Beer bellies, banter and showboating – The story of three ex Premier League stars playing for Whitton United Veterans
- Credit: Archant
Whitton United became the galacticos of veterans football when signing three ex Premier League stars in the form of Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramble and Carlos Edwards. STUART WATSON spoke to the former Ipswich Town trio about what it was like playing together, why the band broke up and who the next big signing could be.
What would happen if you put three former Premier League players in the same regional veterans team? In Ipswich, we got to find out.
Over the space of three years, Whitton United became the galacticos of the Norfolk and Suffolk Veterans’ Football League when recruiting ex Town trio Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramble and Carlos Edwards.
Between them, they have amassed more than £20m in transfer fees, racked up 500+ top-flight appearances and amassed 125 international caps. All currently aged between 38 and 41, they are at the younger end of the scale for Over-35s football too.
What unfolded is exactly what you’d imagine. First though, the story of how they came together.
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“Tesfaye (Bramble, the ex Southend striker) is the manager and he was always harping onto (younger brother) Titus and me about signing as soon as we turned 35,” explains former England and Newcastle star Dyer, 41. “I went ‘yeah, yeah’, but didn’t actually think I would.
“One summer there was a charity day at Whitton, bouncey castles and all that, and I agreed to play in a little friendly game. I came on, was running at full pelt and this guy called Dom got me with a fair tackle. The pitch was like concrete and when I fell I dislocated my shoulder.
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“I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want everyone to see I was hurt, with it being a fun day, so I just had to style if off. When we got back in the changing room afterwards I then had to say ‘lads, someone is going to have to take me to hospital’. I ended up having an operation three weeks later and was thinking ‘I’m definitely not playing vets football!’.
“But then Titus said he was going to sign so I thought ‘ah, go on then’. I’m a Whitton boy so that was a big factor.”
Ex Newcastle, Wigan and Sunderland defender Bramble, 38, adds: “My brother was the driving force behind convincing me to play. I really enjoyed it so I convinced Kieron to sign, then further down the line we asked Carlos if he’d come and play because we knew he still played Saturdays and we saw him a lot all coaching up at the (Ipswich) academy.”
Dyer continues: “To start with it surprised people. I wouldn’t go out for the warm-up until five minutes before kick-off and I could see the opposition looking across at us and thinking ‘is that Kieron and Titus?!’ It was funny.
“We didn’t know how people would take it, but apparently the feedback on Twitter was like ‘you’ll never just guess who we played against!’. I think they enjoyed playing against us just as much as we did playing again.”
Asked if Sunday football lives up to the stereotype of out-of-shape blokes turning up with hangovers, Dyer says: “Yeah, that’s mostly our team! Half of them turn up straight from the night before I think. You do see some proper beer bellies. There are some teams where their youngest player is 45, so that’s obviously a major disadvantage to them.
“One thing we worried about was someone thinking they’d got an opportunity to snap an ex Premier League player, but everyone has been really respectful. You get fouled and they pick you up and can’t apologise enough. The response has been really good.”
Bramble adds: “I was known for being a big tackler, so I don’t think anyone would try it with me. Kieron and Carlos are different though. They’re both rapid and slight, so could get taken out. Everyone seems to play in the right spirit though.
“A lot of the guys we play against are Ipswich Town fans, so to have the chance to play against us is great for them. There’s lots of joking around and banter. They probably never dreamt of playing against three ex Premier League players, so it’s fun for them.”
In Dyer and Bramble’s first season together, Whitton won the double. The duo then persuaded fellow Ipswich Town academy coach Edwards to sign and Whitton won the treble.
“There were a few 14-0s and 15-0s,” admits Dyer, when asked what the biggest wins were. “I guess some teams didn’t find it fun. At the start of this season, I think some of them got together and were trying to get a rule where you could only have so many ex players but the league said no. All I’d say is that there aren’t many people who can say they’ve played in a game against three ex Premier League players.”
Former Trinidad & Tobago international Edwards, who played for the likes of Wrexham, Luton and Sunderland and Millwall, says: “A couple of teams gave us good battles, but generally we were too strong. Whatever level I have competed at I’ve always wanted to win. As a young kid I used to cry when I lost. I don’t cry now... but it still hurts.”
“I still have that competitive edge,” admits Bramble. “Even if I’m playing one-v-one against my nephew in the garden I still want to win. That’s my nature. We were on for the treble again this season before it all got called off. Winning cups and titles is still a buzz to me.
“Kieron does this frustrating thing where he goes through one-on-one then turns to look for a square pass, but there’s generally never anyone there because they can’t keep up. Then the defenders get back or the keeper gets it off him.
“Don’t let Kieron fool you into thinking he isn’t still competitive though. Trust me, he will have a proper moan and sulk if he thinks we’re not passing the ball properly or playing the right brand of football.”
“Yep, that’s Kieron in a nutshell,” says Edwards. “If he has the ball on the goalline for a tap-in he’ll still try and cut it back to the halfway line. He glides past people so easily, it’s like he’s not even trying. I honestly think he could still play at the top level.”
Dyer laughs. “It’s true, I don’t score!” he admits. “I run all the way through and then turn back to try and assist. The lads get in a mood with me if, say, it is 1-1 and I am still refusing to shoot when clear through one-on-one.
“I didn’t always stick to that though. One game we were winning 2-1 with about 30 minutes gone. Titus went to play me a ball and some guy nipped in front of me to intercept. It was good defending, fair play, but then he walked back past me a few seconds later and went ‘Dyer, come out of my pocket’. I thought ‘ah, okay, you want to play do you?’. Eight minutes later I’d scored a hat-trick!”
The 33 cap England international adds: “I’ve seen Titus score about five or six goals from the halfway line. If the keeper is off their line he just pings it over their head!
“The problem with Titus though is that he doesn’t want to run so he’s always playing the offside. That’s why we’d hardly ever keep clean sheets. He plays at the back still but he gets bored and starts trudging up front to get a goal. That can cause us problems.”
“Yeah... that all happens,” admits Bramble. “When we played together professionally Kieron always used to tell me to have a go from long-range but I didn’t want to because it looks terrible if it doesn’t come off.
“In vets football you can try things with the pressure off. Is it taking the piss? I don’t know. If I see a keeper off his line then I’m going to have a pop.”
He continues: “Yes, I do still like the odd forward run. The only difference now is the time it takes for me to get back afterwards. I go back in stages; five minutes as striker, five minutes in midfield, then finally back to defence.
“Kieron’s right about me loving the offside trap. We don’t have proper linesmen, so I find if you just stand there with your arm raised, shout really loud and give the them the evil stare then you can get away with a few!”
Edwards adds: “Titus looks for the big 60/70 yard diagonal every time. Or sometimes he just tries to score from the halfway line. I’ve seen quite a few go in. He’s the Maldini of vets football.”
Incredibly, Edwards, now 41, was managing to play despite having turned out for Woodbridge Town in the Eastern Counties League a day earlier.
“Carlos is super fit,” says Bramble. “He’ll play 90 minutes on a Saturday, come on for us on the Sunday and still be running around. It’s crazy. You’re thinking ‘how does this guy do it?’”
“That’s the million dollar question mate!” says the man himself. “I don’t know. My body feels fine still, I feel fit. I’m no spring chicken anymore though – I’m 41 going on 42. I can’t run around like a gazelle anymore. You’ve got to be clever. I look like I’m running, but really I’m just reading the game and anticipating where the ball is going to go.”
“It takes me four days to recover,” says Bramble. “I run around like I’m 18 during the game but the next few days my body knows about it. I can barely even walk on the Monday I’m that stiff.”
Dyer adds: “Do you know what, since I’ve played vets football I’ve never done my hamstring. I’ve always maintained a good level of natural fitness, but it takes me a lot longer to physically recover now. For two days afterwards I can hardly move.”
Bramble is now into his fourth season with Whitton, who also have experienced non-league players such as Ashley Nicholls (who played for Darlington and Cambridge United), Shane Wardley, David Head, Dwayne Wright and Kevin Ingalls. However, Dyer and Edwards are no longer involved. Edwards spends his Sundays coaching Sudbury’s Under-13s, while Dyer has signed for Great Blakenham... In Division Five.
“The reason I joined Whitton was to play with all my really best mates,” he explains. “They all got binned off though, because better players came in, so my mate started a new team in the bottom division and I’ve joined them.”
He adds: “One of the things footballers talk about missing the most is the changing room banter and the social side of it. Playing vets football gives you that. We play early afternoon, then it’s both teams back in the club house afterwards to watch Super Sunday.”
Bramble concurs. “I love the social side of it. Sometimes in the pro game they are just your team-mates. If you’re having a go at someone you’re not always sure how they’ll take it because they don’t really know you. You start playing football with your mates and it’s great to have come full circle in that respect.”
“It’s just great fun,” says Edwards. “If you don’t see your mates during the week then it’s good chance to catch up and have a few beers afterwards. I think everyone should play football as long as they can.”
The trio may have disbanded, but vets sides in Suffolk shouldn’t be breathing a sigh of relief just yet.
“I’ve been trying to tap up Darren Ambrose,” reveals Bramble, who has been messaging the former Town, Newcastle, Charlton and Crystal Palace star on social media. “His boy plays up at the Ipswich academy so every time I bump into him I say ‘come and play for us’. When the season starts again I’ll be trying to convince him. Who needs Kieron Dyer when you’ve got Darren Ambrose!”