Life Beyond the Premier League: Deon Burton relishing his Indian summer in garden of England

Life Beyond the Premier League: After rubbing shoulders with Ronaldo and enjoying a stint in Azerbaijan, the striker has found a home at Gillingham

This weekend Deon Burton will be packing his bags for an end-of-season break: a budget flight to Benidorm and a two-star hotel. Had he been told this last summer he would have assumed his return to English football, after two years in the backwater of Azerbaijan, had not been a success.

Far from it. The trip to the infamous resort is idiosyncratic manager Martin Allen's way of rewarding his Gillingham players for winning the League Two championship, a triumph Burton played a lead role in.

There was a mixed response in the Medway towns when Allen signed the then 35-year-old on a free transfer in August. Some fans wondered if he would have the required enthusiasm and fitness for the campaign. This was a player who had been transferred for £1m when that was still a sizeable fee, and appeared in the World Cup, but both honours were 15 years past.

The veteran responded with 13 goals, the latest last Saturday as Gillingham clinched only the second title in their history, following the Fourth Division championship 49 seasons ago.

"I couldn't have asked for more," said Burton. "We've been top of the table almost all season and I've been scoring goals regularly. It is great to be part of a winning team at any level and this has been a nice adventure going to grounds I've not been at before. It's been an eye-opener."

Which is saying something, given Burton's long and varied career. He began at Portsmouth, where he played alongside Allen, before moving for £1m to then Premier League Derby County. The boyhood Liverpool fan scored in front of The Kop and represented Jamaica not just at the France '98 World Cup, but also in an invitation match in Marseille which preceded the draw for the finals. Burton was in the Rest of the World XI sharing a dressing room with Ronaldo and Gabriel Batistuta, coming on as a substitute for the former.

"It was amazing to be among those players," he said. "When I got back to Derby [manager] Jim Smith and the boys said I looked as scared as mouse when I was called on to the stage. It was a bit of a daze at the time."

Burton went on to play for Brentford, Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton, always scoring goals, before answering Tony Adams' call to join him at the Azeri club Gabala.

"I thought it might be my last chance to play abroad, so when I heard Tony was interested I thought I would take a look. The football itself was about League One standard, but some players, often the Brazilians, could easily play in the Championship.

"It's a beautiful place, the training ground has a backdrop of mountains. We'd be training in 30C and there would be snow on the peaks. There was a real contrast between the haves and have-nots. You'd drive past a big mansion, turn a corner and there would be a shanty town. Gabala was like a big village but on our days off we'd go to the capital, Baku. It is very westernised. There is everything there you could need, even a McDonald's.

"It was a great experience. The [foreign] players all stayed in a hotel so we spent a lot of time together and I made some really good friends [Burton's family stayed in England due to schooling]. But I always wanted to end my career in England and thought if I didn't come back last summer I would be forgotten about. I had to prove myself again. Martin took a gamble on me."

The Gillingham manager offered Burton a year, twice as long as League One MK Dons had. Burton opted for the greater security, and a reunion with Allen, his manager at Brentford. "I could see with the squad Martin was putting together and where the club had finished in previous years [successive eighth places] they were ready to go up. I could see Martin's enthusiasm had the players motivated," Burton said. "He's not everyone's cup of tea, so he needed to find the right characters who can cope with his style, and he has."

Allen said: "Deon has always been a fantastic professional and is a very calming character. He's looked after his body and has still got quality, desire, and the technical ability to win matches. He and [leading scorer] Danny [Kedwell] work well together."

Allen is talking of promotion rather than consolidation next season and Burton concurs: "If we keep up the momentum everything is possible. The standard is not that different." Gillingham came straight back down in 2010, but last year's promoted quartet have all stayed up, with Swindon making the League One play-offs.

Allen told The Independent Burton would be offered a new deal that would keep him in Kent into his 38th year. The player is likely to accept. "You are a long time retired so I want to keep on playing as long as my body lets me," Burton said.

First the club's elder statesman must survive Benidorm. Everyone who has made an appearance for Gills this season, including those who were on loan, or who have since moved on, has been invited. "The trip is what Martin is all about," said Burton, "but I might take my own pillow."

News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower