Asif Burhan speaks to former England and Newcastle star Kieron Dyer
Asif Burhan, who began blogging for Kick It Out during the 2012 UEFA European Championships, provides readers with a look at the social and cultural impact of football nationally and globally.
In his latest feature, Asif spoke to former England and Newcastle United star Kieron Dyer on his career and the implementation of a ‘Rooney Rule’ in English football.
Kieron was speaking at the launch of his new book written with Oliver Holt “Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late” and published by Headline Books.
Asif: When you retired from playing football in 2013, this was written about you in The Guardian: “he never won a trophy or any individual award of note. He leaves effectively no mark at all, his most memorable act on a football pitch being punched by a team-mate in 2005. His career is, in outline, a modern sporting absurdity.”
You played in the Champions League, you played in the European Championships and a World Cup, so did you fulfil your potential or were the expectations put upon you at an early age unrealistic?
Kieron: No, some of that, a lot of what is said there is true. With the talent and ability I had I should have gone on to have a lot more England caps, maybe play for a better club than Newcastle and I should have won something. Like I said, just when I wised up with my career, I couldn’t stay fit. I finally saw the sense but my body betrayed me. It’s a fair assessment.
It’s something I’ve had to deal with but I’m content with that. To counter that, with what happened to me as a kid and a child, to play one minute of football is a success story because I know how many people become delinquents and live a life of crime. Speaking to a local charity in Ipswich, 80% of the homeless people in Ipswich have been abused in some shape or form. To have a half decent career, I’m more than happy.
Asif: At the 2002 World Cup, when you came on against Denmark in Niigata, you created a landmark in the history of the English football team, for the first time ever there were more black footballers on the field than white footballers. Were you aware of that at the time? Or 30 years after Cyrille Regis was sent a bullet through the post for representing the national team do you feel on the pitch at least England had become less aware of race?
Kieron: Cyrille was a pioneer of all us black footballers. I didn’t realise how big he was. Then when you see the likes of Ian Wright and Les Ferdinand and the players who came before me, speaking so highly of him.
He broke down the barriers and you look at all the England youth teams at the moment and the success they’re having, there’s more black players players than there is white players. Cyrille was the benchmark for that. I didn’t realise against Denmark, I helped set a record. It just goes to show where this country is going with regards to not being racist.
Asif: In contrast, you are now a youth-team coach at Ipswich in a game where the proportion of black footballers isn’t represented off the pitch. Now The FA has decided to adopt the Rooney Rule, do you think this is the way forward throughout coaching setups? As a young black coach are you encouraged to apply for top positions?
Kieron: It hasn’t had any success yet (the Rooney Rule) in this country but I’m keen on American sports. You see the amount of black coaches in the NFL and NBA. It is a crime that there’s only the likes of Chris Hughton and Chris Powell, I know Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as well; there needs to be more black coaches and managers in the game.
Some of the black players of the game have so much knowledge and they’ll be terrific managers and coaches.
Asif: In the book, you talk the point when you reached 28 and thinking about nutrition more and wishing you’d taken better care of yourself when you were younger. Apart from alcohol, what in particular did you change and if you could do it all again, would you follow in the footsteps of Harry Kane and Gareth Bale and employ your own personal chef?
Kieron: Of course yeah. I lived on my own for a number of times. I used to eat junk, cans of coke. It’s not just the food and drink. It was going to bed really late, staying up watching box sets till three o’clock in the morning and stuff like that.
When I went to West Ham, I was living my life right with regards to food and drink to prepare myself physically. I was mentally right. I even employed a driver so I could rest up and not drive and doing everything that I could, my body betrayed me, which is a shame.
Asif: Finally, in the past, when ex-players have released books, they have often revealed details of off-the-field antics that might not have come to light. You’re part of the first generation of players who went out in an age of camera phones and social media. Your managers couldn’t have been prepared you for that so how do you prepare your young players for a life in the limelight?
Kieron: They’ve got a lot more guidance now. Football clubs have a lot more structure. They’re educated from a very early age, which wasn’t the case when I was coming up. We just had to go out into the big bad world and find out ourselves.
With social media now, it’s basically impossible to get away with anything. It’s no coincidence that our England youth teams, Under-20s, Under-19s, are starting to win things because the clubs have got the right structures in place and they’ve wised up pretty quickly.