THE shock news of Dean Richards’ death on Saturday hurt the whole football family.
And it was a bolt from the blue for Clarets first team coach Stuart Gray, who worked with the cultured centre back at both Wolves and Southampton.
Richards was 36 when he died of an illness which caused dizzy spells and severe headaches, forcing his premature retirement at the age of 31 in 2005.
Capped at England Under 21 level, he became the most expensive player without full international honours in 2001 when sold by the Saints - where Gray was manager at the time - to Spurs for £8.2m.
And Gray said: “It was very sad news. “Obviously I knew Dean,and it came as a major shock.
“He was a genuine guy, a lovely, honest man, and a very good professional.
“At Southampton he had no problems with the illness, and at Spurs he only had issues with his knee initially.
“There was no sign of a problem, but he ended up back at Bradford as a youth coach and it came out of the blue, it was a thunder bolt.”
Richards was a promising young defender with home-town club Bradford City when he was snapped up by Graham Taylor at Wolves, unveiled to the media the night Wanderers beat Burnley 2-0 at Molineux in March 1995.
Gray had become reserve team coach at Wolves the previous year, and was immediately impressed with Taylor’s signing.
And he became reaquainted with him at The Dell, when Richards moved on a Bosman in the summer of 1999, with Gray first team coach under Dave Jones.
Gray looked back: “I worked with him twice, at Wolves when Graham Taylor signed him, and then when David Jones came to Southampton and ended up signing him.
“He was more than a centre back, he didn’t just head it and kick it, he was very comfortable on the ball and good in both boxes.
“He was a footballing centre back.
“Glenn (Hoddle) came back and paid £8.2m for him, and that showed how highly he rated him.”
Hoddle had taken the reins at Southampton from Jones, and after his acrimonious departure to Spurs, came back in for Richards.
Gray had been named Southampton boss, and a bitter, protracted transfer saga played out, before Richards moved to White Hart Lane: “The transfer dragged on, but one thing you can’t do is stop players going on to better themselvces, and Spurs are a huge football club, and probably were a stepping stone to him getting into the full England squad.”
He scored on his Spurs debut in the incredible 5-3 defeat against Manchester United, having led 3-0, but injury problems and his subsequent illlness saw him make only 73 appearances in four years for the club.
Ironically, two of his former clubs, Wolves and Spurs, meet on Sunday in the Premier League, and there will be a tribute to Richards.
Gray said: “These things crop up in football, Wolves against Spurs, and I’m sure they’ll remember him in the right way.
“But it’s disappointing to have someone so young and talented taken away, and my condolences go to his family.”