The big interview with Alan Dunne – on struggle to adjust to Millwall release and his coaching goals

BY RICHARD CAWLEY

richard@slpmedia.co.uk

Alan Dunne finished playing professional football with nothing to prove – but gets a buzz from the fact that the same doesn’t apply to his coaching career.

The 35-year-old made 379 appearances for Millwall and only ended that 21-year association when he joined Leyton Orient in July 2015.

Dunne has been at Bromley since 2017. Last season he was player-coach for the Ravens and admits that title is set to reverse in the 2018-19 campaign as he spends less time on the pitch.

“I’ll be registered as a player but I’ll be more of a coach-player this year,” he said. “I’ve still got a little bit of life in me. I’ll be 36 in August, I still keep fit and train.

“My preference is to coach and do that more full-time. The bug to play football never leaves you and I still feel I’ve got something to offer on that side.

“I enjoy training and the football, it’s all I’ve done since the age of 10. I don’t just want to hang up my boots, but I also know my body and I know what it is leading to. I’m at the end of my chapter and I want to help other people around me.

“It will be nice to dip in and out. Playing football is something you never really want to give up.

“I’ve done everything I wanted to do as a boy, apart from playing in the Premier League. I did it at one club – getting promotion at Millwall, playing in an FA Cup final, getting a testimonial, getting Player of the Season, scoring – I achieved a lot. 

“I am sixth in Millwall’s all-time appearances. There are a lot of memories.

Millwall’s Alan Dunne and West Ham United’s Kevin Nolan battle for the ball

“I’ve got nothing to prove in football to anyone. But I have got something to prove in terms of being a coach. That is where I want to be judged from now on. It’s about nothing else but looking forward.”

Dunne picks out two people as the ones who had the greatest influence on him during his time at Millwall.

“I’d say one manager and one coach,” he explained. “Ray Wilkins was the best I worked with, as a coach. He was great with the boys and you’d love going in to work with him. He was a father figure and just infectious.

“As a manager, Kenny Jackett was the one I looked up to and learned a lot from. We’re still in touch now. He is someone who helped me with my career. I got a little bit lackadaisical at Millwall, from being there so long and smoke being blown up my arse.

“I sat back on it, Kenny switched that around very quickly and helped me better myself and have a long career. I had my fair share of fall-outs with Kenny but learnt the most off him.

“As you mature then you realise he was right the majority of the time. There were a lot of right-backs brought in and I had to fight against them. Kenny did the foreword in my autobiography and had many good things to say. When you have been around for a long time then you realise it is all for your benefit.”

Dunne did his UEFA A licence when he was 33.

The move to Bromley has allowed him to put the knowledge gained into practice.

Millwall’s Danny Shittu (left) celebrates with team mate Alan Dunne after scoring against Blackburn Rovers during the FA Cup, Quarter Final Replay at Ewood Park, Blackburn.

“I’ve loved it,” he said. “In my first season here, when I was player-coach, the club finished 10th [in the National League] which was the highest-ever finish and then last season we were three points off the play-offs, came ninth and got to Wembley [in the FA Trophy final].

“I work great alongside the manager [Neil Smith] and assistant manager [Mark Hammond].”

So does Dunne see himself as managerial material?

“I’d like to have a crack at it,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be one who wants to be working until I’m 60. 

“I’ve looked after my money and I’m financially stable. I wanted to get into this side, do what I needed to do and then enjoy life. Life is short, you don’t know what is around the corner.

“I enjoy working but I’ve got a family and I want to travel and see the world. I’d still want to be a part of it when I’m older, but not ever day to make money. A lot do it to pay the bills. I don’t want to be on that road.

“I’d like to tick that box – at whatever level that may be – and I can say that I have done it. I believe I have what it takes, I believe in myself if I had a group of players in that situation down the line.

“I don’t like to look back in life. I’ve got photos and albums from my playing career but I don’t keep a lot of memorabilia. When I went into coaching I wanted to be an empty shell. 

“My book is on a shelf, that is something I’m proud of. And so are my medals. But things like my shirts, boots and paper cuttings have been put away, one day I’ll look at those with the grandchildren.”

Bromley lost 5-4 on penalties to Brackley at Wembley in May as they missed out on major silverware.

“That was a tough pill to swallow,” said Dunne. “To lose how we lost was difficult. But I’d rather have been there and lost, rather than not be there. We took 20,000 fans to Wembley, we had a lot of publicity and it made the club stronger. More people are aware of us.

“It gives you a taste of success. No matter how many times you have played at Wembley before, it is the best place when you win and when you lose it is heartbreaking.”

Dunne’s spell as a Lion could have been even longer. He admits that is one of his only regrets.

“I wish I had pushed Millwall for a deal towards the end of when I got released,” he said.

Millwall’s Alan Dunne (left) and Reading’s Pavel Pogrebnyak battle for the ball.

“It was cruel that year. Ian Holloway was in charge and I was playing week in, week out. I got strung along about a new deal and it never happened.

“When Holloway left it was up in the air. I should have struck while the iron was hot. That following season I got released.

“I enjoyed it under Holloway. He tried to come in and change the system but he needed time and it wasn’t the Millwall way. You need to play direct and get up the pitch quicker. The fans want to see you hit a big man – players getting around him to win balls that drop in and around the box.

“He tried to change the identity and it didn’t work.”

What also didn’t work was Dunne’s move to Orient. 

“My dream was to finish my career at one club but things worked out differently,” he said.

“I never enjoyed it at Orient. I didn’t enjoy the travelling and I fell out of love with football. I wanted to retire. It didn’t click. It wasn’t Millwall. When I got there I had that hangover.

“When Bromley took me in I got that spark back to want to play again. 

“It just shows it can take that long to get over being at one club for so long.

“We trained at Millwall’s training ground before the Trophy final and it brought back so many memories. I was in my element. The kitchen lady gave me a kiss and the groundsman is still there.

“You think about all those years and how quick it went. I felt old.”

Dunne was born in Dublin, Ireland but moved to Highbury, north London at the age of four.

“I was on a council estate and grew up surrounded by the wrong people – it wasn’t great,” he said. “My dad said: ‘You’ve got to leave home’.

Alan Dunne with Bromley manager Neil Smith
Picture: Bromley FC

“I had been at Millwall for four or five years by then and was an up-and-coming star. My dad knew if I didn’t get out that I would end up in trouble.

“I was put in a house with Gerry Docherty, the physio. For three years it was food, football, bed, food, football, bed – Millwall broke me down and rebuilt me as a player and as a person. They made me better. I learned all my lessons at a young age, being away from home.

“It was old school. It is not like that any more. Society changes, people change. I heard Paul Scholes talking about it, that young players don’t clean boots. It is different times.

“But I felt that made me have a long career. It made me stronger and a better person. Robbo [Paul Robinson] went through it, so did Andy Frampton and TC [Tony Craig] – we were the last ones from the old-school era. All of those lads were captains and went on to have decent careers.”


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