Issue Remembering Our Dean Richards

As told by Michael Wood

After his sad death this week it was curious to see the outpouring of football’s grief for Dean Richards with supporters and officials at Southampton, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur all being rich and fulsome in their praise for the former Rhodesway school boy who started his career at Valley Parade.

Indeed it is rather touching that the reflections of the professionalism, attitude and ability of young man who started his City career in 1990, joined the first team in 1992 and left in 1995 carried on until his retirement in 2005 at Spurs. All three clubs who Dean went on to play for found him to be as he was as an aspiring professional at City. A talented footballer for sure, but a good guy too, at all stages of his career.

So there is talk of why the defender did not get rewarded with England honours – he was the most expensive uncapped player in English history – and reminiscent of his debut at White Hart Lane in a 5-3 defeat to Manchester United which is part of Premier League folk lore but for Bradford City fans Richards was forever the teenager starting off in the game.

Richards joined the squad under John Doherty’s watching defender Phil Babb taking a role in the forward line but it was under Frank Stapleton when he was given a debut. For a brief time he and Babb made a central defensive partnership for Stapleton before the latter’s departure for Coventry City. That the loss of Babb – who had excelled after Stapleton relocated him to the central defensive position – was not felt was largely down the emergence of Richards.

Stapleton’s team prized Richards and his ability. A strong player, capable of playing the ball listen not to those who call him “an old fashioned hard man” for Richards was the depiction of the modern defender that emerged in the 1990s. A Shepparder who would pressure strikers into mistakes rather than dive in to clean the ball there was an obvious difference between Richards and his predecessors’ in City’s defence. Never once can I recall Dean Richards recklessly tackling a striker but frequently I recall his ability to drive opponents into areas of the field he wanted them in, frustrating them.

When Geoffrey Richmond arrived and Lennie Lawrence became manager Richards was the heart of the Bantams defence and my clearest and favourite memory of Richards comes from Lawrence’s first game at Chester City when the Bantam’s defender gave one of the home strikers a six or seven yard head start but effortlessly went through the gears to catch, over take and guide the ball away.

I’ve often talked about that moment since as one of the best examples of a player who knew the reach of his abilities and matched his game to them. It has been my favourite example of a player in control of his own game, taking responsibility for his own performance, and will remain so.

Richards left City when Lawrence’s team’s promotion hunt faltered having spent much of the season injury – a problem exasperated by the manager attempting to bring him back too quickly and Richards breaking down – which robbed City and City fans of too many of the classy defender’s performances. His exit to Wolves was saddening not just because it worsened the side, but because it meant that we would not enjoy watching Dean Richards play again and – and it is a cherished thing in football – Dean Richards was a very enjoyable player to watch.

Heart and soul into his performances for sure, but control and poise too.

As it turned out Richards had a return to City’s history in May 1999 when as a Wolves player he was charged with trying to stop City reaching the Premier League on the final day of the season. His contribution was a battle for pace with Jamie Lawrence which ended in a penalty to make the game 4-1 and allow City to stroll out the remaining time once Beagrie had netted the spot kick.

Plans are seldom that simple and while City held breath following the penalty miss and finally celebrated at the end of the game which concluded 3-2 Richards took applause from his own supporters in what turned out to be his final game for the Midlands club.

On to Southampton and Spurs and then back to City to work with the young players Dean Richards had much to offer the game as a player and a coach and football is the worse for his passing. The tributes to him are as heartfelt and as honest each one of them picking out a part of a broader picture.

And my contribution to that is the sunny day in August 1994 which would end in a 4-1 win at the Deva Stadium and Richards motoring past the opposition striker and taking the ball under control and away with what looked like the ease of a man strolling in the park.

A moment to savour, and never to forget.