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Dobson: Bolton exit could have ended career before I joined Burnley
YAYA Toure and the case of the absent birthday greeting. Modern day football is a world away from Martin Dobson’s era.
“Not getting a birthday cake when you’re on £250,000 a week... you’ve got to laugh about all this,”said the former midfielder, whose first weekly wage was a small fraction at £14.
But the Burnley great would not swap his life, his time, for the fame and fortune of today’s Premier League stars.
“We had it when it was there,” said Dobson, who started out at Bolton Wanderers, had two spells at Burnley either side of a move to Everton before ending his playing career as player-manager of Bury.
“When I went to Everton I was on less than £200 a week, but it was decent money at that time.
“That’s how it was.
“I’m delighted with the way my career has gone. No regrets whatsoever... I’m so lucky it’s untrue.
“I’m not one of those jealous guys who look at it now with players on hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.”
In truth, Dobson would probably have even paid to play, such was his love of the game.
There are framed photographs in the hallway of his home in Horwich. Permanent reminders of his life in football.
A black and white image of him lifting the Second Division trophy as captain of Burnley stands out from the rest.
In the lounge, a painting of a match night at Turf Moor has pride of place on the wall.
Football has always had his heart, and it beats strongly for Burnley. Small wonder, considering he was employed by them three times – twice as a player, once as head of youth development.
Born in Blackburn, with a family engineering business in the town and family home in nearby Rishton, Ewood Park was a regular haunt for him and his father, Stanley, in the 1950s and 60s.
“My dad was a Blackburn Rovers supporter so I used to go with him to watch them,” said Dobson, who from the terraces admired Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas and his wish to be a professional footballer took hold.
It was nurtured at school, Clitheroe Royal Grammar, where he says he ‘sneaked in’ on the strength of his older brother Philip being a model pupil.
“It was a good school because it was great for sport,” said Dobson, who started out as a striker.
“I got in their first XI at 14 years old and actually succeeded my brother, who was just going to university then. I stayed there and did my A-levels so there was a Dobson playing centre forward for the first XI at Clitheroe Grammar School for nine years.”
Before the advent of centres of excellence and academies, it was where he was first spotted by club scouts, with Bolton Wanderers the first to register their interest.
“They were in the Second Division, which of course now is the Championship. A fellow called Frank Pickford, Bolton’s chief scout, saw me then playing for Lancashire Schoolboys.
“I remember him coming on a Sunday afternoon and wanting me to sign for Bolton as an apprentice, when Bill Ridding was manager.”
Denied the chance to explore a career in football with Blackburn Rovers because of his own father’s wishes, Stanley Dobson said he would never stand in the way of his sons if the opportunity arose.
He was a man of his word, just as he was to Bolton when there were competitors for a young Martin’s signature.
Dobson said: “Manchester City and Arsenal and one or two others came in, including Burnley, and they said, ‘You haven’t signed anything so you can come and play for us’.
“But my dad had shook hands with Bolton’s chief scout and he said that was it: a gentleman’s agreement.
“And there was an agreement for a professional contract with Bolton at the end of my two years as an apprentice.
“You learned from your parents.
“He was an honourable man; straight as a die.
“He and my mother, Annie, were very supportive.
“Of course you get parents now shouting and screaming from the sidelines.
“But they would just come and support and enjoy it.”
On leaving school at 18, after A-levels, Dobson also graduated from his apprenticeship to sign the promised professional contract with Bolton in 1966.
It was supposed to be the beginning.
But it was almost the end.
“I started off okay because I was so enthusiastic,” he said.
“I was getting paid £14 a week and they were in what is now the Championship – the old Second Division. But my confidence started going and I wondered why.”
Dobson had put himself under pressure to perform.
“I had to really succeed because before it was all about enjoying myself and now I was getting paid,” he continued.
“I wondered why my form had gone, and I worried, and that affected me more. I wasn’t enjoying training. It was more training rather than coaching, although I didn’t know it at the time because I’d never had any professional coaching before.
“But it was all running and there was nothing with the ball.
“The season started but I was never getting any touches of the ball because there was nothing on the floor, it was all in the air.
“At the end of the season I got a free transfer.
“That was a big learning curve for me because it really made me stand on my own feet and sort it out.
“I had to do it with help from other people as well.”
His father was at the forefront, after having to deliver the bad news himself.
“The manager didn’t actually say anything. He sent me a recorded delivery letter more or less saying, ‘Thanks very much, goodbye’,” Dobson recalled.
“My dad opened it up because it was a recorded delivery letter. We’d never had one of these in our lives.
“He knew it was serious.
“I came back into the room after being with my mates and he sat me down on the settee.
“It was emotional because my dad knew I would be disappointed.
“Had he said then, ‘Well Martin you’re obviously not good enough, they’re the professionals, they know what they’re talking about, you’ll have to find something else to do’, then that would have been it.
“We had the engineering business which I could have gone into. Jobs were available at that time.
“If he’d have said that I would have gone down that path and played part-time or amateur football. Nelson had come in for me.
“I wanted to carry on playing in some capacity.
“But my dad said, ‘I think you deserve another chance, son. Why don’t we get in touch with Burnley Football Club’.”
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