FROM GLASS COLLECTOR TO DOWNING GUNNERS
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’
Head boy: Dawson celebrates his double against Arsenal, the second (left) sealing a famous Baggies win