The former Hull and Bradford talisman talks building site beginnings, love for El Tel and telling ‘ the Guv’nor’ to zip it

- Interview Alec Fenn Dean Windass was speaking on behalf of Smart Energy GB

Before turning profession­al, you worked on a building site and in a factory – what was that like?

I realised pretty quickly that I didn’t want to work on a building site or in a factory for the rest of my life – it was the perfect motivation to work on my fitness and keep chasing my dream. I had to carry a hod on my back up a set of ladders all day long, but it gave me great lower body strength and huge calves. After work every night, I’d go for a five- mile run with a couple of rugby players who lived near me, and my physicalit­y improved a lot.

You made your senior debut for Hull at 22 – that’s late for most footballer­s...

It was the best thing for me. If I’d gone into the Hull dressing room at 18, I’d have lasted a year, been released and played non- league football. But the four years of full- time work built me up physically and mentally. I’d seen both sides, so turning up to training every day and playing on a Saturday was easy when I’d worked full- time. I respected the game more and seized the opportunit­y with both hands.

Were you always a prolific goalscorer?

No. I joined Hull as a central midfielder, but we had a few injuries and Terry Dolan put me up top. My first game as a striker was against Peter Shilton at Plymouth! I scored twice, we won the match and from that day on I was a striker. I scored 17 goals in my first season and the rest is history.

You helped Bradford to reach the top tier in 1998- 99 – tell us about that period.

We had a brilliant dressing room. Paul Jewell was a young manager still learning his trade, but he was very switched on and organised. The lads knew what they were doing every day of the week and never pushed their luck with him. The senior players ran the dressing room and it all just clicked into place. We had some quality players, like Gary Walsh, Peter Beagrie, Darren Moore, Stuart Mccall, Jamie Lawrence, Robbie Blake and Gareth Whalley.

Did you feel ready for the Premier League?

I never felt in awe of the top guys – I’d played against Gazza, who was my childhood hero, when I was at Aberdeen. I always felt I was technicall­y gifted and I was a cheeky git, so I was confident I could play at that level. But I also knew that in the Premier League they were all athletes, and I didn’t want to be left wanting physically. The summer we secured promotion, I didn’t have a holiday. I stayed at home and worked with a personal trainer, so that I was in the best possible shape. It really paid off – I scored 10 goals that season and we stayed up on the final day, which was an amazing achievemen­t.

You played for Paul Jewell, Terry Venables and Phil Brown – who was the best?

Terry Venables. When he talked, you listened. When the ex- England manager buys you, it’s huge for your confidence. He was tactically so switched on and wasn’t a ranter or raver, because he didn’t need to do it to command the respect of his players. Paul Jewell was excellent too, and he gave an amazing speech before the start of the Premier League season – he told us if we finished fourth from bottom we’d have had a good season, and we did. Tactically he changed us from a 4- 4- 2 to a 4- 3- 3 against the big sides – a long time before teams were playing that system. It was a big reason why we survived.

You moved on to Middlesbro­ugh in 2001 – why did things not quite work out?

Because Terry left. I was his first signing and walked into a dressing room of internatio­nals, but I wasn’t fazed one bit. He brought me in because Boro were struggling at the bottom of the league. He said I’d score the goals to keep them up, and we finished 14th. If Terry had stayed I might have played 200 league games for them, but Steve Mcclaren came in, I was in and out of the side and then he said I wasn’t part of his plans. I respected that – me and Steve went way back to my time at Hull when I used to clean his boots as a kid, so I just had to get on with it.

Middlesbro­ugh had some big names at the time – what was that dressing room like?

Brilliant. On my first day, Paul Ince took the piss out of me. He’d done his research and said, “We’ve signed Bob the Builder.” I could have crumbled but I said, “You’ve signed Bob the Builder as you’re fourth from bottom in the league!” Me and Incey had a really good relationsh­ip, and I also partnered Alen Boksic there – the best striker I ever played with. He was electric, great in the air and could score with both feet. Some people said he didn’t turn up if he didn’t fancy it, but when he did he was unplayable.

You had a prolific second spell at Bradford – how were you able to keep scoring goals?

I trained on my days off, even at 37 years old. I learned a lot from Dan Petrescu and Benito Carbone at Bradford in the Premier League. They educated me about diet and told me to never have a day off – even on rest days I had to stretch and do a cool down session. That definitely helped me to prolong my career.

You returned to Hull in 2007 – was that an easy decision?

I’d initially been offered a two- year deal by Bradford, which would have taken me to 38, but then I got a call from the chairman who said they needed to raise money. They said Hull would pay £ 350,000 and Roy Keane at Sunderland wanted me as well, so I had two options. It was a no- brainer in the end – I’d always wanted to return to my hometown club. Little did I know what would happen...

You scored that famous volley in the 2008 Championsh­ip Play- off Final – why didn’t you take a touch?

I was knackered! As the cross came in from the left, I thought a defender was behind me so I had to volley it. I’d tried them in training and they’d sailed over the bar, but I knew I was capable. If it’d been on my other foot, I’d have done the same thing. Once I struck it, I knew. I was 39 and it was the 39th minute – it was meant to be.

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