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Over the last twenty-odd years, Wolves have had a host of players destined England recognition, some made it (Joleon Lescott) and some, sadly, didn’t, such as Micky Stowell. But one young man who should have was Dean Richards writes Andy Gillard.
Cool before it was cool
Dean Richards, a rangy, ball-playing centre half, before rangy, ball-playing centre-halves were all the rage. To hear him talk you’d think he was a no-fuss Yorkshire man, but with the ball at his feet, to an 11-year old me, he was the future of English football.
Poise, grace, heart of a lion, pace, and bravery, everything an English centre half needed to be.
Signed on-loan from Bradford City at the end of the 1994/95 season to help shore up a leaky and older defence, Richards quickly endeared himself to the Wolves faithful by bagging a fifteen-minute brace away at Derby County, securing a last-gasp equaliser in a thrilling 3-3 draw.
I can still remember the utter elation of listening to that later-than-late goal on the radio. Sadly, that season ended on a bum note (Bloody Bolton), but Graham Taylor had seen enough of the 20-year-old to put together a record-breaking £1.85m deal in the summer of 1995.
On the radar of England even at that early age, Richards was called up for the England U21’s for their summer tournament, captaining England on his debut against eventual winners, Brazil.
England, led by Richards ended the Toulon Tournament in the semi-finals – something which is very 90’s England.
Out of position
The 95/96 season we saw the rare “outfield player in goal”, after a collision with a Stoke player, Mike Stowell had his clock cleaned and needed to come off– and back in these days you only had three subs and it wasn’t mandatory to name a goalkeeper as one of those three…
Step forward, Dean Richards.
Wolves were already 2-1 down at this point, and things didn’t get any better. 4-1 final score, but for having the cojones to take on the most thankless of tasks Richards left the pitch with admiration.
Unfortunately, that season never really found any momentum. What is now regarded as one of the worst decisions in Wolves modern history, Graham Taylor was forced out of his managerial role before Christmas – then shortly after Christmas, Richards was in a car crash which curtailed his season.
Taylor’s Wolves started the season as favourites to win the league, but McGhee’s team limped into 20th place.
Sadly, that car crash took longer to fully recover from than expected. Richards only managed 34 games over the next two years.
On the pitch, Wolves lived up to their 90’s nearly-man reputation, finishing 3rd and then 9th.
However, Deano was able to give Wolves fans some wonderful memories when his January 1997 bullet header in front of the South Bank against Sandwell Town gave us a famous double and a 2-0 victory and forever cementing him as a Wolves hero.
In his final season in Old Gold, Richards managed to strike up a strong partnership with Keith Curle, but too many draws saw Wolves finish in 7th, behind Bloody Bolton again.
Richards’ Wolves career ended full-circle there.
Richards went on to have almost 5 years of Premier League football at Southampton, then Spurs and was often touted as being on the fringes of the England set-up.
Sadly Dean had to call a day on his playing career before the end of the 04/05 season due to doctors advising him of possible brain haemorrhages should he continue.
He returned to his hometown club Bradford as a coach in their youth system, before sadly passing away in 2011.
A fitting tribute for Dean Richards
The week after Dean’s passing, Wolves played Tottenham at home. As was the norm at this time, a minute’s silence couldn’t contain the emotions felt in that crowd.
What started as perfectly observed silence, soon erupted into all four sides of the ground, both home and away fans, all chanting Dean Richards’ name for much longer than minute attributed. Not before or since has anything felt more electrifying than that outpouring of raw emotion than that minute.
Ending 3-3, evoking memories of that 1995 Derby County away game, the match where many Wolves fans would say Richards made his name known.
Whilst our team has moved on leaps and bounds over the last few years, whenever the question “which former player would you have in the current team?” is asked, Dean Richards is the one player who would not only fit in – but possibly improve the current crop.
He might never have gotten full international recognition, but he left a mark at every club he played for.
A place in the hearts of fans is arguably the most important accolade a player may have.