Book Review

Kieron Dyer’s autobiography, Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late, is currently being serialised in the Daily Mail. Passages relating to former Hammers Craig Bellamy and Lee Bowyer, and Dyer’s own time in east London have been collated here.

Craig Bellamy

“There was one game where Sir Bobby Robson brought Craig Bellamy off early because he thought the game was won and he wanted to save Craig’s legs. When we got back to the changing room, Craig was cursing about how he was always the first one to be hooked. Sir Bobby grew exasperated and said: ‘Will you shut up.’ Craig kept jabbering away about the injustice and finally Sir Bobby snapped. ’I’ll squash you, son, like an ant.’ Craig looked a bit taken aback but after a brief pause, started complaining again. ‘Who are you?’ Sir Bobby said. ‘Ronaldo, Romario, Stoichkov, Hagi, Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Gascoigne: these are the people I deal with. And who are you?’ The changing room went quiet. Even Craig went quiet. And then Craig looked over at me and said: ’He’s got a point, hasn’t he?’”

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“We had played Charlton and Graeme Souness had substituted Craig Bellamy. The TV cameras caught Craig muttering ‘f****** p****’ in his direction as he walked off. Souness didn’t see or hear it, but when he was shown footage, he was livid. Craig had been warned by Dean Saunders, Souey’s assistant, not to answer back, but it wasn’t in Craig’s make-up to keep quiet. He started protesting that there hadn’t been any argument. ‘See, this is the problem,’ Souness said. I could see he was about to go. He mentioned a few of the trophies he had won and some of the clubs he had played for. ‘And then someone like you calls me a f****** p****,’ he said to Craig. ‘I’ll f****** knock you out.’ He tried to grab Craig by the throat. ‘In the gym now,’ he said. ‘Let’s sort this out like men.’ Alan Shearer had to pull Souness off him. That was the first time in my life I’ve seen Bellers completely speechless. They never made it to the gym, but it knocked the stuffing out of Craig. Souness had put down a marker.”

With Souness and Bellamy’s relationship reaching breaking point (and after David Gold talked up a potential move for Bellamy to Birmingham in January 2005, saying personal terms and a medical were a mere formality), the Welshman joined Celtic on loan. After spells at Blackburn and Liverpool, Bellamy joined the Hammers in the summer of 2007; his nine goals for the club can be viewed in my video below:

Lee Bowyer

Dyer famously had an on-pitch brawl with Bowyer in April 2005, during a Newcastle match against Aston Villa at St James’ Park. Bowyer had played for the Hammers in the second half of the 2002/03 campaign and returned to Upton Park in the summer of 2006, departing for Birmingham in 2009.

“I could see him marching towards me, eyes bulging. Graeme Souness was shouting ‘don’t do it’ from the touchline but Lee Bowyer kept on coming. I grabbed him by the shoulders and the neck to keep him off me and then he started raining in punches. It was like slow motion. When the punches were hitting me in the head, I was thinking: ‘I cannot believe he is hitting me in front of 52,000 people. What the f*** is he thinking?’ I was trying to let him punch himself out. I thought it was just going to be handbags. It’s the kind of thing that might happen in training but not in a match. No one in their right mind would do that — but Bow had lost his mind. I think he hit me four times. The punches didn’t hurt but by the time the fourth punch came in, I thought ‘f*** this’ and launched one back at him. Gareth Barry rushed in to restrain Bow and drag him away. Bow’s shirt was ripped down to his chest and he was still snarling and snapping and trying to get himself free. I was relatively calm, but I looked over at Bow again and he was frothing and raging. I didn’t realise that you could get sent off for fighting your team-mate. The referee came over and showed me the red card. Then he sent Bow off, too. The crowd had been on our case because we were 3-0 down at home to Aston Villa. On the pitch, tempers were fraying. Bowyer had come to show for the ball. He was available, but I thought there were better options and passed to another team-mate. Bowyer went crazy. ‘F****** pass me the ball,’ he screamed. ‘What are you talking about?’ I said. ‘You never pass me the ball,’ he said. I told him to do one but he chuntered a bit more. A few minutes later, he wanted me to lay it square to him. I thought there were better options. It wasn’t personal. Bow went absolutely nuts. ‘F****** hell,’ he yelled, ‘you never pass me the ball.’ ‘The reason I don’t pass you the ball,’ I said, ‘is because you’re f****** s***.’ His whole demeanour changed. He had gone and I knew he had gone. I’d always got on well with him. I still do. The media have portrayed him in a certain way, and sure, he had his moments.”

Injury Hell

The 28-year-old Dyer signed for West Ham United on 16th August 2007 in a deal believed to be worth in the region of £6m. He played the full 90 minutes in his first two games in claret and blue, a 1-0 win at Birmingham and 1-1 home draw with Wigan, but disaster struck at Bristol Rovers in a League Cup second round match when Dyer broke both the tibia and fibula of his right leg following a tackle by Joe Jacobsen.

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“Breaking my leg in 2007 was the beginning of a long, debilitating, dispiriting process that killed my career. It led to the West Ham hierarchy trying to shame me, because I played so few games for the club. I’d tell any young injured player to get the best person available to look after you. West Ham didn’t feel it was necessary to do that. I wish I’d taken control and stuck up for myself. You start to hate yourself because you can’t get back to doing the thing you love – and you get slammed by the press, owners and fans.”

Dyer made his return just over 16 months later as a substitute in a 3-0 FA Cup third round home win against Barnsley. He didn’t start a match until April 2009. He didn’t score in 35 appearances for the club and donned the claret and blue for the final time as a substitute in a 3-1 League Cup semi-final second leg defeat at Birmingham in January 2011.

“After I left West Ham, joint chairman David Gold said I had cost the club £16million in fees and wages. That was a classy touch. When Gold and David Sullivan bought the club they talked about the extraordinary wages West Ham were paying and how one player who had barely played ought to have the decency to retire. The arrow was pointing right at me. West Ham fans would say what a waste of money I was. I didn’t score a goal for them in four years and didn’t play four or five games on the trot, ever. But you know what? Every time I went out there, they were brilliant with me and I will always remember that. It kills me that they didn’t even see a fraction of what I once was.”

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Dyer goes on to discuss how he became embarrassed to say he had an injury, saying that he had played on after suffering an injury on more than one occasion to avoid the “shame” of walking off the pitch.

“Later at West Ham I felt my thigh pop with my last kick of training. My heart sank. I was in pain but it was nothing compared to the dread, disappointment and embarrassment flooding over me. I couldn’t tell the physio so I said my thigh was tight, even though I knew I’d pulled it. I was trying to convince myself too. On the morning of our first game of the 2009/10 season [at Wolves] we did a fitness test in the hotel corridor. Stabbing pains were shooting through my thigh with every stride I took but somehow I passed and played with a grade one tear in my thigh.”

Dyer had a loan spell at Ipswich in 2011 as the Hammers struggled vainly against relegation and moved permanently to QPR on a free transfer in the summer of that year.

“After QPR, I knew it was over. I wasn’t sad when I stopped. People ask if I miss playing and the answer is that I don’t. Not because I didn’t love the game, but because in the last five years of my career, I was never fit and always doing rehab. It was miserable. I got used to missing football. It’s not like it all came to a sudden stop. I was delighted that I didn’t have to feel embarrassed in front of my family any more. I was relieved I didn’t have to feel embarrassed about myself in front of the fans any more. I was delighted I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of the physios any more. I’d had enough of letting people down. When people pour scorn on players like Darren Anderton, Michael Owen and Daniel Sturridge because of their injury record, I don’t think they realise how much embarrassment there is when you injure yourself.”

Dyer, now 39, retired after a short spell at Middlesbrough in 2013.

Adapted from Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late by Kieron Dyer with Oliver Holt, published on February 22 by Headline at £20. As serialised in the Daily Mail.