There’s a new Dozzell in Town – and Jason’s determined to make life easier for son Andre
- Credit: Archant
In February 1984, Jason Dozzell became English football’s youngest ever top-flight goalscorer when netting on his Ipswich Town debut little more than a month past his 16th birthday. Now, almost 30 years later, his son Andre – just turned 14 – is considered one the most exciting prospects in the Suffolk club’s academy. STUART WATSON met the pair to talk past, present and future.
Jason Dozzell shakes his head with a rueful smile when he thinks back to his hectic start to life in football.
He vividly remembers spending his 14th birthday watching ‘fisticuffs’ almost break out in the front room of his Ipswich home as three clubs battled over his signature.
He recalls going back into Chantry High School in a daze after he became English football’s youngest ever top-flight goalscorer, netting on his debut for hometown club Ipswich Town aged just 16 years and 57 days.
And he also remembers dropping out of education just weeks before his final exams as his star quickly rose.
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Now he’s determined to make sure that his son Andre – who last month turned 14 and is earning rave reviews within Ipswich Town’s academy – will have a smoother time of it.
As we wait for Andre to join us in the early evening sunshine of Broke Hall School, where Jason works as an after-school football coach, he reflects on that crazy start to his career.
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“Nottingham Forest wanted me when I was 11 and I vaguely remember someone taking me there for a two-week trial,” he recalls. “I’m told they wanted me but I was too young, so I carried on playing in the Colchester Youth League.
“Three years later, Forest – managed by Brian Clough at the time – came back in for me. David Pleat’s Luton and John Lyall’s West Ham wanted me too.
“Representatives from all three clubs converged on my house on my 14th birthday and there was almost fisticuffs! In the end, Tony Dable – one of my teachers at Chantry and an Ipswich Town scout – came to calm things down.
“I was very close to joining West Ham, but in the end Ipswich made a last minute approach and I jumped at the chance. I’m not really sure why they hadn’t come in earlier.”
Such chaos was very much a taste of what was to come.
“I signed for Ipswich on schoolboy terms, played a few youth team games, then a few reserve team games and, within a couple of months, I was in the first team squad!” recalls Dozzell.
“I remember being pulled out of school on the Thursday to be told that I was needed at the club that weekend. Then, an hour before kick-off, I was told I’d be on the bench.”
What followed was Roy of the Rovers stuff. The local schoolboy is introduced by manager Bobby Ferguson off the bench and duly nets a late goal to seal a 2-0 win over Coventry City before getting mobbed on his way back down the tunnel.
It’s not the moment that the ball hit the net, or being mobbed as he headed down the tunnel that Dozzell remembers most vividly though. Instead it was the sudden attention that greeted his arrival back at school two days’ later.
“I look back now and think ‘how did I deal with all that at that?’” said Dozzell. “How did I cope with going back to school on the Monday and facing the cameras, with all my school mates crowded around? One minute I was a skinny kid kicking a ball about with my mates, the next minute I was playing in the First Division.
“I grew up without a dad, he moved over to America when I was little and I didn’t get to know him until I was 21. My mum was absolutely brilliant, but I didn’t have a lot of professional guidance.
“I left school in the Easter of my final year at school. I think the club should have made me stay on and it’s certainly something I still regret. There’s no way I’ll let that happen for Andre.”
Then, with perfect timing, the phone goes off. It’s Andre asking where we are. ‘We’re out the back,’ says father to son, in a tone which suggested ‘you’re late’. It turns out Dozzell junior hadn’t been late at all though, he’d just been waiting dutifully in the car park out the front.
The potential for a fatherly scalding quickly dissolves into a big smile. We begin to talk about Andre’s own dramatic progress through the youth ranks, how he joined at the academy at the age of eight, how he was in the Under-16 side at the age of 13 and on the bench for the Under-18s prior to his recent 14th birthday.
“It was so different when I was coming through,” says Dozzell. “There wasn’t even an academy then, I just trained one night a week on the pitch beside Portman Road with Allan Hunter. There were no games for the club, I just played for Suffolk at the weekends.
“Now they’ve got all these great facilities, sports scientists, nutritional advice, people making sure they keep up with their studies.
“I didn’t have that, but I’ve been through the process and some things don’t change. I’ll be keeping an eye on who he is hanging around with, keeping him on the right path and making sure I’m there for him if he’s feeling any pressure.
“He’s got a great mum who has seen it all with me. We’ll be making sure he keeps his feet on the floor and making sure he never stops working hard.”
He added: “It’s nice when people like Bryan Klug (academy director) are praising him, but the challenge is to maintain that. I’ve seen lots of kids who are promising at 14 fade away by the time they are 16.
“He’s come on leaps and bounds over the last year or so and I’m excited about how good he could be, but there’s a long way for him to go yet and we’re always reminding him that.”
The sharks are already circling around Andre Dozzell, but father Jason insists his boy will follow in his footsteps and stay at his beloved Ipswich Town.
Blues academy director Bryan Klug revealed recently that some of the best clubs in the land are looking at Andre following an impressive year of progress leading up to his 14th birthday.
A creative midfielder in the mould of his father, it’s been his quality and cleverness on the ball – not size – which has seen him fast-tracked through the age groups. A regular for the Under-16s as a 13-year-old, he finished last season on the bench for the Under-18s.
Jason, having made his Blues first team debut little more than a month after his 16th birthday, believes his son has the potential to be better than him. And that’s quite a statement from a man who made more than 500 Football League appearances and made a £1.9m move to Tottenham in his prime.
The teenager has already got an agent, but Jason would love nothing more than for his boy to fulfil his potential in Suffolk.
“I see a lot of me in him,” says the proud father. “The way he plays, his style of running – he will be better than me though.
“I’m not saying he will break through at the same age I did or anything like that, but I think he can be better than me, definitely.
“He’s creative, gets around the pitch and is a clever player. He always looks to play forwards and pick passes that others can’t see. He’s a player for the modern game.”
He added: “From day one he was mad for the ball. We just couldn’t stop him playing.
“He watches the game and studies it. We sit down and watch Match of the Day together and he comes out with stuff and I think ‘yeah, he knows what he’s talking about’.”
Having been involved in a tug of war between several clubs as a 14-year-old himself, Dozzell has responded to a year of phenomenal progress for his son by employing a representative.
“That was a bit weird for us to sort out and something I never thought would be happening at this time last year,” admits the ex Town and Spurs midfielder. “But that’s the way the game has gone and we as parents have to protect ourselves.
“I don’t want to do all that negotiating and worrying, I just want to be his parent.”
Which brings us to the million dollar question – can he see Andre moving on from the Blues?
“That would only have happened if Ipswich had got relegated this year,” he says. “I love this town and this club, but as parents we would have had to think about what his best options were.
“Everything is so positive at the moment though. Mick McCarthy has turned things around for the first team, Bryan Klug is back at the academy and the club has applied for Category One status. We are more than happy for him to stay.
“It’s no coincidence that since Bryan Klug has come back he’s gone from strength-to-strength.”
He added: “I grew up 300 yards from Portman Road and learnt the game kicking a ball around Alderman Park – my mum used to come and drag me home at 10pm every night.
“I was a huge Ipswich fan and went to all the games. Back in those days they used to open the gates at half-time and that’s when I used to go in. I still remember my first match vividly – it was a 7-1 win over West Brom (1976).
“I was a huge Ipswich fan and I still am. I’d love nothing more than for Andre to make it here.”
– Born in Ipswich and grew up near Portman Road.
– Attended Chantry High School and was a Blues fanatic.
– Spotted after prolific goalscoring for Langham Lions in the Colchester Youth League.
– Involved in a tug of war between West Ham, Nottingham Forest and Luton at the age of 14 before his boyhood club finally made a late move.
– Made his Ipswich Town debut on February, 4 1984 – aged 16 years and 57 days – when coming off the bench against Coventry at Portman Road. Became the English football’s youngest ever top-flight goalscorer (a record which still stands) by netting late on in that match.
– Became a regular in midfield over the coming seasons, suffering relegation in ‘86, but helping fire Town to promotion in ‘92.
– Moved to Spurs for £1.9m in 1993, but a succession of injuries limited him to less than 100 games in four years.
– After a brief loan spell back at Ipswich, finished his career at Northampton and Colchester.
– Played non-league for Canvey Island and Grays before managing Ipswich Wanderers and Leiston.
Height: 5ft 10in
– Ipswich Town organised a match for players they were looking at against a team of others. Andre – a St Johns player at the time – was in the ‘others’ team, but impressed so much they took him on for the Under-9s.
– Was promoted to the U16 side at the age of 13 and became a regular at that level last season.
– Finished the season on the bench for the U18s and travelled with the U17s to Belgium for an end-of-season tour.