Glenn Moore: Kiely digs in as Chelsea arrive at The Valley

Charlton's goalkeeper uses building-site background to stay level-headed
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The Independent Football

When Dean Kiely was a struggling young footballer he worked on the roads, labouring with his father. Kiely is now a seasoned Premiership goalkeeper, capped by the Republic of Ireland and a fixture for Charlton Athletic. Today he will face the celebrated millionaires of Chelsea. His father also works with his hands, but he is still doing it the hard way, on a building site.

Ahead of today's game Kiely met up with a couple of journalists and was asked: "Have you ever thought about telling your Dad: 'You've done your stint. Let me sort out the mortgage. You can pack it in and put your feet up'?" Kiely grinned. "He'd give me a right hook if I ever suggested that."

Kiely senior, confirmed 33-year-old Dean, is a man who was brought up to earn an honest living and will continue to do so, regardless of his son's earning power. Like father, like son. Kiely may, like most footballers, be paid more in a year than many will earn in a lifetime, but like the club he represents he remains grounded in reality.

The national game has taken another battering this year and for once the prime culprits have been the footballers, not hooligan fans. A very public minority have given the impression that they feel above the law, both criminal and sporting. Fortunately there are places in the game where the air seems cleaner, the atmosphere more wholesome.

One is Charlton's Sparrows Lane training ground. Hidden behind rows of suburban housing it is the boiler room of an unpretentious, hard-working club that remains rooted in its community and aware of its responsibilities. It does not, for example, undertake anti-racism work just because it is fashionable.

This attitude seeps through to the players. The summer signing of Paolo Di Canio may have surprised some but the Italian's on-pitch outbursts obscure the fact he is a model professional, training hard and looking after his body.

Kiely follows the same principles. Like most players yesterday, while the rest of us feasted and, perhaps, drank to excess, he would have eaten what he described as a "token" Christmas dinner having trained in the morning. "It is a festive time", added Kiely, "but you mustn't forget Boxing Day is a very important game. It's business as usual." While it may not be turkey, or Christmas pudding, which is being over-indulged, the headlines suggest not every footballer takes the same pride in his profession.

"You look at what goes on," said Kiely, "and there is a certain amount of head-shaking because if you took the player, and the talent he's got, and whisked him five years down the line and give him those years' experience, then I'm sure some decisions they would make differently. People say you learn by your mistakes and I hope they do.

"I've dug the roads and at Coventry, when the first team was away, I used to work in a clothes shop on Saturday afternoons. With the greatest respect to people in those professions, when I retire from football I don't want to have to do those things out of necessity. That is what I work towards now.

"Are we role models? My dad works on a building site and the young apprentices will get their wages and go out and have a good time. The older boys, 40 or 50 years of age, will take their wages and look after them for their family. In every profession the young pups will make their mistakes. The fact everyone talks about and watches football brings an added pressure and being role models is a mantle you have to wear. Like my dad says, no one pays to watch him on the building site. For supporters it is their life, they live and breathe football. The responsibility is part of the territory."

Kiely's determination to make the most of what he has was a major factor in his decision to retire from international football. He freely admits being understudy to Shay Given, and thus never playing the big matches, also figured but insists his club game has improved.

"When I was still joining up I thought I was on top of my game for Charlton and everything was great. Now I recognise there is an extra couple or three per cent in my game." It is an assessment that Alan Curbishley agrees with. "Dean's dedicated himself to the club and it is showing in his game," the Charlton manager said. "He's been very consistent."

"It was a selfish decision," said Kiely. "I've made decisions in the past which have suited other people but it comes to a stage where you have to be a little bit selfish. I wasn't playing, I was frustrated at my situation and I took it upon myself to get out of it. I could easily be going along, picking up my match fee, going through the motions, doing training, playing a half in a friendly. But if I now had 11 caps rather than eight would that have appeased anything.

"Are the family pleased? I already have the luxury of picking my kids up from school if I want. I'm not working all hours. The main benefit is when the international break comes around and I have two weeks before my next game I can do exactly what I want to do. If I want to do some swimming to work on stamina, some sharp stuff, or put my feet up on the settee I can do that and the person who is benefiting is me. I am totally in control. It's a great feeling.

"There are people who are thankful for situations, who feel they are lucky. Everything that has happened to me has been down to me guiding my own career. I've had help along the way but I've not been grateful to too many people. It's been down to me and what I've been doing."

An example of that determination to shape his own destiny came when he was 19. A graduate of the FA School of Excellence, he was on the books at Coventry waiting, like so many, for Steve Ogrizovic to lose the battle with Father Time.

"John Sillett [Coventry's then-manager] was forever telling me 'get your head down, keep working hard, he can't go on forever'. Ten years on he was still playing for Coventry," Kiely recalls.

Kiely did not wait. He left for York City in 1990 moved on to Bury 239 league appearances later and, in 1999, joined then-First Division Charlton. It is a background that makes him appreciate his present position.

"When I moved to York [who were 19th in Division Four when Kiely made his debut] I thought this is the lowest I can get. The next step was non-League football which would have meant working with my dad and playing on Saturdays. When you get that close to the edge the further you get away from it the more it spurs you on to keep that distance."