"Football is one of the best ways of uniting people." An interview with Bobby Dean.

Bobby Dean is our candidate for Lewisham Deptford. He's also mad about football – playing it, organising it, and supporting it. Here he explains why:

Let’s start with Millwall. You were involved in the recent fight against Lewisham Council’s Compulsory Purchase Order, weren’t you?

That’s right. I spoke out against the council’s CPO and the impact it would have on the football club – whether it was by giving statements to the press, or by collaborating with the Lib Dems’ candidate in Southwark, Simon Hughes, who’s on the board of the community association. The situation angered me for two particular reasons. First, any major development around a football club as large as Millwall should not exclude that football club as a stakeholder. By compulsorily purchasing land, the council had turned what should have been a collaborative process into a destructive one. Second, the council’s scheme was poorly put together. Only 12% of it was affordable homes, which doesn’t meet the needs of the area at all.

Has the situation now resolved itself?

The CPO has been suspended, and there’s an inquiry into what happened. But my worry is that the council hasn’t explicitly ruled out another CPO in future. They’ve also not said that they’re going to go back to the drawing board with the scheme. I think they need to sit down with Millwall and work out a scheme that works for both parties. If it needs to include some of Millwall’s land, then there should be an amicable agreement for it, and one that doesn’t undermine Millwall as a club.

What should people do if the CPO comes back?

The community has already shown that it’s willing to mobilise around this. They – and we – would mobilise again. But, as well as activism, I think there also needs to be action on the part of Millwall. The club needs to start sketching out ways that they can work together with Lewisham Council. In fact, bringing the two together would be my primary concern, as well as using all available legal and planning provisions to make sure we end up with an arrangement that works for everyone in the community.

This goes beyond team rivalries for you, doesn’t it? You’re not actually a Millwall supporter.

True. I’m a Spurs supporter, just like my Dad and my Grandad before him. My Grandad lived in Tottenham, and used to hang out with the players when they were actually winning things in the 1960s. He had plenty of stories about those glory days. He’d always tell me that it would never be like that again. He actually passed away a couple of years ago, just before Spurs started pushing towards the top of the league. I sometimes wish I could go round and see him, and say: ‘Is this what it’s like to have a good team?!’

Who were your favourite players growing up?

Jürgen Klinsmann is probably the player I have earliest memories of loving, but I was only six or seven back then. After that, David Ginola was the one. He scored that great goal against Barnsley where he rounded about eight players. I went to my first game at the Lane when I was about 13, and Ledley King was the big cult hero at the time. I’ll probably call my first son ‘Ledley’.

Do you watch any local sides?

I play football on Saturdays now, so it cuts down my options. But I’ve been to Millwall a few times. And Dulwich Hamlet, a wonderful club. They have cheap tickets, and build up big crowds because of it, but they also do a lot in the community. Same with Millwall, actually. They’ve got their community trust, and it does loads. They put on fitness sessions for old people. They do community work with young people, keeping them off the streets.

It seems that a large part of your philosophy is that football can – and should – benefit local communities.

Absolutely. It’s one of the best ways of uniting people, whatever their backgrounds and their beliefs. I saw this first-hand when I was young and I played for a team run by the crime reduction charity Nacro. Basically, they organised free football sessions in our area, not just to stop kids from hanging around on street corners, but also to mentor them. I found myself playing alongside young offenders. It gave structure to lives that might not have had it otherwise, along with a sense of community and belonging.

Does this inspire your own football team?

Ah, you’re talking about the mighty AFC Oldsmiths! We were formed, a couple of seasons ago now, out of two alumni teams from Goldsmiths University. Our ethos is really to be an ethically-minded football club. We’ve got a sponsorship deal with Football Beyond Borders, which is a community-based charity that does a lot of work with children in inner-city London. Our kit is pink, in part because of solidarity with LGBT movements around the world. And we have plans to do a lot more in the community, too.

What do you get from it personally?

Well, I’m really competitive, and I love being involved in competitive sport. But it also gives me something more than that – mental health support. When I lost my Grandad a couple of years ago, and I was suffering with depression, it was so beneficial to go on a football pitch and think about nothing else but the game for 90 minutes. And that’s before I get on to the social aspects of it. All my friends are basically the ones that have stayed in the football team with me. It’s the structure of my life.

Oh, and what position do you play?

I’m a right-back, although I’m probably more of a right wing-back these days, with the way the game is changing. I’d love to say that I play like Kyle Walker, although, sadly, I’m probably closer to Gary Neville!


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