‘I’VE HAD TO FIGHT ALL MY LIFE TO SUCCEED’
ALAN Dunne should be in prison. A dirt-poor Irish immigrant from a rough estate in North London, the 33-year-old hasn’t even got enough fingers to count the childhood pals currently behind bars.
“I used to step over junkies on my way back home,” recalls the Leyton Orient defender and Millwall legend.“It was like something out of
That he hasn’t followed suit owes much to his natural ability, a great deal to wife Aimee and perhaps most of all to dad Paul, who in 1996 doled out the best advice Dunne ever received.
“I was 15 and going nowhere,” recalls Dunne, who’d been on the books at Millwall from the age of ten and would go on to play over 400 games for the Lions.
“My dad sat me down and said ‘You have to leave home.You have to get out of here’. I was living in North London, hanging around the wrong crowd.
“I was in Highbury & Islington and it was rough. As a kid, I’d played football every day up until the age of 14. Then, all of a sudden, your mates aren’t playing football anymore, they’re doing other things. The kind of things that get you arrested.
“My dad said I’d end up in jail if I didn’t get out and he was right – pretty much all of my friends did end up in prison. He made me leave my family, made me grow up. Millwall put me up in lodgings and I stayed there from the age of 16.
“I still made mistakes. I lost my licence for drink driving. I head- butted a few people, got into trouble in clubs. But I learned from them. I changed.”
Not that it was easy to stay on the straight and narrow. Just weeks after signing his first pro contract, Dunne’s mum, Elizabeth, passed away suddenly following complications from a long-term illness.
“It was devastating,” recalls Dunne.“We were a close-knit family and I was very close to her in particular. She never got to see me play, or see me get married and have kids. All those things messed with my head and I went right off the rails for a couple of years.
“I wasn’t living the life of a professional. I had weekends off, I had money in the bank and all I wanted to do was enjoy myself. Even now, I regret those wasted years.
“Thankfully it was around about then that I met my wife, Aimee. She’d lost her mum when she was 16, in similar circumstances. She had an Irish background like me. She got through to me like nobody else and is probably the reason I turned it round.
“She gave me two kids, gave me something to fight for in life. She completely steadied me up and basically put me in my place.”
These tales and more are all related in Dunne’s autobiography
which was released last week and immediately topped the Amazon best-seller list.
The book charts his rise from poverty to a darling of the Den who spent more than 20 years as a one-club man, earning two promotions, a player of the year award – and a club record ten red cards!
“That’s not something I’m proud of but I bet the Millwall fans are,” he laughs. “And I talk about all of them – all the fines, all the bans. I’ve probably missed a whole season in suspensions!
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes, on and off the pitch. I’ve had 15 managers. I’ve had a lot of bust ups with other players. I’ve learned the hard way not to trust certain agents and other people in the game. I’ve nearly lost it all. But I’ve also been to Wembley three times and had a lot of fantastic and funny experiences along the way which I think people will enjoy.”
The foreword to Dunne’s book is written by long-time Millwall manager Kenny Jackett, who won promotion to the Championship in 2010 and kept the Lions up for four seasons.
Now at Wolves, Jackett is the man Dunne hails as the finest of his many managers, beating the likes of Dennis Wise and Ian Holloway.
“I’ve got tremendous respect for Kenny,” adds Dunne, who joined Orient in July following his “heartbreaking” release by the Lions.“He’s an exceptionally professional guy, a student of the game. He taught me a lot as a person and a footballer, probably more than any other manager. He’s mild-mannered but ruthless in terms of getting success.”
For Dunne, whose wife runs a successful wedding planning business, the book is mainly about providing a little extra cash to support children Lola and Shay once he hangs up the boots.
But the aspiring coach also hopes his story can inspire other young players in danger of dropping off the radar, as he was all those years ago.
“I was born in Dublin,” he says. “I came over when I was very young. My parents were very poor. We literally had nothing and were virtually homeless.
“I haven’t earned the money that the top players have but to play 400 games for Millwall and captain the side is a great achievement for me.
“Millwall isn’t an easy club to play for. I’ve seen players – and big-name players at that – who have struggled to cope with the pressure.The fans demand a certain level of passion and commitment and not everybody is capable of meeting that.
“They can be very hostile and very vicious, even to their own. But when they’re on your side, they’re incredible.You want to fight for them.
“I’ve had to fight all my life. As the title says, I’ve done it the hard way. But I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Everyone has their own problems and plenty have come from worse backgrounds than me.
“I just hope I can be an inspiration to those people. Young players coming from Ireland who are homesick or have problems. Young people in all walks of life.
“I’d love them to read it and lodge something in the back of their minds that says no matter how hard things get, they can still go on and achieve things. If I reached only one or two of them, that would be massive to me.”