“It was funny,” Dean Gordon begins to detail how Crystal Palace brought the lad - who went to school in Thornton Heath and grew up in Norbury - across from White Hart Lane.
“I was travelling to Spurs’ stadium twice-a-week with a lad called Mark Waldron, who was also a Croydon lad.
“Looking back on it now, being 14-years-old, travelling from East Croydon all the way up, on the train, on the tube and on the bus for a good year was a good grounding for me – I had to grow up really quickly.
“I wasn’t one of the better players for Spurs,” this grounded attitude is present throughout the interview with Gordon – clearly a character with principles embedded in work ethic and a desire to succeed.
“When I became an Under-16s player,” he recollects the setup with a surprising amount of detail, “Tottenham had two youth teams at the time: one in the South Eastern Counties Division One and they had a second youth team in Division Two.
“The Division Two side was made up mainly of schoolboys and first year scholars – or ‘apprentices’ is what they were called at the time.”
This is when Palace enter the frame. Gordon was, naturally, chosen to play county football, too, and during a game for Surrey he was “picked out by a Crystal Palace scout.”
Then, just a couple of weeks later, Gordon’s Spurs youth team headed to Selhurst Park to face league rivals, Crystal Palace.
“When I went to the Mitcham Training Ground to play against Palace – a team which had Gareth Southgate, Jamie Moralee, Simon Osborn and lots more names like that - I knew they were interested in me from a few weeks back and I knew there would be quite a lot of people watching.”
Needless to say Gordon put on a performance for the onlooking employees of his local club and says “after that game, I moved from Spurs to Palace because I wasn’t signed on proper forms at Tottenham.
“Obviously, it was my local side and Mitcham was three or four miles from where I lived and Palace showed me a bit of love and for me that just made it a no-brainer.”
No more daunting trips from south to north London, Patsy Gordon knew the area that her boy would now be looking to ply his trade in and that must’ve brought comfort. We mention Patsy by name because when we told a few of the longest-serving Palace staff we’d be speaking to Dean, her name tended to be their first point of recollection – an ever-present around Selhurst Park, supporting her boy throughout the years.
“My mum is better known than I am!” Dean Gordon amusingly confirms. “If I see Wrighty or Brighty they’re always asking how my mum is doing!”
With Gordon’s footballing career and life off it now finding him residing in Sunderland, his mum remains firmly south London and proud: “My mum still lives in Norbury. I enjoy coming back to London – I do miss it: the hustle and the bustle.
“Growing up around the area, being a Thornton Heath-Croydon-Norbury lad, going to St Mary’s High School in West Croydon, I’ve got some really great memories of the area.”
Whether this next memory can be classed as great is questionable. Let’s place it under: important.
“One thing I do remember really well to this day is my first youth team game for Palace,” Gordon kick starts recollections of his start to life in the famous red and blue. “We played Northampton away and we got beat. Alan Smith was the manager and he absolutely ripped in to the team. It was my first experience of a manager completely losing it.
“We were holed up in the changing room for an hour after the game and Alan was ‘effin’ and blindin’. I remember sitting there, as a lad still at school, hoping that he wouldn’t see me - I was kind of laughing because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Gordon reveals this is a story he tells fairly frequently, and it’s an anecdote he has carried with him as part of his coaching today. “It was an excellent grounding because from then on I knew what I needed to do to fit into the side and make it as a footballer.
“Alan Smith was a massive part of my footballing education. When I played for the Reserves, Alan was the manager. When I played for the first-team, Alan was the manager. [Gareth] Southgate is someone else who looks up to Alan as an influence on his career.
“A lot of the things I learnt from Palace in those days I use in my coaching now – particularly the psychological aspects of the game and the sacrifices you’ve got to give to make it in the game. That grounding left me in good stead for the rest of my career.”
With a respect for seniority and an understanding of what he needed to sacrifice, it’s no surprise Gordon made his Palace debut aged just 18 - coming on as a substitute in the 50th minute for Southgate in the second-leg of Palace’s 6-1 win over Hartlepool United in the Rumbelows League Cup.
It was a night in which Bright scored his 100th goal for the club. Gordon picks up: “You had Wrighty, Brighty, Perry Suckling, Eddie McGoldrick, Richard Shaw – they were the senior pros you looked up to and had to respect.
“Having those sort of players ahead of you and cleaning their boots - I had Alan Pardew, Brighty and Chris Powell’s – made a real impact on me.”
Observing quietly how his new teammates conducted themselves, Gordon starts to chuckle: “John Salako got a hell of a lot of stick from Wrighty and Brighty, by the way.
“They wanted service and Salako was a little bit of a whipping boy. Ultimately though, they all had respect for each other and they all pulled each other along - Salako ended up playing for England, as did Wrighty and they have each other to thank for that.”
During his early career recollections, Gordon often refers to himself as a left-winger and playing higher up the field. In fact, it wasn’t until he made his own decision at the age of 20, that the natural fit of left-back was found: “I wanted to get into the team regularly and that didn’t happen until I was 20 and moved to left-back.
“I wasn’t quite good enough to be a left-winger and left-back suited my game: being behind the ball and making runs like I did. That transition was a turning point,” Gordon understates.
After entering the game against Nottingham Forest in the August of 1993, the newly-crowned left-back would find the net in a 2-0 home win thanks to a 25-yard free-kick. Then, four days later, Gordon would make his first start for the club as a left-back against Portsmouth, again finding the back of the net in a 5-1 victory.
Gordon would go on to be a regular name on the Palace scoresheet during his time with the Eagles. Therefore, anyone would’ve been forgiven for reacting somewhat nonplussed when Gordon scored a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion two days before Christmas in 1995.
“We were playing with three centre-backs and I played as the left-sided centre-back,” Gordon tries to offer an explanation how he ‘did a Danny Butterfield’ 15 years before.
“I wasn’t afraid to go forward – yeah, two were penalties but firstly you have to earn the right to be penalty taker and have the mentality to step up because it’s not easy with the pressure. Then you have to score them. They all counted for Shearer and Lineker so why not me?!”
Alan ‘56 Premier League penalties scored’ Shearer no doubt agrees.
Naturally, a moment Gordon is proud of, he continues to add context: “That was an amazing day scoring the hat-trick. I remember the first penalty I didn’t quite catch it well but still scored it.
“The second one I drilled straight down the middle. Scoring two goals in a game, let alone the first-half, was a dream really. And then the third, just before half-time, I managed to get my head to the ball and I couldn’t believe it went in – right place, right time. “
We put to Gordon current club captain and fellow penalty-taking extraordinaire, Luka Milivojević’s quotes on how he is an expert from 12-yards and we can imagine Gordon nodding along in agreement.
“Yep, confidence,” he agrees. “Then bravery, because it is difficult taking a penalty in front of big crowd and the pressure is on you to score. You’ve got to block out the fans and just concentrate on the strike and what part of the goal you are going to put it.
“I had a really good strike. In training I was one of the first ones to get picked because anywhere around the goal I was probably scoring because I had a bit of a thunderbolt of a left foot. It was just a natural thing for me.”
With attributes like that it was no surprise when Palace’s third season in the Premier League culminated in the club’s third relegation straight back down to the second tier, that Gordon, who had proven himself a worthy top flight player, was wanted by the team taking the Eagles’ place in the Premier League: Middlesbrough.
With refreshing honesty Gordon admits he wanted “a new challenge” and to remain in the Premier League. “Terry Venables came over to me on the first day of pre-season,” he recalls how the move began to materialise. “Terry asked me whether I wanted to be at the club and I was honest with him and said I would like a fresh start.”
It’s remarkable that conversation even happened when it did, though – Gordon was in France just 12 or so hours earlier.
“We reported for Palace’s pre-season training the day after the night that England were knocked out in Saint-Étienne by Argentina. I drove through the night with my mate to get back for training – this was when Terry Venables had just taken over at Palace.”
Earlier on in that trip to France as a Three Lions fan, Gordon reveals one of two coincidences that wouldn’t been believed had the move to Boro occurred in 2020 rather than 1998.
“We were staying in a hotel in Marseille. We came down the lift to the lobby and standing there were Bryan Robson [Middlesbrough manager] and Viv Anderson [Middlesbrough assistant manager] – we ended up saying hello to them but there was honestly nothing in it.
“And then you’ve got Psyche. I’d been to Middlesbrough a couple of times because I was a bit of clothes freak and I liked my fashion.
“There was a shop called Psyche, which was voted as one of the best men’s stores in the country at that time. There was a lot of speculation from April about this Middlesbrough move.
“I went to Middlesbrough around that time because I was seeing a girl from around the area. I remember going into the shop and they said: ‘Am I coming up to sign?’ and I said: ‘No. I’m just coming up to see a friend and do some shopping.’ But people didn’t believe me!”
“It was freaky that all these coincidences occurred because a week after bumping in to Viv and Bryan I signed for them. It was like everyone knew I was going to sign for Boro apart from me and my agent!”
At Boro, those coincidences continued, with the manager Gordon had told he wanted to leave at Palace, Terry Venables, taking over as Middlesbrough manager in 2000.
“Venables came to Middlesbrough in my third season. Him being at Palace before that and me saying I wanted to leave, I’m not sure if that would’ve gone down well with him.
“But he was great. He was a very, very good coach. And he came in and we made our defence a lot stronger – made us harder to beat.”
The Palace connections didn’t end there with Gordon’s final year at the Riverside stadium seeing him partnering up again with Southgate: “It was good to link-up with Gareth again. He’d done really well at Villa.
“I’m not surprised he’s gone on and done what he’s done as a manager; he’s always had that in him, for sure. Always been a leader.”
In closing, we ask Gordon for his thoughts on Palace today, 22 years after he last graced the Selhurst turf. His response rings true for so many associated with the Eagles: "The quality of the club and the link with the community is what makes Crystal Palace."
Over 20 years later and 300 miles away, a south Londoner never forgets their roots.
You can keep up to date with our former Eagle over on his Instagram - click here to give him a follow.