FROM GLASS COL­LEC­TOR TO DOWN­ING GUN­NERS

Daily Mail - - Football - by Laurie Whitwell @lau­riewhitwell

When Tony Pulis gave his play­ers four days off last month, the mes­sage was to re­lax. A fort­night gap be­tween games of­fered the chance to rest limbs ahead of a sea­son de­noue­ment that West Brom hope will send records tum­bling.

As in much of his life, though, Craig Daw­son took a dif­fer­ent path. he went away with his part­ner Sinead and their baby daugh­ter to Mi­lan and in 48 hours tour­ing the city’s fa­mous land­marks clocked up 23 miles on foot.

A trip to the San Siro did not form part of the itin­er­ary.

‘ev­ery­body al­ways says, “I was there for the foot­ball”, but we didn’t go,’ says Daw­son with a smile.

‘Mi­lan is amaz­ing, it was nice to get away and switch off. We want to see as many cities as we can and this was an op­por­tu­nity to go around, ex­plore, have a walk. My part­ner has driven round Italy be­fore with her sis­ter, so she took charge. We’ve done quite a few in europe, then Aus­tralia, new Zealand and Thai­land. We don’t just sit on a beach.’

The story will be of lit­tle sur­prise to those who have known the de­fender since those teenage days when he would run the streets of Rochdale in the dark to in­crease his ath­leti­cism af­ter be­ing re­jected by Bolton Wan­der­ers.

now 26, his work ethic has made him a cen­tral fig­ure in West Brom’s un­likely rise to eighth place in the ta­ble, an in­clu­sion in all bar two of the team’s Premier League line­ups since Pulis took over on new Year’s Day 2015 — both ab­sences through sus­pen­sion.

On Satur­day against Ar­se­nal, Daw­son was im­pe­ri­ous, scor­ing from two tow­er­ing head­ers to power West Brom to vic­tory and ex­pose the brit­tle core of Arsene Wenger’s team.

Al­though Daw­son missed out on the eng­land squad this time, Gareth South­gate has been tak­ing no­tice and is sure to have upped his in­ter­est. ‘It’s im­por­tant to chip in when we can,’ is Daw­son’s un­der­stated take on scor­ing. ‘The de­liv­er­ies were great into the box and it is a strength of ours.

‘ev­ery de­tail is cov­ered in train­ing. Away from that the gaffer gives us lots of videos of the op­po­si­tion and makes sure we can study those in the week. We have an app. he talks to you one-onone a lot.’

West Brom had stalled on 40 points but the win over Ar­se­nal brought a Premier League club record of 50 to within seven and Daw­son has been in­te­gral to that.

A typ­i­cal Pulis de­fender, Daw­son is from the old school of stop at­tacks first, play out later. he has spent the ma­jor­ity of the last two sea­sons at right back but ex­celled cen­trally while fill­ing in for Jonny evans re­cently and hopes to re­vert to his favoured po­si­tion in time.

‘Play­ing right back has de­vel­oped my game, but mov­ing in­side is the po­si­tion I am more nat­u­ral with,’ he says.

‘ I like the bat­tles and that phys­i­cal el­e­ment, try­ing to stop your op­po­nent.

‘Some­times you have to de­fend at all costs. It is great to do the other things as well but we’re in the team to keep clean sheets.’

Daw­son has a wry sense of hu­mour but does not speak to the press of­ten, this be­ing only his se­cond na­tional news­pa­per in­ter­view. ‘ I pre­fer to keep my head down,’ he says.

That is what he was do­ing in the af­ter­math of Bolton’s ‘ ab­so­lutely gut­ting’ de­ci­sion to re­lease him aged 16. Daw­son took a job at a pub col­lect­ing glasses, shifts last­ing un­til 1am, while turn­ing out for his lo­cal team, Rochdale St Cle­ments.

For­tu­nately, a fa­mous name had spot­ted his po­ten­tial. Bernard Man­ning Jnr, son of the co­me­dian, was chair­man of Uni­bond side Rad­cliffe Bor­ough and of­fered Daw­son a chance.

‘Bernard’s son Ben was in my year so he would watch our school games. Then I was work­ing in the pub one night and he came down with his wife and said, “What are you do­ing? You need to come down and train with us”.

‘So I went along and about two weeks later they signed me. It was £50 a week. I re­mem­ber think­ing, “Wow, they are ac­tu­ally pay­ing me, I don’t have to work at the pub any more”.

‘I was do­ing my A-lev­els at the time and the glass col­lect­ing was late nights, Thurs­day, Fri­day, Satur­day, and ob­vi­ously I wanted to be serious in my foot­ball.’

That ap­proach has taken Daw­son far. Rochdale signed him in 2009, then West Brom made their move a year later. Fif­teen eng­land Un­der 21 caps and three more with Great Bri­tain at the London Olympics are ev­i­dence he was right not to give up.

‘I re­mem­ber get­ting re­jected from Bolton and the next day I was out run­ning, try­ing to get fit­ter.

‘Look­ing back I’m glad it did hap­pen. It makes you re­alise how lucky you are to be a pro­fes­sional foot­baller.’

Daw­son climbed the ranks of the na­tional team’s youth struc­ture too, and has the rare hon­our of con­vert­ing tour­na­ment penal­ties for both eng­land and Bri­tain.

Rep­re­sent­ing his coun­try at se­nior level is an am­bi­tion that still burns. South­gate has said he will se­lect on form and with Jake Liver­more mak­ing the grade it is clear West Brom will not be over­looked.

While Daw­son goes about his busi­ness qui­etly, few can match his one- on- one abil­ity in an era when de­fend­ers of his ilk are rare. he found Un­der 21 ac­tion un­der Stu­art Pearce valu­able.

‘In­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment foot­ball is to­tally dif­fer­ent from Premier League foot­ball and, as well as the Olympics, those ex­pe­ri­ences made me un­der­stand the game a bit more,’ Daw­son says.

‘It is ev­ery per­son’s dream to rep­re­sent their coun­try. If I keep work­ing hard, play­ing ev­ery week, there might be a se­nior op­por­tu­nity in fu­ture. You can never give up.’

‘I want to play for Eng­land, you can’t give up’

PIC­TURES: IAN HODG­SON

Head boy: Daw­son cel­e­brates his dou­ble against Ar­se­nal, the se­cond (left) seal­ing a fa­mous Bag­gies win

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