the real fa cup

Diverging Paths

davemcewen.jpg This article was intended to be something quite different to how it’s turned out. The simple fact is, I am not a tabloid hack, I don’t ‘know the right people’ and I have been unable to find the man in question. And that’s despite signing up to pointless networking site LinkedIn, trawling Facebook for people of the same name, speaking to his former clubs and managers and even trying to locate team mates – I need to try harder on that last one. I do at least now have an ally on the case. Do your stuff Rookery Mike!

So, I am going to try a different tack. I’m going to lazily publish the preamble in a hope that it will trigger something in someone and I can then complete the piece as was intended.

If I mention the name Dave McEwen but a handful of Spurs and QPR fans will know it. A couple of Spurs’ supporting mates remembered it, after staring hard into the middle distance for a few seconds, past more recent memories of Jonathan Blondel and Mark Yeates. The odd Dulwich Hamlet fan over the age of 25 will certainly remember it and there may even be a few Hertford and Crawley fans who have distant bells ringing. That’s probably it though.

The McEwen footballing story of a promising youngster who didn’t quite make it will be familiar to a lot of fans and perhaps to quite a lot of not-quite-footballers who also never had the good game at the right time. However, this isn’t quite as simple as that because Dave had something to fall back on, which few young footballers do.

After 18 months in ‘Spurs’ youth and reserve teams, Peter Crouch said in his autobiography that, in early 2000, he had high hopes of making the grade at Tottenham. He was a well thought of, if ungainly, 19 year old and he felt he was progressing nicely towards the first team squad.

Although taking a slightly different route in to football, 22 year old McEwen was earning rave reviews banging in goals at South London’s Isthmian League behemoths Dulwich Hamlet. The upshot of the hot McEwen form was a rave review from Spurs Director of Football, David Pleat, and in January 2000 Dave’s footballing story took a somewhat dramatic course with a transfer from Hamlet to those mighty Spurs themselves!

Converseley, by March that year, Crouchy’s world was starting to unravel. Pleat didn’t much fancy him and he found himself loaned out to Dave’s former club, Dulwich, where the fans quickly and unkindly dubbed him the 20 Foot Chicken. Crouch scored on his debut in a 2-1 defeat to Billericay Town and it got steadily worse from there. No more goals and several defeats followed and Spurs sent him to Sweden to work on his dance moves.

Less than a month later while Crouch was perhaps beginning to realise the precarious nature of football, McEwen was, relatively, living the dream by replacing Steffen Iversen in a last gasp Premier League draw against Derby at White Hart Lane.

McEwen’s debut was perhaps more famous for the start-of-the-end for luxuriously coiffed Frenchman David Ginola, who was replaced by enthusiastic young buck Matt Etherington. Replacing God with a raw youngster at 1-0 down to a poor Derby team understandably enraged the WHL faithful and their reaction to this probably didn’t much help the other incoming sub. The reaction was, though, understandable because this act of blasphemy was meted out by ex-Gooner Stewart Houston, while standing in for fellow ex-Gooner boss, George Graham, who was convalescing in hospital.

Blazing a header over and missing a sitter was maybe not the ideal debut for McEwen but he had at least shown promise and had made his Premier League debut. He also, arguably, played his part in ratcheting up the pressure on a Derby goal that was finally breached in the last minute by Stephen Clemence to ensure a draw. Phew.

What could possibly go wrong now?

At the end of that season Dave had lived the dream by moving from non-league to Premier League in the twinkle of David Pleat’s eye *shudder* and could look forward to the promise of more appearances with the cockerel on his chest. Crouch, on the other hand, was informed he was surplus to requirements and was offloaded to QPR for a nominal fee that suggested he might be one of the many promising footballers who slipped slowly down the leagues and out of the game.

After a typically erratic start to a Spurs season, Dave might have expected to at least have got a shout before Christmas. Sir Les and Rebrov were failing to hit it off and Iversen was injured but George Graham was coming under huge pressure to produce and he wasn’t about to risk it on a young(ish) untried striker.

But then he did, begrudgingly. The call didn’t come until January when Graham was desperate, Les’ ageing body was starting to fail and Iversen was crocked (again). Even then a rather unhappy Rebrov first ploughed a lone furrow in George Graham’s plans.

Having finally got the nod, Dave played in three successive games that January, all scoreless draws in which he barely got a sniff. But he was getting important Premier League game time under his belt, it was just a matter of time.

Across London, Crouch had made a fairly inauspicious start to his QPR career but that was suddenly shot in the arm by six goals in six winter games. It was now 2001 and, very briefly, things were looking decidedly rosy for both men.

However, after the brief spring awakening, QPR’s form suddenly caved in and they went on to be relegated from the Championship, with Crouch scoring just 3 goals in the last 21 games of the season. McEwen never added to his three January games, never got any more game time and couldn’t impress the boss enough to extricate himself from the reserves.

At the end of the 2001 season Spurs kept on French youngster Yannick Kamanan and added Teddy Sheringham to the squad. There was no room for McEwen and his contract was not renewed. With just 12 goals in a relegated team, things also looked uncertain for Crouch.

And then old man Sackalot turned up at Portsmouth. Pompey had just avoided the same fate as QPR in the Championship but had come into some money we now know Milan Mandaric didn’t actually have. Well, whatever happened, Portsmouth certainly didn’t have it, anyway.  With an illogical leap of faith, not to mention stretch of wallet, Pompey shelled out a frankly astonishing £1.5million on QPR’s 10 goal bean pole which, ironically, allowed QPR to sign his replacement in the form of one Dave McEwen.

What happened to Crouchy after that is the stuff of robots and a swirling, whirling round of odd and expensive transfers that saw him pitch up back at the place his career appeared to have ended, Spurs. But what happened to Dave McEwen? It could be said that McEwen’s QPR career was as uneventful as his Spurs career. He made six appearances and not only were none of them victories, Dave failed to find the net and was released the following year.

A spell at Hertford Town followed but Dave’s professional football career was over at the age of 25. This was particularly impressive given he’d only arrived in it at the age of 23. But, although the fact of losing a footballer’s career at the age of 25 might not be unique, where Dave’s story is fairly unique is the reason I wanted to find him. Dave’s late arrival in football was entirely down to his decision to complete his Business Degree at the University of London.

Unlike Peter’s response, some years later, to the question ‘what would you be if you weren’t a footballer?’, Dave would have had a fairly good idea and would not have needed the cartoon response of  ‘a virgin’. Dave’s educational foresight at getting ejukated before his football career is not unique in football down the years but it is pretty rare these days, especially for one who played in the Premier League.  Shaka Hislop, Iain Dowie, Steve Palmer, Brian McClair, Barry Horne, David Wetherall, David Weir and Matty Lawrence are on a pretty short list of University educated footballers. That’s a decent list and is by no means exhaustive but it’s a pretty poor tally from the last 25 years of football.

A University education is not the be all and end all of forging a career outside of football but the perennial alternative is staying in the game in some capacity or opening a pub. Those paths are often the privilege of the successful player, the ones who fall out of the game early are rarely so lucky and often have little to fall back on.

Dave though, did. And this is where the trail starts to go cold. I spoke to a few people who he would have encountered towards the end of his pro career, emailed a few old managers and all I could ascertain from a few people was “he works in the city now”. Although exceptionally vague, it was very promising. “The City”! Was Dave now a trader? Was he a big-wig in a bank somewhere? I still don’t know. Please help me find him so I can find out.

Cheers, Damon.

————————– to be continued …

  1. The collapse of Portsmouth had little do with Mandaric personally. Pompey got lucky that he provided a few loans when other Div 1 clubs were struggling due to collapse of ITV Digital. Judas Redknapp also did well to sign some experienced players on frees, and not only that got their previous clubs to pay a % of their wages. It went wrong when Mandaric sold to Gaydamak who lent the club more money secured against…well not much….so when Standard Bank got wind of this, they called the debt in. What then followed was then a litany of creditors and bandits.

    Mandaric had his faults, but the club didn’t overspend then, and actually Mandaric turned a tidy profit for himself when he sold the club.


    • Couldn’t agree more, this was written some time ago when things were less clear, for me at least. I would update the piece but seems pointless when people such as your goodself are providing context. Thanks for doing so.

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