‘I’VE HAD TO FIGHT ALL MY LIFE TO SUC­CEED’

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

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.

Ad­vice

“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.

Fan­tas­tic

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.”

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