My lasting memory of Dean Windass, something he recalls in his autobiography ‘Deano’, is him standing in front of the London Road End having just nodded home a last minute consolation goal at the end of a 1-7 thrashing by Birmingham City. He’s standing with mock braggadocio – mindful of the utter spanking we’d just received – with his hands cupped around his ears in that ‘who are you?’ pose which has become popular.
This memory is supported by the fact it’s this that forms the basis of my only (exaggerated) Dean Windass humorous anecdote, which loses quite a lot when written down. In short, this involves me saying that Windass stuns the frenzied crowd into silence the moment he makes emphasis of his prodigious lugs.
I told you that it loses a lot, perhaps everything, in translation, or perhaps it was no good in the first place. That. Probably that.
Windass is a member of a club who attained something akin to legend status within Oxford United without actually making a material contribution to the club’s progress; for this read: Tommy Mooney and, perhaps over time, Michael Duberry.
None of this trio would consider their time at Oxford as anything other than an overnight stop on their way to somewhere else. They played the game, on and, and more importantly, off the field. They had media connections, a decent line in ‘bantz’. There’s even an element of us feeling privileged that they chose us. A privilege slightly dampened by the fact that they also chose 10 other clubs in their career with the same impact. Windass didn’t even last a season us, the deal that brought him to the club being as absurd as the man himself.
Dean Windass was the ultimate folly of an Oxford United in deep crisis. It seems that with the club on its knees, prospective investors in the club seemed willing to underwrite the purchase of Windass from Aberdeen on a £400,000 deal, a club record, which involves almost no exchange of cash at all. When Aberdeen came asking for their first payment, and the promised investment failed to materialise, it became clear the club couldn’t afford the player. He was, within a year of arriving, shipped off to the nouveau riche Bradford City in a near million pound deal. Any profit that was gained was ploughed into the club’s spiralling debts. This sent Windass on a path back to Hull (via a couple of other clubs) where he gained prominence by larruping in the goal that took The Tigers to their first season in the Premier League in 2008. After this Windass was gently pensioned off to fulfil a career as a fractionally less bonkers, but similarly fragile, Paul Gascoigne.
For me, there was no real urgency in reading Windass’ autobiography, partly because of the unsavoury connotations of the subtitle. But in fact, Gipsyville is not a generic, and racist, term for a bad place, it was the actual name of his early junior team. In addition, his time at Oxford was probably worthy of about 3 pages of text. Not only that, the whole thing suggested that it would aim to contribute to the ever growing game of one-upmanship amongst minor football celebrities into who had the maddest, craziest, most tiresome drinking stories.
The early part of the book is like a skimming stone dancing across a mill pond, it bounces along at some pace, but never gets into any real depth. It dances through his first spell at Hull, and his time at Aberdeen and Oxford at breakneck speed only slowing down once he reaches the Premier League with Bradford. There’s a momentary mention with an apparently long term drink and violence problem.
He is also unbelievably candid with Windass admitting that he had no pubic hair until he was 17, he pee’ed on Ian Ormanroyd’s leg in the shower during his time at Hull and that Stan Collymore shaved his testicles in the communal showers.
His time at Oxford is treated at pace, which is no real shock. However, as Windass has absolutely no edit function, it is surprisingly revealing of that period at the club. His initiation involved being threatened with a shotgun by someone called ‘Terry’, apparently a Malcolm ‘Mally’ Shotton authorised ritual which was only stopped when Paul Tait broke Terry’s arm with a golf bag in a pique of terror.
Whether that’s true or not is another question, he also claims to have lived in ‘Bicester village’ – which means he either lived in a village near Bicester, or that Hull is such a metropolis Bicester is village-like by comparison or he actually lived in a retail park amongst the Helly Hansen end of line bargains.
Windass’ true moment in the sun with Oxford was the cup game against Chelsea in which he scored and we conceded in the last minute to a dubious penalty. The book reveals that Windass is the only person in history, even with the benefit of video replays, who still thinks that Kevin Francis fouled Gianluca Vialli. A fact made more remarkable when reviewing the YouTube clip of the incident; Windass was about 3 feet away at the time.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book is the extent of the ‘Oxford mafia’ that spread across English football during the 90s. Sir Alex Ferguson is the Don, of course, and Jim Smith is one of his acolytes. Smith nurtured Shotton, and Steve McLaren, who both bought Windass to their clubs, and Brian Horton who initially worked under Maurice Evans. Windass is one of many who bounced around that network of managers and coaches including; John Dreyer, Chris Hargreaves and Billy Whitehirst, who is barely mentioned in the first 240-odd pages but contributes a whole chapter at the end of the book.
It’s safe to say that Oxford’s influence over football is no longer as potent as it once was; but it is curious to see the echo of our mid-eighties success resonating into the a decade along the line.