't have time to touch on, but his story and recollections still make fascinating reading.

In Part 1 we look at his early beginnings and a career that at one point looked like it might be over before it had even begun.

After starting your career as a youngster at Leeds, how big a blow was it to be released by the club?

No, I wasn’t released. I went down on trial as a 14 year old; I was never an apprentice there, so I just carried on playing locally and ended up at a team called Yorkshire Amateurs, based in Leeds.

Whilst playing for Amateurs I broke my leg playing against a team from where I grew up, a team called Mandela from Chapeltown. The unfortunate thing about that was that I was playing against some of the lads I went to school with and it was through no fault of any of them. Some of the guys on the side of the pitch didn’t take too kindly to the fact that I wasn’t representing my local community. There were some lads there who were a lot older than me, they’re probably in their fifties now, and they were shouting from the side;

“Five pounds if you break Deane’s leg.”

“No, ten pounds if you break Deano’s leg.”

Unfortunately, I actually broke my leg in the game and it was actually a friend of mine so I hold nothing against the lad for the challenge because it was just one of those things, but there was this frenzy whipped up.

At that time I am only a 16 year old kid and these are grown men on the sidelines encouraging it. It was hard to take; I was only trying to better myself. I was trying to get into a team where I could be recognised. Having missed out at Leeds I was trying to find a pathway to get myself in a position where I was noticed by the right people.

So was there any malice in the tackle, given you said it was a friend?

It was from behind. I was through on goal and he took me from behind. He didn’t actively go out to harm me, but I broke my tibia and fibula and dislocated my ankle. Michael came to see me in hospital and it was particularly tough as my mum and my brother were there and they knew what my thoughts were on playing football and from their point of view, they probably thought it was over for me as well.

I had about eight months rehabilitation, at that time you had to have a full length pot up to your hip for about four months and then a shorter pot.
After such a horrific injury, how did the opportunity with Doncaster Rovers come about?

At the beginning of the following season I went down to Doncaster for a trial. Luckily for me Dave Blakey, the chief scout at Leeds when I was at Elland Road on trial, was working with Billy Bremner at Doncaster and he invited me down. It went from there really. I had a trial, then Billy Bremner left for Leeds and Dave Blakey went with him. Dave Cusack came in, took on the manager's job and he really liked me. He offered me a professional contract, I was seventeen.

At that time I was going to college, because at the back of your mind you’re thinking ‘Well I’ve broken my leg; I need to look at other options as the chances of me becoming a professional footballer are probably receding.’ I never knew if I would get back to playing at all and that injury could have been it for me.

Did you keep on with the study?

Yes I was studying at Leeds City College and playing part-time.

Deane at Doncaster

How easy was it to establish yourself in the first team and was it a big adjustment?

No really. I made my debut at 17, just before my birthday, I think it was Swansea at home. We drew 0-0 and then after that, if memory serves, we played Whitby Town away in the first round of the FA Cup. We were losing 2-1 and I came on and scored a late equaliser. I scored again against Wigan in the league and it kicked on from there.

You gradually established yourself in the Doncaster first team, bagging 12 goals, was it still a surprise when United showed their interest? How did it come about?

Dave Cusack had got the sack and Dave Mackay and Joe Kinnear had come in as the managerial team. I was a young lad; I think I was 19/20 by then. We got relegated that year and I went in to see them and said “Look, what’s happening?” They offered me a contract and I just thought, “Nah, it’s not good enough”.

I thought that it might have been difficult to leave Doncaster after they gave you an opportunity, but it doesn’t sound like it was?

We had scored 40 goals that season, I had got 10 of them, and I felt that they were insulting me so I spoke to Dave Cusack. He’s been a bit of a mentor for me to be honest and he put me in touch with John Rudge at Port Vale. He also spoke to Dave Bassett. I spoke to John Rudge first, but it was all a bit of a faff and didn’t appeal.

When I went down to United, you know where you turn over the hump and down into the car park and I saw the stadium I thought “Wow! This is proper football”. I’d been used to playing in the 3rd Division, which is where United had just been relegated to, but this was different. “Wow! If I can get a contract here it doesn’t matter about what money I am going to get. I just want to sign a contract at this place”.

Harry came out and introduced himself and then he told Geoff Taylor (his Assistant Manager) to show me around the ground. I was just awestruck by the size of the place. Bruce Springsteen was having a concert there at the time and it was all being set up. I was just thinking ‘Where do I sign? How do I get these people to offer me a contract?’
What are your memories of your early days at United?

I met Cliff Powell, who was roughly the same age as me and I found that Cliff and I had a lot in common and that just made it really easy for me to settle. They were just a great bunch of guys down there, you had Wally Downes, Francis Joseph, Tony (Agana) who was a really nice guy. Simon Webster, Graham know it was just a really nice place. You had Ian Bryson, who had come down on trial, who was quite a quiet character but fitted in well. It just seemed the right place for me to be to be honest.

You were thrown straight in for the first league game with Francis Joseph, in a team that was significantly re-shaped by Dave Bassett was it difficult adjusting?

No. I had scored ten goals in a team that had struggled and got relegated. I knew I could score goals at that level. When something traumatic happened to me, like the injury, it was like me getting a second chance and I was determined at that stage of my playing career to go out there and enjoy what I was doing. I wanted to show people the potential that I had.
Francis' injury in that game allowed the opportunity for the Deane & Agana partnership to develop? What was it that made it work for you?

It was just instinct. He was left footed, I was right footed. We complemented each other really well. We did opposite things on the pitch, so if one was coming short, the other would go long, if one was out wide the other would hit the box. If I didn’t score, he scored. We just supported each other really well.

I don't think anyone expected the club to achieve back to back promotions. What are your main memories of the first promotion season?

It was the way we went at teams, all-out attack. Fortunately for me, we played a kind of football that created lots of chances and it was perfect. We had a good blend of players, experience and youth, local lads like Chris Wilder and those from outside. Harry was the catalyst for me, he knew how to man manage a group of players.

He also knew how to find wingers as well; Alan Roberts, Ian Bryson, Paul Wood, Peter Duffield. We had this reputation for being direct but that does a dis-service to the team and the way we played and how we used the wings.

All we did was make sure we got the ball wide very quickly and people at the time moaned about it, but opposition teams didn’t know how to cope with the pace we had in the team. People say we were direct, but I would say we played into the holes, because we had players who could get on the ball in the holes. We also had tremendous full backs who could play diagonal balls and if you are going to get behind teams that is key.

There was Pikey (Martin Pike) on one side, Chris Wilder on the other and it worked really well as they just got the ball into the wingers quickly. We then had wingers who could take a defender on one-on-one and put a good ball in. It worked really well and if you play at that kind of tempo, it is extremely hard to play against.

United beat Chester 6-0 that season with both you and Tony Agana scoring hat-tricks; such a rare event in football. Do you still have the match-ball? Tony said he doesn't have it.

Yes, somewhere. I played against Chester the season before so I knew what to expect and how they played. People have a go at forwards now, there are good forwards out there who sometimes don’t get the right supply and it forces them to look like average players. I was fortunate to play in a team that played to my strengths and abilities so I knew I was going to score goals and they knew if they were to put the balls in the right areas I would score.

A deadly duo are formed - Deane (R) and Agana (L)

The following season, what was the expectation like in the team? I don't think even the most fervent supporter expected another promotion push.

I think our first game was at West Brom and you never know what to expect going into the league above, but the way we dismantled them at their place gave us real confidence. Harry had this ability to make sure we were never scared or intimidated by the opposition. He has taken a lot of stick over the years, long ball this and long ball that, but you look at the players he worked with and I wonder how some managers nowadays would have got the best out of them like he did. A lot to be said for the way Harry prepared us. You look at the way teams defend now, teams can’t defend.

You have a lot of media savvy managers, some of whom know what they’re talking about and, no disrespect, but some of them don’t know what they’re talking about. The biggest thing for me in management is knowing how to get the best out of players and keeping players on your side. If you can do that, it is more of a recipe for success than having the, I’m the Big Chief; I am the Alpha Dog style of management.
I remember both in interviews and also meeting you (I bought The Brian Deane Story on video and you signed it in the Club Shop - some burglars stole it!) you seemed quite shy and quiet. Is that perception right and did that make it quite difficult in a team of "characters"?

I think the lads accepted me for how I was. Don’t get me wrong, I was no shrinking violet, but I was just a guy who was enjoying what he was doing. I was probably not as streetwise at the time because I was concentrating on my football. I didn’t have any agenda.

You know people have a lot of agendas in football and I just wanted to play football. I was doing what I dreamt about doing and really wanted to do, from the time I was collecting Roy of the Rovers comics and watching games on television as a kid. Growing up I would see Cyrille Regis in the “Sign Please” section of Roy of the Rovers in his West Brom kit, all of a sudden that is me, a professional footballer. I was watching Bryan Robson on the pitch and suddenly that’s me. That’s why I was playing football, it was my career, and it was what I dreamed about.

In Part 2 which you can read here, Brian's memories of a glorious promotion with the Blades at Filbert Street, top flight football with the Blades, that goal against Liverpool, international recognition and being sold to Leeds.


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  2. I'm not a blade but moved to Sheffeild when they went to the top flight - those horrible yellow shirts everywhwere! That said, Brian Deane was a great player and the Blades were a credit to the City. I support neither Wednesday or United but both belong in the top flight...hopefully they'll be back and put Sheffield back on the top flight football map.

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