Earlier this year, Dion talked to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career which included almost reaching the Premier League with Cambridge United, playing for Manchester United, winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot with Coventry City, playing for England, breaking his neck before recovering to play in an FA Cup Final with Aston Villa and captaining Leicester City.
He is now heavily involved in TV work and with the music industry.
Dion, who lived in the shadow of Filbert Street as a youngster, became involved with Leicester City from a very young age, as he explained.
“I played for Leicester for the Under-9s through to the Under-15s, as well as for the County and for Leicester Boys. I went to Belvoir Drive Training Ground every Tuesday and Thursday, so I got to see the first teamers like Mark Wallington, Ian Andrews and Gary Lineker.
“After going to Norwich on trial for a couple of months, I was signed (in March 1988) and I scored a few goals in the reserves. I was there for about six months. Dave Stringer, the manager, told me I wasn’t quite good enough for the first team and that they were going to let me go. Fortunately, when I’d scored a couple of goals for the reserves against Crystal Palace, I was being watched by Cambridge United, who decided to take a punt on me.
The former Fox closes down City legend Steve Walsh while in action for Cambridge United.
“I had four good years at Cambridge. Great times. I went from being a boy to a man. We went from Division Four to the Division Two Play-offs for a place in the Premier League. We lost 5-0 to Leicester in the Play-Off semi-final. Steve Claridge and Lee Philpott (future Leicester City players) were in our team.
“When I went to Cambridge, Chris Turner was the manager but John Beck was there for my last couple of years. Becky changed our style of play and went long ball and very direct. He thought that this was the best way to get results and it worked. We made it very uncomfortable for teams coming to the Abbey Stadium."
In August 1992, Dion’s exploits at Cambridge United resulted in a £1 million transfer to Manchester United.
Dion reflected: “I don’t think a move like that will ever happen again with a team like Cambridge selling a player to the best club in the world. It happened because I had always kept my head down, kept grounded, worked hard, scored goals and did my job. I’d had the right manager and the right players around me."
He made the switch to Manchester United in 1992.
Soon after his transfer, disaster struck, as Dion recalled.
“I scored during my United debut at Southampton on the first Monday night Sky game. We won 1-0 and that went down well with the fans and the gaffer. Then, two games later, I broke my leg. That kept me out for about seven or eight months. They had to find somebody to fill my boots. They bought this geezer for £1.1 million: Mr Cantona!
“It was special being at Old Trafford. I was with players I had only ever seen on TV. It must have taken four to five months to even realise that I was a Manchester United player! At that time United were winning titles. My Premier League medal is locked away in a safe, bolted down!”
In September 1994, Dion made a £2 million move to Premier League Coventry City, where he won the Premier League Golden Boot and was selected for England.
Being captain of Leicester City was fantastic. I loved it. Walking out as captain for your home town, with a captain’s armband on your no.9 shirt, with all the family there, was brilliantDion Dublin
“I didn’t want to leave United and Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t want me to leave. There was a limit of three foreign players for matches in Europe and he needed British players. However, Phil Neal gave me the chance to go to Coventry. I played up front with Darren Huckerby. If I hadn’t been playing with him I don’t think I would have got into the England squad. He was a big part of that. There were some really good players at Coventry like Noel Whelan, Roy Wegerle, Peter Ndlovu, Cobi Jones, Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan, Georgie Boateng, Richard Shaw and Oggie (Steve Ogrizovic).
“When I got into the England squad, Coventry weren’t having a particularly good season. I was just fortunate to be getting onto the end of whatever was thrown into the box. I was lucky. Glenn Hoddle gave me the chance to represent the country with three lions on my chest. I was overwhelmed to be honest with you."
In November 1998, Dion was transferred to Aston Villa for £5.75 million. He made an instant impact.
“I scored seven goals in my first three games but it should have been three hat-tricks. I scored two against Spurs in my first game and a third was flagged off side. The linesman apologised afterwards saying he might have got that wrong. The second game was at Southampton and I scored a hat-trick. The third game was against Liverpool. I scored two and missed a penalty!”
Dublin earned his first England call-up while at Coventry City.
Dion then described the circumstances surrounding his horrific injury at Villa when he broke his neck.
“That was the most scary time I ever had regarding my health because if I had moved my neck after the impact I would have been sitting down for the rest of my life. It was completely my fault. To get the ball back, I ran into a Sheffield Wednesday player called Gerald Sibon, expecting him to move. He didn’t move.
“I went off the pitch, spoke to Jim Walker, the physio, and said that I was fine. I had no pain. I went back on the pitch for a couple of minutes, realised something was wrong and Jim told me to come off. My thanks go to Jim Walker. He looked after me initially. Dr. Barry Smith would not allow me to see any other surgeon than Mr Andre Jackowski. He kept ringing him trying to get through for about an hour and a half. Mr. Jackowski came to see me. He told me I had broken my neck. He said: 'I am just going home to have something to eat, then I’ll come back and make you better within three and a half months'. To the day, three months and two weeks later, I was back, playing Spurs.
“When you have a bad injury - it was the same with my broken leg, when I broke my collar bone twice, had a double hernia and broke my nose three times - there is always one incident that makes you realise that you are okay. At Manchester United, after the broken leg, it was a tackle in training from Scholesy (Paul Scholes). At Villa, Alan Thompson, crossed the ball in training as if he was shooting. It went right onto my head. I headed it with a nice stiff strong neck into the top corner. After that I knew I was okay."
The FA Cup was massive in my family. We always got together in one house, with a bit of food and drink watching the Final. It was a proper occasion and it always stayed that way in our family, so to go from the sofa to be in the television was pretty special.Dion Dublin
At the end of that season, Dion was in Aston Villa’s FA Cup final side against Chelsea.
“That was great. The FA Cup was massive in my family. We always got together in one house, with a bit of food and drink watching the Final. It was a proper occasion and it always stayed that way in our family, so to go from the sofa to be in the television was pretty special. Having said that, it was the worse Cup Final I have ever seen! We conceded a sloppy goal and one to forget. But walking out at Wembley was really special."
Dion went on to recall how in July 2004, he moved to Leicester City, newly relegated from the Premier League.
“Micky (Adams) called me. He wanted me to come and play for him either up front or at the back. I was happy to do either. I was a fairly low maintenance footballer. I just got on with it. I like to lead. I like responsibility. If it’s for the good of the team, I’ll always do it. If necessary, I’ll put my head in where it hurts. Fans appreciate this. It’s what they want. It’s about committing to the shirt. If you are brilliant but don’t give it your all you will get abuse and rightly so.
Dublin says he gave his all while donning Leicester colours.
“Leicester City was the most difficult football club for me to play for because it wasn’t just me playing for Leicester, it was the whole of my family. They all live in Leicester. Whatever I did on the pitch reflected on my family. So If I missed a penalty or got sent off, my family in the crowd would hear the fans’ reaction. That was a lot of pressure. I loved it though, don’t get me wrong."
Dion then ruefully recalled getting sent off with West Ham United’s Rufus Brevett on his Leicester City debut.
“I’d known Rufus for years. I’d played against him many times when he was at QPR. On that day, we both had a bit of a kicking match and we both got sent off. In the tunnel, we had our arms round each other saying what idiots we were. We shook hands and apologised to each other. We knew we had done something stupid. When you want to win, sometimes the red mist can descend.
“Being captain of Leicester City was fantastic. I loved it. Walking out as captain for your home town, with a captain’s armband on your no.9 shirt, with all the family there, was brilliant. As a kid, I used to play in the park across the road. I just had that one blip, on my debut. After that I scored a few goals. Sometimes I played at centre-half. They were good, good times at Leicester.
“My best ever goal was for Leicester. It was against Rotherham. A free kick forward was headed to me by David Connelly. I thighed it and then struck it on the volley over the 'keeper. The ball didn’t touch the floor until it hit the back of the net!”
In January 2006, after making 65 appearances for his hometown club, Dion moved to Celtic where he scored a goal in the 2006 Scottish League Cup Final.
“I wasn’t wanting to leave Leicester at all but manager Craig Levein told me that he was going to start playing young players, that he was going to pick young centre-forward Chris O’Grady and that I might not get many games. He said that he wanted to be straight with me. I said that was fine, it wasn’t a problem and that I understood.
“Then I got a phone call from Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, who I knew from Coventry. He said he needed somebody he could trust and that he wanted me to be a centre-forward or centre-half when necessary.
If Rob [Kelly] had talked to me first, I probably wouldn’t have finished up going to Celtic and might have signed another two-year deal at Leicester.Dion Dublin
“In between Craig telling me I wouldn’t get many games and Gordon calling me, Craig got sacked. Rob Kelly took over and told me he didn’t want me to go, but he said: ‘I can’t stop you going to Celtic’. If Rob had talked to me first, I probably wouldn’t have finished up going to Celtic and might have signed another two-year deal at Leicester."
In September 2006, Dion left Celtic for Norwich City, where he made over 70 appearances. He retired at the end of 2007/08, having played nearly 750 games in his career, scoring 234 goals.
Since retirement, Dion has been very involved with TV work, appearing on BBC TV’s Final Score, Football Focus, and Match of the Day as well as on Premier League TV, Sky TV and BBC Radio 5 Live. Since 2015, he has also been presenting ‘Homes under the Hammer’ on day time TV.
The striker turned defender left the Foxes in 2006 for Celtic.
“I love my TV work,” Dion reflected. “It is all about getting the right balance, challenging yourself and not sitting in your comfort zone. It’s about testing yourself and asking what are you capable of achieving.
“I love my music. I invented the Dube about 10 years ago. It is a percussion drum. It is in the shape of a cube, like a big nine inch dice, hollow inside. It gives you a different tone. It has an internal mic. Dube percussion is alive and kicking!
“I manage bands. I’m also involved in a Birmingham Community Gospel choir. They are absolutely outstanding. They won the Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the year a couple of years back.
“I just wish I had more fingers and more pies!”
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