TV pundit Dean Saunders was a top goalscorer after release by Swansea

Younger readers will be familiar with Dean Saunders as a TV pundit but 30 years ago he was knocking in goals for the Albion.

Oxford United was his next club in a football career that ultimately saw him transferred for millions, play for a total of eleven clubs and manage five.

I have watched Brighton in pretty much all corners of the country and been through the inevitable highs and lows across the decades.

But a winning goal scored by Saunders in Sheffield is amongst my forgettable footballing moments – simply because I missed it!

A couple of blogs ago I referred to the former Albion midfielder Billy McEwan who, on November 29 1986, was the manager of a Sheffield United side beaten 1-0 by the Seagulls.

Saunders netted what would turn out to be the decider but as he was burying the ball in the back of United’s net, I had my back to the action buying a warming cup of Bovril for me and pal Colin Snowball (@SnowyywonS). I had made a 436-mile round trip to Bramall Lane and I had missed the only bloody goal of the game!

After a slow start to his career in his native Wales, where he’d begun with Swansea City and been out on loan to Cardiff City, Saunders began to make a name for himself after Chris Cattlin had snapped him up for Brighton on a free transfer in the summer of 1985.

By the end of his first season he’d scored 19 goals in 48 league and cup games and was voted player of the season. His performances in the second tier for the Albion caught the eye of the Welsh national team manager, Mike England, and in March 1986 Saunders made his full international debut for Wales; the first of 75 caps.

Albion, though, could manage only a mid-table finish; Cattlin was sacked and there were rumblings of financial issues beginning to reverberate around the corridors of the Goldstone. Alan Mullery returned as manager but had limited funds to invest in the team. After his unseemly swift departure, former Worthing boss Barry Lloyd took over and fans were completely mystified as to how Lloyd could leave out Saunders in favour of Richard Tiltman, who Lloyd had plucked from local football. Since then, it has emerged that his omission was more to do with money than football ability.

An even more astonishing thing that happened to Saunders during his time with the Albion centred on a team photograph.

In the traditional pre-season team line-up, Saunders, sitting in the front row, had very evidently forgotten to wear a jockstrap under his shorts and, when the camera clicked, his manhood was captured for posterity – and a large number of female fans saw to it that sales of the photograph reached much higher levels than in other seasons. Ironically, the team’s shirt sponsor at the time was Nobo!

There was great consternation when Albion collected only £60,000 for Saunders when he was sold to Oxford, especially when his next transfer saw him move for £1million to Derby County. That deal saw the then Oxford manager Mark Lawrenson quit in protest.

At Derby, Saunders got off to a great start with 14 goals which helped County to a fourth-placed First Division finish in the 1988-89 season. He scored 24 for them in 1990-91, but the side was relegated and Saunders was quickly snapped up by Liverpool for a cool £2.9million as a strike partner for his fellow Welsh international Ian Rush. His signing by Graeme Souness was the start of a long-standing relationship as Souness also signed him for Galatasaray and Benfica and then had him as part of his management team at Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.

When things didn’t work out for Souness at Liverpool, Saunders was on the move again and Aston Villa splashed out what was a record fee at the time of £2.5million to take him to Villa Park.

Initially he formed a formidable strike partnership with the late Dalian Atkinson, and then paired up with Dwight Yorke. Saunders’ brace in the 1994 League Cup final helped beat Manchester United 3-1.

Another change of manager saw Saunders move on when Brian Little succeeded Ron Atkinson and he linked up once more with Souness in Turkey, for a £2.35million fee.

After only a year, he was back in the UK with Nottingham Forest, but the season ended in relegation and Saunders’ next port of call was South Yorkshire, where he spent two years with Sheffield United and three years with Bradford City.

His 19-year playing career finally came to an end in 2001 and then worked as a coach for old boss Souness for five years.

After losing his coaching job at Newcastle, he was assistant manager of Wales under John Toshack for three years (2007-10).

He became a manager in his own right, taking the helm at Wrexham when they were in the Conference. He stepped up to league management with Doncaster Rovers in 2011 but they lost their Championship status and in January 2013 he took over as manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers, only to see them drop out of the same tier after a last game heavy defeat to Brighton at the Amex, which also led to his departure.

Saunders was to pop up in Sussex again, though, when he took temporary charge of League One Crawley Town, from December 2014 through to the end of the season.

Next stop was Chesterfield but once again his tenure was shortlived as he was relieved of his duties after only five months in the hot seat.

 

  • Pictures of Dean Saunders in action from the 1985-86 season matchday programme.
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