Brighton & Hove Albion’s promotion from the old Third Division in 1987-88 earned two of the squad places in that season’s PFA representative team; one quite naturally was top goalscorer Garry Nelson, the other was defender Keith Dublin.
Also in the same XI was Fulham’s Leroy Rosenior, father of current day Albion utility man, Liam.
Dublin was an ever-present during that successful Seagulls campaign having joined in August 1987 from Chelsea, where he had played 50 league games (plus one as a sub) between 1983 and 1987.
Born in High Wycombe on 29 January 1966, Dublin became an apprentice at Stamford Bridge in July 1982 and signed professional 15 months later.
When regular left back Joey Jones was injured, he made his first team debut in a 3-1 home win over Barnsley. It was the penultimate game of the 1983-84 season, and the last at home as John Neal’s team won the Second Division Championship.
Dublin also caught the eye of the England selectors and played six times for the under 19 team.
At the time, Dublin, or Dubbers as he was known, was one of the few black players emerging at Chelsea, following after Paul Canoville and Keith Jones.
Canoville wrote in his autobiography with Rick Glanvill, Black and Blue: How Racism, Drugs and Cancer Almost Destroyed Me (Headline Publishing Group, 2012), about some atrocious treatment they all received – and not just from the terraces!
“When Jonah and then Dubbers made the step up, they no longer trained with the reserves but with the first team,” said Canoville. “That made three black faces and, on more than one occasion, there were altercations with one player who obviously had a problem with black men.
“It was always dealt with properly, but, as if the colour wasn’t an issue. Of course it was. Back then, casual, institutional racism was displayed at almost every level of the club – not so much that you would quit over it or kick up a rumpus, but enough to make you feel different and an outsider most of the time.”
Canoville added: “Dubbers was strong, athletic and fast. But as soon as either of them made a mistake, the crowd was on to them, slagging them off. There wasn’t the same open racist abuse I received, but still the tolerance threshold was low, as much in the coaching staff as the crowd.”
Dublin played 28 games in the top division for Chelsea during the 1986-87 season, but with competition for the left back spot hotting up in the shape of future England international Tony Dorigo and Clive Wilson, he decided to move on.
Brighton manager Barry Lloyd went back to his old club to snap up Dublin for £35,000, and what an investment as he was ever-present at left back in the promotion season. In fact for the latter part of that season, three of the back four were ex-Chelsea defenders: Gary Chivers at right back, Robert Isaac centre back, and Dublin at left back.
Dublin used to travel down daily to training with Chivers and although defending was their first priority they had a friendly rivalry over who could score the most goals. Dublin chipped in with five in that first season but Chivers regularly went up for corners so won the little private wager in the following two seasons.
The promotion was a great experience for Dublin who said in an interview in the matchday programme: “There’s never been anything like it for me obviously, and it’s going to be a long time before anything can top the day we clinched second place. It might never happen.
“Probably the best thing was getting a few goals along the way as well because that had never happened to me before.”
As young Ian Chapman gradually made the left back berth his own, Dublin switched inside to centre back.
Dublin welcomed the competition for his place from Chapman, explaining: “I think it’s good when you’ve got someone chasing your place, snapping at you all the time to get in the first team.
“Ian’s been quite a good mate of mine since I arrived and you have to always remember that being dropped or selected ahead of someone else is what football is all about.
“It keeps me on my toes, and if you can have six or seven players in the team in the same situation then that’s the best thing possible at any club.
“Ian’s facing the same scene now as I was experiencing at Chelsea.”
It was not unusual to see Dublin selected as man of the match and several programmes featured pictures of the obligatory post-match presentation by the sponsor to the very nattily-dressed defender. Dublin admitted in another profile piece that clothes and shopping were hobbies.
Meanwhile, on the pitch in 1989-90, his consistent performances at the heart of the defence earned him the Albion player of the season accolade.
After 132 appearances in three seasons with Brighton, the Seagulls cashed in on Dublin’s prowess by picking up a £275,000 fee from Watford in the summer of 1990.
With goalkeeper John Keeley departing for Oldham for £238,000 at around the same time, fans feared another frustrating season was ahead. But they were in for a surprise.
While Dublin joined a side that would struggle, at first under former Chelsea striker Colin Lee, then ex-Tottenham legend, Steve Perryman, Brighton surprised the critics and ended the season at Wembley.
Indeed Watford finished fourth from bottom of what was then Division 2, while Brighton sneaked into sixth place with that memorable last game win over Ipswich Town, beat Millwall over two legs in the play-off semi-final and then went down 3-1 to Neil Warnock’s Notts County in the play-off final.
The following year, with future England goalkeeper David James emerging, Watford turned around a disappointing first half to the season and eventually finished 10th.
Dublin was an integral part of Watford’s defence for four years, making 168 appearances, although it appears not all Watford supporters appreciated him.
The amusing Watford fans’ website, Blind Stupid and Desperate – http://www.bsad.org/ – recalled this among other memories: “The fondness with which Keith Dublin is remembered, the way that fans still tell tall tales of remarkable own goals, insanely cavalier defending and sporadic heroism with broad smiles and genuine affection, demonstrates that perfection isn’t the be-all and end-all for supporters.”
At the end of the 1993-94 season, which had been a struggle against relegation from the First Division under manager Glenn Roeder, Watford did a swap-deal which saw striker Tommy Mooney (yes, the same Mooney who famously missed the Swindon shoot-out penalty against Brighton in 2004) and midfielder Derek Payne join from Southend United and Dublin going in the opposite direction. He spent five years at Roots Hall and amassed a further 179 games.
He subsequently moved to Colchester United, but only played a couple of games, and ended his career in non-league, initially with Farnborough Town and then Carshalton Athletic.
In an Argus article in 2010, they discovered Dublin was busy in ‘retirement’ running soccer camps at home and abroad, and according to wfc.net, Dublin worked in a family property management business after his footballing days were over.
Footnote: Perhaps Dublin set a trend for Albion left backs named after Irish places, with the double whammy Kerry Mayo following in his wake some years later!
• Pictures from my scrapbook show portraits of Dublin that appeared in the matchday programme; action shots (one from the programme and one from the Argus) and a couple of man of the match presentations