Wednesday 7 December 2016

Putting Foxes in perspective

Dunne memoir shines light on dark reality of world shock title-chasers have left behind

Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30

Wes Morgan gets the better of Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Wes Morgan gets the better of Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Alan Dunne with his new book Photo: Brian Tonks

It is surely only a matter of time before a player from Leicester City is erroneously asked if they are inspired by the heroics of Leicester City.

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Claudio Ranieri's side have now become a byword for the brave underdog, and it seems that no interview can pass by without some sporting figure or other being probed on whether Team X or Team Y can emulate their exploits.

Emmanuel Petit last week mused over whether Ireland could follow the Leicester example in France this summer, a query that has already been put to Martin O'Neill on more than one occasion.

Greece's Euro 2004 win was the reference point for some of Giovanni Trapattoni's optimistic proclamations ahead of Euro finals in Poland four years ago and there's every chance that Leicester will slot into that role this time as the lengthy countdown to France drains us of talking points.

This hackneyed line of thought is on the verge of permeating everyday discussions.

Worried about exams? Adopting Leicester's work ethic will set you right.

Met the girl of your dreams and afraid to ask her out? Leicester aren't afraid to punch above their weight.

Struggling with the mortgage? Fear not as Leicester have proved that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.

Problem

The problem is by claiming that anybody can win the Premier League risks doing a disservice to the scale of what members of that dressing-room have achieved; what they have done requires unique character.

In a strange way, that point was drilled home while reading through the newly released autobiography of Alan Dunne, the Dublin-born defender who moved to London as a child and made 388 appearances for his first club, Millwall, before moving to Leyton Orient last year.

The chapter titles offer an insight into the subject matter. 'Fights, bites and kicking team-mates' introduces one section. 'I had to pay a player's dental bill after head-butt' is a self-explanatory title for another. 'Booted out of home by my Dad' shines a light on his complex background.

Dunne, the most sent-off player in Millwall's history, somehow never managed to get a call-up from Ireland at any level despite spending a good portion of his career in the Championship.

That's his main regret from a story of survival because of his upbringing in a tough area of London.

As he explained on a promotional visit to Dublin, his father kindly told him to pack his bags because he was falling into bad company and needed to move into digs to avoid going off the rails. Most of his childhood pals were in jail by their late teens.

On the pitch, Dunne developed a hardman reputation and the full-back is blunt enough about the tactics he used to intimidate opponents.

"I've always tried to use mind games knowing that I'm not as good as them," he explained.

His effective 'mind games' strategy with Wilfried Zaha, for example, was the warning that he would break the Crystal Palace cub in half next time he touched the ball.

Dunne's entertaining story is broken down into a series of anecdotes that effectively bring home the unglamorous nature of life in football in the lower leagues, with the trappings leading to temptations that drive players off the rails.

These are not household names, but they earn enough money to be lured into bad habits. Drink is a recurring theme.

Dunne recalls the Millwall players rushing to congratulate a young sub in a midweek cup tie after he scored a goal and immediately being struck by the stench of alcohol off his breath.

The individual in question, a striker named Chris Zebroski, was jailed last year after admitting charges of robbery, attempted robbery and assault related to two separate incidents.

That is an extreme case, but Dunne knows countless examples of one-time pros who fell by the wayside because they couldn't cope.

He was by no means a role model in his younger days - a drink driving offence drills home that point - but he has made it to the other side with an understanding of the trade.

It hasn't been a great week for the image of the lower league footballer. A raucous group which included former Irish underage internationals Samir Carruthers and James Collins were photographed at Cheltenham disgracing themselves on a balcony.

Dunne bemoans the fact that there are always opportunists with camera phones trying to trip footballers up and that is a valid point, although Carruthers and Collins don't deserve too much sympathy.

That said, Dunne's memoir offers a strong hint that their indiscretions are tame compared to the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.

The only way that the pee in a pint glass duo can redeem their reputation is to stay in the game for enough time to achieve things that live longer in the memory.

Jamie Vardy's rags to riches tale is well told, yet there is something equally impressive about the role of centre-half Wes Morgan in their ascent.

Morgan was released by Notts County as a teenager; he was overweight and his prospects were grim.

When he seized a second chance with Nottingham Forest and lost two and half a stone before graduating to become a first-team regular and then the club captain, the local boy had done good.

Like Dunne, he was a seasoned operator in that company and had already beaten the odds by making it to that position; he also hailed from a rough neighbourhood.

A January transfer in 2012 changed his circumstances and, from there, the 32-year-old has blossomed in tandem with the Foxes.

His old audience at Forest could never have envisaged his rate of progress.

Should he lift the Premier League trophy, then it would redraw the boundaries for a believable fairytale.

The romance is his escape from an environment where happy endings are in a clear minority.

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