A Love Letter To Spurs' Legend Michael Dawson
Gavin & Stacey didn’t have much to do with football other than a by-turns comical and maudlin take on the bittersweet nature of love, but it did feature one moment that would have resonated with Tottenham fans. In a Christmas special, Gavin received a present. It was a framed picture of Michael Dawson.
“Ah, Daws!” said Gavin with wide-eyed glee after tearing off the wrapping paper. The nickname was a giveaway. Proper club heroes need to have a matey moniker like ‘Daws’. It signifies good honest values, befitting a bloke supporters can identify with. ‘Daws’ translates as ‘one of ours’.
The news that the defender is moving to Hull will please a few mean-spirited Tottenham fans but surely leave many more feeling a touch sadder. Not because the defender is an especially good player, but because they will miss a footballer who is greatly admired all around the club.
Modern football doesn’t do loyalty, or commitment, or character. In an age of greed, tactical chess matches, overwrought individualism, and a procession of players spinning in and out through the revolving door of the transfer market, the limited but always willing English centre-half who promises to offer full-blooded effort - and sticks around to prove it - will invariably be popular.
Dawson became that player at White Hart Lane. Signed as a makeweight in the deal to bring his Nottingham Forest teammate Andy Reid to North London, there were no great expectations. But while Reid, the tricksy winger supposedly cast in the classic Spurs flair-player mould failed to impress, it was Dawson who became a crowd favourite.
In his time at the Lane he was not a great technician. He mis-timed tackles, often hurtled into challenges when a bit more savvy would have been more productive, and his positioning left room for improvement. The Dawson howitzer of a long diagonal ball heading nowhere in particular became a White Hart Lane staple.
But the claim that fans will largely forgive such shortcomings if the player instead provides that overused but meaningful characteristic - ‘100%’ - rang so true with Dawson. In that sense, he was a bit of a throwback: the limited but ever-willing and dutiful player who always gave of his best.
And sometimes that best was very effective. Dawson played his finest football when paired with a better partner in Ledley King and more latterly with Jan Vertonghen. When Dawson led the back line, it often pushed his natural commitment over the fine line into recklessness, even resulting in cases of trying too hard.
But if such wholehearted effort is a fault, it’s not a bad one to have. Above all, Spurs fans grew to love Dawson because it was self evident that for him, the game matters. In his nine years at Spurs his responsibilities to the team, the club and the supporters clearly, manifestly mattered.
Another useful cliché: he wore his heart on his sleeve and that was obvious to anyone who watched him. He delighted in any victory, always turning to the fans to share in the celebrations. He didn’t disappear in defeat either, but would applaud the support while many of his teammates slinked off. Losses clearly hurt him - witness the quivering lip in the Etihad tunnel after the 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City last season.
It wasn’t just for badge-kissing show either. Many fans who met him off the pitch contrasted his friendliness and open nature with the snooty reserve and self-regard of his contemporaries. Dawson didn’t do the big-I-am ego trips, but did do the recognition that above all, it’s a team game and a fans game, and he was merely a part of it.
He simply seems like a nice chap. Teammates have spoken fondly of him. Supporter comments on social media such as ‘gave everything for the shirt’, ‘great professional’, ‘the kind of bloke you’d like a pint with’, ‘old school’, and ‘a true gent’ reflect his chummy, endearing popularity. Even the official Tottenham Twitter account dispensed with the usual cursory pleasantries for a player surplus to requirements, and set up a ‘thankyoudaws’ hashtag which was soon trending worldwide.
I was left feeling similarly grateful after interviewing him a couple of years back alongside Gareth Bale for a book wot I wrote with fellow ST writer Martin Cloake. The two players made for an interesting contrast. Bale was smart but guarded, an individual carefully tutored to provide safe PR. Dawson was similarly media-trained but also more effusive, emotive and just - well, a bit more normal.
He got visibly animated when expressing his frustration at Spurs missing out on a Champions League place thanks to the team’s own failings, and Chelsea’s unlikely win in the 2012 final. He looked and sounded like a bloke who knew what football meant to the people who fund it - because he felt it himself.
It’s important to note that that interview took place on the morning when it appeared the club was going to dispense with Dawson and cast him adrift to QPR. It would have been understandable for him to call the interview off; he clearly had more important things to deal with, but he turned up on time and gave of his time willingly and with good grace towards the club about to shove him out. He would surely have been hurt by the rejection, but was determined to stay and fight for his place. And he duly did.
On the pitch luck was rarely on his side. He missed out on victory in the 2008 League Cup final. The same occurred in a number of the bigger Spurs matches of recent years. But his kind of dogged, determined talent was never better displayed than in the two games against AC Milan in the Champions League Round of 16 tie in 2011. The Italians were on the receiving end of an unlikely Spurs shut-out and it was Dawson’s grit and heroics, but also his calm and poise (yes, poise) that did much to ensure the aggregate victory.
Win or lose, the contribution was never less than admirable. Clearly no Spurs fan when he arrived, he nonetheless was a Yorkshireman who forged a mutual love for the club, like his fellow Tyke predecessors Paul Robinson, Tony Galvin, Terry Dyson, Bobby Smith and of course Bill Nicholson. Spurs, the metropolitan fancy dans, would seem an unlikely fit with no-nonsense sons of Yorkshire but for some reason the two have often rubbed along very nicely.
Spurs will now miss the man from North Allerton. Every club needs a player like Dawson, and there are far too few of his kind. English football might have an unhealthy obsession with the role of captaincy but Dawson fulfilled it at Spurs in exemplary fashion. And when he wasn’t skipper there was no let up in the spirit and fight for the cause. After last season, a bizarre campaign in which one of the short-lived managers had bemoaned the lack of leadership in the dressing room and on the pitch, Dawson was one of the few to show such qualities.
If this all sounds like an obituary for his career it should be anything but. He may not have fitted Mauricio Pochettino’s attempts to introduce a more intense, rapid style of sharply executed play, but at 30 Dawson still has good years left in him.
Hull are getting a player whose qualities should well serve the club. Dependability, endeavour and integrity are guaranteed; an ability to keep pace with the fizzy strikers of the Premier League less certain, but in a way that’s not the point. Daws is the kind of player even the most jaded of fan can warm to. He didn’t quite do the full ten years and probably won’t receive the testimonial he merited at the Lane, but if ever a modern player deserved it, it’s him.