Life after football for Dean Ashton
Dean Ashton was a man many believed had the potential to make it to the top in English football; he was even touted as the next ‘Alan Shearer‘ in the international set-up.
Having come through the ranks at Crewe, Ashton was a highly rated striker, who got his move to the Premiership when Norwich signed him in January 2005. Relegation, and subsequently a poor start to life back in the Championship, meant that when West Ham United came calling with a £7 million bid, Ashton felt his time had come to prove he had what it took to make it at the top level of English football. How cruel then, that just a couple of years later, and after months of agonising injury problems, Ashton was forced to retire from the game just after his 26th birthday, knowing he never really reached the potential he knew he had in the game.
Ashton has now returned to Norfolk, where he lives just minutes away from City’s Colney training ground. Despite spending only a year at Norwich, Ashton reveals his fondness for the City, and why he’s chosen to come back to the area:
“I met my wife when I played for Norwich and she moved with me to Essex, so it was obviously a natural thing to come back because her family was here – and also my mum and dad come here a lot and it just fitted really well.
“I loved the place when I was here and I think even if I had not met my wife when I was here the first time, I really would have considered moving back on my own. I think a lot of ex-players do that because it is such a lovely place.”
Ashton joined City from Crewe in January 2005, as the Canaries were mid-way through their Premier League adventure. He instantly became a hit, scoring some crucial goals – remember the goals against Manchester United and Newcastle at home? – as City tried to avoid the drop, but suffered the agony of relegation when City collapsed in devastating fashion against Fulham on the last day of the season. After the match, as Ashton walked onto the Craven Cottage pitch to applaud the City fans, he was visibly upset by what had just happened, and despite fears he would leave in the summer, Ashton pledged to stay at Norwich and help City fight their way out of the Championship.
Unfortunately things did not start well, and as City struggled to adjust to life back in the second tier of English football, the big clubs began to circle. In January 2006, when City were mid-table and looking increasingly unlikely to mount a promotion challenge, West Ham tested City’s resolve with a £7 million offer. In reality it was a no-brainer; City could not afford to turn down the money, and Ashton knew it was his opportunity to get back into the Premiership.
Many City fans were disappointed with the way in which Ashton left – two weeks prior to his move to Upton Park, Ashton was due to play in an FA Cup tie for City against West Ham, but pulled out at the last minute due to an injury. Some fans didn’t believe that Ashton was injured, and was merely ensuring he wasn’t cup-tied for West Ham when the move came, and when months later Ashton returned for a pre-season game against City, he was roundly booed by sections of the home fans. Ashton however, wants to set the record straight on the move to West Ham:
“I honestly had a groin injury. I can swear on my boys’ lives. I didn’t even know about the West Ham move until after the game. I absolutely loved my time at Norwich. I was surprised by how well I was taken to by the fans.
City more than doubled their money when Ashton left for West Ham a year on
“Definitely I would’ve stayed. I wanted to stay at Norwich but the main reason I left was because I think we were mid-table at the time. Mid-table – we would’ve had to have gone on an incredible run to go up and that’s another year without Premier League football. At that stage of my career and my age I thought I had got to move on.
“I was really sad to leave but I felt like I had to do that at the time. The club were really good because although they wanted me to stay, they realised it was such a good deal after just one year, to double their money and more.”
This was Ashton’s chance to shine, and he started well at West Ham, even scoring in their FA Cup final defeat to Liverpool at the end of the season.
Ashton was then called into the England squad for the first time in August 2006, the pinnacle of his career so far, but then disaster struck. In his first training session, a collision with Shaun Wright-Phillips led to Ashton breaking his left ankle. A cruel blow for a player who had waited so long for a chance at international level.
Ashton missed the whole of the following season, although fought back to make 35 appearances for West Ham during the 2007-08 season. He scored 11 goals, and earned himself a new five-year contract.
Things seemed to be looking better for Ashton, but then in September 2008, he broke down again in training. Rumours began that Ashton would have to consider retiring from the game, but Ashton refused to comment, saying he was determined to fight his way back.
Ashton had surgery on his ankle in February 2009, and then West Ham manager, Gianfranco Zola, said they were happy with the “slow but steady progress” Ashton was making.
However, it soon became apparent that this was a problem Ashton could not fight back from. He was told he was suffering from chronic degeneration of the ankle, and that if he was to continue playing, he may face the prospect of not being able to walk properly in the future.
For Ashton, then came the toughest decision of his career, but with a family to consider and his long-term health an issue, the inevitable decision to retire was made.
Nine months on, and Ashton says it is still too soon to decide his next career move, but says the difficult road back will begin at his adopted home club,
“I haven’t been to a game since I retired, but I really want to get back. It sounds really bad, but I wasn’t bothered, but I definitely will try to get to as many Norwich games as I can and start taking my little boy, Ethan, as well.
“I really would love to go and watch. With two young children it’s hard to get down, but I definitely will. I just haven’t had the urge yeT, but I want to get down there.”
Ashton acknowledges he was lucky to have played at the highest level, but for him, it is tough knowing he never reached the heights he was so capable of, admitting that not knowing just what he might have achieved will “grate forever.”
life after football