In an exclusive interview, former Shrewsbury Town forward Dean Edwards talks of his fondest memories of the club, Cyril Knowles, and Scandinavian football.
One of my favourite pastimes is to talk about ex footballers that may be considered to be ‘before my time.’
I had one such conversation with a regular at my local pub last week; speaking enthusiastically, he said: “Get that YouTube thing out – and have a look at Dean Edwards; what a player – a predator.”
I obliged, and found a grainy clip of Dean playing for Torquay United. A corner is whipped into the box and Edwards evades his marker, rises like a salmon and plants a header beyond the stranded goalkeeper.
What was just as delightful to see was the strong contingent of Torquay fans sent into delirium; with all their recent troubles, it’s a reminder that there’s a fantastic football club ready to be great again.
My bar friend, was not the only person I’ve recently spoken to that was full of praise for Dean. Richard Worton, who runs AFC Telford’s social media accounts, remembers Edwards fondly from his time at the Bucks from 1983-85.
He said: “Dean started to break into the team in 1983/84 and was in our side that reached the 4th round of the FA Cup.
“We entered at the first-round stage – because we had won the FA Trophy the year before, and beat Stockport County, Northampton Town, and Rochdale before losing to Derby County 3-2 in the fourth round.
“Dean scored in the 1-1 draw at Northampton, as well as the 4-1 win at Rochdale, but one of the things I recall the most was the tie at Derby.
“We were level at 1-1, and on top in the second half, when Dean picked up a poor back pass, went around the keeper and put the ball towards goal.
“It came off the inside of the post, ran along the other line and hit the other post before running clear for a Derby defender to clear. Had we gone ahead, who knows what might have happened!”
It all began at Shrewsbury Town for Dean in 1978 – not 1980 as Wikipedia suggests. His stories that he relays of the players that he played against is awe-inspiring – particularly if you’re an avid football fan such as myself.
Dean reminisces about his time at the club
Speaking exclusively to Shropshire Live, Dean reminisces about his time at the club:
“I joined Shrewsbury the year we won The 3rd Division Championship and beat Manchester City in the cup.
“I spent four very happy years there. It was a great community club, with some very decent players.
“We were one big happy family which contributed to the success we had there. I started off very well, making my debut in Bobby Charlton’s (guest player for Town) very last game on English soil V the Zambian national team. That was some experience as a 16-year-old playing with a World Cup winner.
“I made my full debut against Burnley in the Anglo Scottish Cup, and scored in a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor, then made by league debut against Cardiff at Ninian Park in the now Championship.
“I went on to play against Chelsea, West Ham, Watford and other now Premier League clubs for Shrewsbury.
“My highlight was playing at Upton Park (former home of West Ham) albeit we lost 3-0. I played well considering they had just won the FA Cup and included players such as Sir Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard Snr – and a few other WHU legends.
“I scored my first league goal eventually against Bristol City in a 4-1 win at Gay Meadow. Happy times for the club, and myself personally.”
During his time at Shrewsbury Dean was under the tutelage of Richie Barker and a certain Graham Turner.
Discussing the relationship, he had with the duo, Edwards added: “Richie Barker was the manager, he had taken over from Alan Durban.
“I had the utmost respect for Richie, a good man-manager and a very good coach. He left a few months into my contract and I was a bit worried that another manager would not like my style, I need not have worried as Graham Turner slotted in as player-manager and my relationship with him was fantastic.
“He had a phenomenal period for the club, winning The Division Three Championship, The Welsh Cup, and a great FA Cup run – eventually losing to my home town club Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“Albeit a falling out with Graham Turner did not help my cause. Looking back, I was very green, and I take responsibility for what followed, but we both went on to have decent careers so it all ended well.
“Our paths did cross later on in my career which was personally satisfying, so we evened ourselves out in the end. Shrewsbury is a fantastic club, and still holds fond memories.”
Despite impressive performances – and an incredible haul of goals for the reserve side (106 in 126 games) Edwards was restricted to 13 league appearances.
He puts this down to matchday rules: “Nowadays there are 5 or 7 substitutes (non-league 5, Football League 7) in the 70s/80s there was only one.
“I was regularly the 13th man, which meant basically you were the kit organiser. Most apprentices have a go at this, but generally it was my duty.
“I do wonder that if the same certain amount of subs were used then as they are now, I might have had a better run. I felt I did quite well getting the opportunities I did. I felt I could have had more opportunity (to play); but it was what it was.”
We discussed the current crop of Shrewsbury players and the threat of relegation; but Dean insisted the club can bounce back should the worst-case scenario happen.
“I really do hope the Shrews can escape relegation, it’s not a disaster if they don’t because I see the likes of Torquay United, Stockport, and Tranmere (playing in a lower league.)
“Champions, cup winners, and historically good clubs, (have) found themselves plying their trade in non-league; which can happen in League Two.
“Shrewsbury always do well historically when they are a happy club, something is not quite right at the moment, but I am sure the board will sort it out. They have always been a well-run club and I can’t see that changing.”
The emergence of England wonderkid Jadon Sancho, has sparked a debate amongst commentators that more British players should try their hand at playing abroad.
They were probably not thinking of Finland, Hong Kong, and Malta when suggesting this; but Dean admits experiencing football in these countries enriched his life.
He said: “Finland came as a surprise, I had no clue where it was – you didn’t have Google Maps in those days!
“But I have always embraced different cultures, and I thought why not? The package was decent, and I believed it would enhance my development.
“There was a large contingent of foreign players in Scandinavia, including Dennis Wise and Vinnie Jones. I went to a place called Kuopio on the Russian boarder at first, but it was grim, and I found it hard to adapt.
“I went in March and the temperature was severe, dropping to -20 at times. I spent the one season there, and it did not work out as I wanted and eventually moved to a team in the West Coast.”
The team he was referring to was Vassan Palloseura – more commonly known as VPS. He regularly hit the target for the two-time Finnish League Cup winners; notching an unbelievable 42 times in 38 matches.
“It was a great place, very much like Shrewsbury in the community, it also had a beach which was a stark contrast to Kuopio. I spent two happy years there and scored a lot of goals which helped me to settle in.”
His time in Scandinavia has enabled him to offer priceless advice to young players who fancy plying their trade abroad.
Edwards set-up the Orange Wolf Company, which tries to find clubs for players that may not be on the radar of professional football clubs.
One such example is Jamie Pyper; who is currently on the books at Scottish outfit Cowdenbeath. Through the Orange Wolf Company, which has had former Leicester City defender Matt Elliott as a guest coach, Edwards secured Pyper a move to Swedish fifth tier outfit Gallivare Malmbergets FF.
So, with all this valuable insight, does Edwards recommend footballers move abroad? He added: “The world is getting smaller, and with all the social media sites, you can be on the other side of the world but still feel like you’re at home.
“When I played abroad you had to go to international kiosks to make calls, or write a letter. I would thoroughly recommend any young player to go and get that experience, I currently help young players move abroad, and would be happy to help or advise any player who feels they want to experience this.
“I have to say Hong Kong was a phenomenal experience with lots of rewards on offer if you are successful.”
After returning from Finland, Dean went on to represent AFC Telford, Wolves, and Exeter City; before moving to Torquay United.
During his three years there, he scored in three semi-finals and two finals – whilst haunting his former club Wolves in both legs of the Sherpa Van Trophy.
Edwards played under former Tottenham Hotspur and England defender Cyril Knowles at Torquay. Widely considered to be one of the finest defenders of his generation, Knowles was part of the Spurs side that won the FA Cup in 1967, The League Cup in 71 and 73, as well as the UEFA Cup in 1973. He sadly passed away in 1991 at the age of just 47.
Remembering him Dean said: “What can I say about Cyril Knowles? How he never managed in the Premiership (Division One) is one of football’s greatest mysteries.
“I played under Graham Turner, Alan Ball, Bill McGarry, and Terry Cooper – but Cyril was far and away the master technician, psychologist, friend you could ever want.
“We went to Wembley with Torquay in 1989, when we really had no right. We beat my old club Wolves 3-2 in the area final, ironically managed by Graham Turner.
“It was down to Cyril’s ability to deal tactically with the then England international Steve Bull (that Torquay won the game).
“When he died aged 47 of a brain tumour – I was devastated. He was a great man and a good mentor. I played the best football of my career under him, and he is still sorely missed today.”
Following his retirement, Edwards dipped his toe into the managerial water – most notably at Hednesford Town. During his spell there, he signed former Shrewsbury Town duo Tyrone Barnett and Ross Draper; whilst guiding the club to their first Birmingham Senior Cup in 73 years.
He also held boardroom roles at Torquay; so, his passion and experience for the game, would make for a brilliant book, right?
Well if you agree then you’re in luck, as he is currently penning his humorously named memoir ‘Wolves, Gulls, Shrews, and other footballing wildlife.’
“Everybody seems to be jumping on the book bandwagon at the moment, so I thought why not?
“It is a tongue-in-cheek fun book, talking about the serious and non-serious experiences that I had.
“I played with and against World Cup winners, I played with and under some great charismatic managers, and players and there are some great stories.
“They include old Fred that used to fetch the ball, amongst other things out of the river behind the Gay Meadow, after Steve Hayes, Colin Griffin, and Jackie Keay used to do one of their no-nonsense clearances.
“The book reveals the fall out with Graham Turner, Ken Mulhearn, and his mad cap antics, the Man City game, plus stories from other clubs.”
I for one cannot wait to read it.