Being third in the goalkeeping pecking order meant it was always going to be difficult for Kevin Dearden to establish himself at Tottenham.
Having turned professional in the summer of 1988, he initially acted as stand-in for long-time Norwegian international Erik Thorstvedt and back-up stopper Bobby Mimms and then, after the departure of the latter, Ian Walker.
For his own self-preservation, loan moves were a necessity – and they came in abundance. Starting with Division Four side Cambridge in 1989 and ending with Portsmouth three years later, he was farmed out to no fewer than nine clubs, making 50 league appearances during his time away from White Hart Lane.
“I coped with the constant change quite easily. It never really bothered me,” he explained to brentfordfc.com.
“When you train all week and then don’t play, I felt that was the worst feeling in the world because all I wanted to do was play football. When the opportunities came to go out on loan, I had no problem with it. It was experience, it was first team football and it was better than watching games of a weekend or doing nothing.
“I thought that going and getting experience would stand me in good stead to come back and push for the first team so I always hoped that it would happen and that I’d get an opportunity but, for whatever reason, my opportunities were fairly limited.”
On Easter Monday, 12 April 1993, he received a smidgen of recognition for the hard graft of the previous few years when he was introduced as a second half substitute for Thorstvedt in a Premiership clash with Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, managing to keep a debut clean sheet with the 2-1 defeat settled in the first 45 minutes.
And that was it. Kevin’s five-year Spurs career was consigned to the history books without having made a fraction of the impact he might have hoped.
Then, in September, Brentford boss David Webb – fresh from a short spell in charge of Chelsea - came knocking.
“This was pre-Bosman, so you didn’t just get let go; you had a contract and that kept going until you left, really,” he continued.
“I’d been told by [Tottenham boss] Ossie Ardiles that he felt I needed to go elsewhere because I wouldn’t get football at Spurs and then, out of the blue, Dave Webb contacted them. Brentford had Graham Benstead at the time but Dave wanted to try to move on from the old guard a little bit. They took Dean P Williams from non-league but that hadn’t quite worked out so they asked if I wanted to speak to them and have a look there and that’s what I did.
“I settled really quickly. I think it was probably because there was a big turnover of players at the time as they had just been relegated from the First Division. A lot of players had gone, been let go or were at the end of their contracts. I think he brought about 20 players in so everybody was thrown into the pot together, really. It was fairly easy to settle because there were so many other guys in the same boat.”
Kevin’s nickname - ‘The Flying Pig’ – which had been coined during his time in north London, followed him to Griffin Park thanks to Bees defenders and former Spurs colleagues Brian Statham and Billy Manuel. Within weeks he’d shown just why, rapidly gaining the endearment of the Brentford fans on the way to 41 appearances in his first campaign in TW8.
He made over 100 appearances across the next two campaigns, including two in the Second Division play-off semi-final defeat to Huddersfield in 1994/95, with his commanding performances restricting his understudy, Tamer Fernandes, to just a handful of starts for the Bees. “I’d always feel the pressure of performing but I felt I was the No 1 ‘keeper and felt that was my shirt and I didn’t want to give up,” he said.
Brentford fans are, all too often, reminded of previous play-off defeats that have kept their side in the lower reaches of the Football League for so many decades. The painful memories don’t subside for the players, either.
Kevin moved to recall the efforts in the 1996/97 season, when Webb took his side to within 90 minutes of the First Division, having set up a Wembley date with Crewe after comprehensively sinking Bristol City 4-2 on aggregate in the semi-final.
He said: “I remember it was a boiling hot day, but I remember that we were battered 1-0. They had Danny Murphy and Dele Adebola and players like that who went on to have really good careers. We didn’t perform on the day, they did and we deservedly got beaten 1-0. It should have been more.
“It was a real big disappointment because we’d had an unbelievable start and were flying, but then hit a brick wall towards the end and that was our downfall. We were free-scoring at the beginning, getting threes, fours and fives but we went to not being able to score, meaning we got to the play-offs when, really, we should have been promoted automatically.
“We weren’t among the favourites at the time but we had such a good start to the season, when we won eight out of the first 11. We just couldn’t score towards the end. That was a real disappointment because you felt you’d done the hard yards for seven months and then couldn’t finish the job off. We found a bit of form in the semi-final, beating Bristol City over both legs but on the day, Crewe thoroughly deserved to beat us.”
This period stands out to Kevin quite prominently; it was, effectively, where his Brentford career began to spiral.
The reign of David Webb abruptly ended in the summer of 1997, when he was appointed as the club’s chief executive amid a takeover with Tony Swaisland and John Herting. The club’s deterioration intensified from there, with none of the three managers that season – Kevin Lock, Eddie May or Micky Adams – able to halt the slide to inevitable relegation.
“It was really strange. Obviously, we’d done really well and there were a few of our players who were coveted by other clubs, especially Gillingham. They ended up taking Bob Taylor, Barry Ashbee, Paul Smith and Brian Statham. But there was a takeover going on and the club wasn’t prepared to pay the wages that the boys wanted.
“A lot of them decided they would go elsewhere because of that and that’s what happened. We came to the start of the season and Eddie and Clive Walker were in charge and we were left seriously under-powered with players and the squad. After a few games, we realised it was going to be a real struggle.”
A second successive takeover was completed by Ron Noades ahead of the 1998/99 season and he spent over £1.5 million on a lavish squad remodel, resulting in the Bees’ immediate promotion back to the third tier. But not everyone was a winner.
“Ron Noades came in and he brought Jason Pearcey in and made it fairly clear that I wasn’t going to figure too much,” Kevin added.
“I think Jason got injured and then he went and bought Andy Woodman, and it was clear that he didn’t rate me or didn’t want me, so it was time to look for pastures new. They won the Third Division that year but they were paying big money for Hermann Hreidarsson, Woodman and people like that.
“I think Noades was trying to prove a point that, as a chairman, he knew enough about football that he could be the manager and win the league. For me, the reason why they won was one, they had the money and two, in Ray Lewington, Terry Bullivant and Brian Sparrow, they had three excellent coaches. He tried to take a lot of the credit but those three were the reason.
“I suppose there was a little bit of disappointment because it had been my club for five years but I knew that I wasn’t part of it and I’d already decided to move on. I went on loan to Barnet and then to Huddersfield, who were right at the top of Division One at the time, because I wanted to be involved where someone did want me. I knew my time was up with Ron Noades in charge, so my contract came to an end and I left to sign for Wrexham.”
Though both have since dropped into non-league, Kevin spent the next three years with the Red Dragons and then four with Torquay, helping the latter to reach League One for the first time in their history in 2003/04. He played just six times in the historic season, though, which was ended early by a knee injury.
In fact, a 4-0 drubbing away at Blackpool on 7 December 2004 was the last time he would step out onto a pitch as a professional footballer.
“I don’t think I had much more to offer. I was struggling with my knee and the enjoyment had gone,” he added.
“I couldn’t really perform to the level that I wanted to, so at 35 I was happy to call it a day because I was finding it more and more difficult to cope with the training and the playing with my knee. It was inevitable.”
There was no chance he was dropping out of the game altogether, though. He ended the season voluntarily coaching at Torquay and, midway through 2006, made a surprise return to Griffin Park, which many may have forgotten.
“Leroy Rosenior took over at Brentford and I’d worked with him at Torquay. He asked me to come and do some goalkeeper coaching but that I could only do part-time, which was two days a week. I said I’d love to do it but if I got offered a full-time job, I’d have to take it and he said that was no problem. I did a couple of weeks and then Millwall offered me a full-time job. I would’ve loved to have stayed at Brentford coaching, but at the time the finances weren’t great and it was time to move on.”
Now, however, Kevin is back in his hometown of Luton. There was to be no homecoming during his playing days, but working within Graeme Jones’ coaching team as the club’s goalkeeping coach is the next best thing, albeit away from the spotlight.
“I left Leyton Orient after seven years and I’ve been Luton goalkeeper coach for coming up to five years. It’s a fantastic job, it’s a fantastic football club,” he said.
“We’ve been really successful over the last few years and there’s been a big upward curve, like Brentford. In many ways it’s a very similar club to Brentford; similar story, similar stadium move. We’re now in the Championship and it’s difficult because we are probably the smallest club in the division but we’ve worked hard over the last five years to get where we are and we’re enjoying the challenge.
“I’ve lived in Luton for a lot of my life, I was born here. It’s good to work for your hometown club but more so I enjoy the people I work for, the people I work with and enjoy the club that it is.”