Dean Richards was a former English defender who was born in Leeds on 9th June 1974. Richards began his career at Bradford, signing professional terms in 1992. That same year he made his debut as a 17 year-old against Bournemouth. Richards became a regular for The Bantams during 1993/94, establishing himself as one of the best young talents in the lower leagues.
In March 1995 Richards signed for Wolves for a fee which would eventually rise to £1,800,000. A few months after joining Graham Taylor's side, Richards received international recognition, earning four caps for England U21's in the Toulon Tournament. The former Bradford centre-back captained the Three Lions to victory in Brazil, but could do nothing to stop his team crashing out at the semi-final stage to France.
Richards' first full season at Molineux went fairly well on a personal level, although Wolves struggled to live up to expectations, finishing just above the Division One drop zone. The following campaign Richards helped the club to a 3rd place finish, although his season was severely dogged by injury. Richards had suffered a car crash, which damaged his knees and back. He also missed game time during 1997/98. When he wasn't plagued by fitness issues, Richards invariably put in some fine defensive performances. He was tracked by a number of big clubs, including Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle. On 1998/99 he managed to stave off any major injuries, before letting his Molinuex contract run-down. His final game for Wolves came against former club Bradford on 9th May 1999. The Bantams clinched promotion to the Premier League that day, in what was another disappointing season for Wolves.
In July 1999 Richards signed for Southampton on a Bosman free. The deal was a major coup for Dave Jones' Saints, who had beaten off competition from a number of bigger clubs to secure his signature. Richards settled in at the Dell with ease, forming a solid defensive partnership with Claus Lundekvam. The former Wolves man could match-up physically with anyone, but also read the game well. He made his Southampton debut in a 1-0 win over Coventry on 7th August 1999. In addition to his fine defensive qualities, Richards also proved to be a threat at the other end of the pitch, particularly at set-pieces. He netted five goals during 1999/2000, with his first coming in a 4-3 League Cup win over Manchester City on 21st September. Richards also scored winners at Aston Villa and Ipswich in the league. He was deservedly named Player of the Season in his first term at The Dell.
Richards continued his tremendous form into the 2000/01 season. He was part of Glenn Hoddle's well organised side that earned a mid-table finish thanks to a record number of clean sheets. Richards barely put a foot wrong all year, and was soon attracting attention from some of the Premier League's leading lights. He scored in a 2-2 draw at Sunderland on 11th November, before netting to put Saints 3-0 up in the 5th Round of the FA Cup at Tranmere on 20th February. Of course everyone knows what happened next. Saints blew that 3-0 lead, losing 4-3 to a Paul Rideout inspired Tranmere. What's worse, Richards missed a golden opportunity to pull the score back to 4-4, blasting over from a few yards out in the final minutes.
Throughout the summer of 2001 Richards was linked with a move back to Tottenham, who were now managed by Glenn Hoddle, who had defected to White Hart Lane from Southampton a few months previous. Saints Chairman Rupert Lowe played hard-ball however, engaging in a fierce war of words between the Spurs hierarchy. Richards had only recently signed a two-year extension to his Southampton contract, and remained at the club for the start of the 2001/02 season. The deal did eventually come to fruition however. On 21st September 2001 Richards completed an £8,000,000 move to Tottenham.
Richards made a flying start to his Spurs career, scoring on his debut against Manchester United on 29th September. In echoes of the Tranmere match, Richards' Tottenham surrendered a 3-0 lead to lose 5-3. That was a sign of things to come. Richards had his moments at White Hart Lane, but struggled to replicate his Southampton form on a regular basis. He received a frosty reception on his return to St Marys on Boxing Day 2001, with Spurs going down 1-0. On 1st January 2002 he bagged the winner against Blackburn. Richards missed Tottenham's run to the League Cup final, having played for Southampton in the 2nd round of the competition.
Richards struggled for form once again during 2002/03, with niggling injuries preventing the former England U21 international from reaching his full potential. Spurs continued to struggle into 2003/04, with Richards' displays deteriorating even further after his mentor Hoddle was sacked. He made what turned out to be his final ever Tottenham appearance on 2nd May 2004, a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa.
Richards announced his retirement from football in March 2005. The defender brought a premature end to his career after receiving evidence from doctors that it would be harmful to his health if he continued playing. He was told by a specialist that he could suffer a brain haemorrhage. Richards was suffering from frequent dizzy spells and headaches, which at the time were thought to be an inner-ear infection.
After hanging up his boots Richards gained his coaching qualifications, before returning to Bradford City, where he became a part-time youth coach in 2007.
On 26th February 2011 Richards was pronounced dead at St Gemma's Hospice in Leeds. The exact cause of death was never released to the public. Richards received warm tributes from the entire footballing family, but particularly from his former clubs. On 6th March 2011 there was a minute’s applause for Richards prior to a match between Wolves and Tottenham at Molineux. A number of former teammates and colleagues joined Richards' widow Samantha and sons Rio and Jaden in the centre circle. Ledley King represented Tottenham, Claus Lundekvam Saints, Matt Murray Wolves and Mark Lawn Bradford. James Beattie, Don Goodman, Dave Jones and Graham Taylor were also involved in the tributes.
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