Chris Dunlavy profiles Dagenham & Redbridge’s boss Wayne Burnett
SOME players have a cabinet full of medals. Others the adoration of a city. Many have nothing to show for their years but pride.
And for a handful of players, an entire career boils down to one glorious moment. So it was for Wayne Burnett.
“I can still see him now,” said John McDermott, Grimsby’s skipper in the Football League Trophy final of 1998, the day Burnett wrote himself into Mariners folklore with a golden goal winner against Bournemouth at Wembley.
“The corner came in, a perfect volley with the outside of his foot, then running off to celebrate like a rocket. By the time I realised the match was over, Wayne had already gone behind the goal, over the sandpit, over the barrier and he was in with the fans. Nobody could catch him.
“It was an amazing feeling. All the bench were on the pitch, my shirt was off, I was waving to everyone, the flags were waving. What a day.”
Though he would return five weeks later to complete a memorable double as Grimsby won promotion to Division One, nothing would eclipse that day – the Mariners’ first appearance at Wembley just two years before the old place closed its gates for good.
“It is something that I will cherish and that will never be forgotten,” said Burnett last year. “By myself or anybody connected to the club. The time I spent at Grimsby was the best of my career without a doubt. And that was the greatest moment.”
It was a career that began under Frank Clark at Leyton Orient, Burnett’s vision and passing in central midfield earning both England youth caps and a regular first-team birth by the age of 19.
Then, in 1992, came the call from Kenny Dalglish. A few days earlier the Blackburn manager had signed a new striker and was of the opinion that Burnett was the perfect man to provide the ammunition. The striker was Alan Shearer, and it turned out he could do just fine by himself.
After just three games, Burnett was on his way, first to Plymouth and Bolton, then to Huddersfield and, in 1998, Grimsby.
“I remember I’d gone to watch Richard Sneekes play for Bolton reserves, and Wayne was also playing,” said Mariners boss Alan Buckley. “Richard had more flair and goals in him than Wayne but I saw something I liked that night. He was intelligent and could do it all. At £100,000, he was one of my best signings.
“His first game as a sub was at Bristol City and we lost 4-1.Wayne was straight into the side from there and it transformed us. We only went one way and we looked a really good team – settled, good on the ball and difficult to beat.”
McDermott echoes that praise. “Wayne was tricky,” he said. “Not the quickest, not the strongest but very clever on the ball. And he was brave – not necessarily in the tackle but he wanted the ball all the time, no matter what.”
Alas, those Wembley appearances would prove Burnett’s peak in more ways than one. Injured with increasing frequency, he featured only fleetingly thereafter, moving into Non-League with Woking, Fisher and Grays. By 2004, aged just 33, he had called it a day.
“Even in the finals I was having injections to play,” he admitted. “I’d come back and break down, come back and break down. You always think you can get back to your best but I probably didn’t.” Yet the enforced experience of Non-League forged contacts that proved vital in getting a foot on the coaching ladder.
Two spells as manager of Fisher Athletic yielded the London Senior Cup and the Southern League East Division title. Seasonlong stays at Dulwich Hamlet and Grays also allowed Burnett to gain his UEFA A Licence.
By 2009 the pro ranks had taken notice and, after a brief stint as youth team boss at Leyton Orient, legendary Dagenham boss John Still offered Burnett the chance to become his assistant.
There he helped nurture the likes of Dwight Gayle.“He helped to improve my game so much,” said the Crystal Palace striker. “And if I prove myself in the Premier League, he’ll have played a big part.”
And when Still surprisingly left for Luton in January 2013, the apprentice became the master, staving off relegation to the Conference in season one before finishing last year in a hugely impressive ninth place.
“It’s not an easy job following John Still,” said Burton boss Gary Rowett, manager of League Two rivals Burton. “But Wayne’s done an excellent job. He’s produced a team full of pace and energy and I know the players enjoy working for him.”