As a Southampton fan, I’ve been lucky enough to witness many great defenders pull on the famous red and white striped jersey over the last two decades, and Dean Richards was one of the finest.
He initially made his name at his home town club, Bradford City, before joining Wolves in a club record £1.85 million deal. During his time at Molineux, Richards represented England U21s four times over the summer of 1995, but just as it looked like he was set for the top, a car crash stalled his career for the best part of two years.
But he battled back to fitness and form, and arrived at The Dell in the summer of 1999 on a free transfer – a shrewd piece of business from Dave Jones, who reportedly beat off interest from Liverpool and Newcastle to Richards’ signature.
Signed as a replacement for Ken Monkou, Deano excelled in his new surroundings, forging an excellent partnership with Claus Lundekvam in the centre of Saints’ defence; he was voted fan’s Player of the Season in his debut season.
He was an integral part of the team’s transition from perennial relegation battlers to mid-table security, and it wasn’t long before cries of “Deano for England” regularly erupted from out of the Archer’s end, and it was easy to see why.
Deano was a complete defender – composed on the ball, a tower of strength in the air, fast, a good reader of the game, and not to mention a real leader.
Former teammate Francis Benali labelled him a “colossus”. How just.
His time on the South Coast ended acrimoniously though, as he joined Glenn Hoddle at Spurs. However Saints did get a good deal out of it, £8.1 million in fact, a record for a non-capped Englishmen.
At Spurs, Deano was supposed to go on and play for the Three Lions, but injuries ruined his time at the Lane, and saw him branded a waste of money. After only 73 appearances in four years, he retired due to an inner ear infection in March 2005.
The passing of former legends is common place for football fans, but Deano tugs at the heartstrings more than most.
Not only was he too young at 36, and one of my favourite players, but his death also marks the first loss from any team I’ve grown up watching – it’s definitely one to make Bill Shankly re-think those famous words.
Tragically, just like his career, Deano’s life was all too short.