A City of Liverpool FC original, Danny Dalton has been pivotal in all that’s been good about the Purps in these formative years for the club. The experienced and lively defender has been there throughout the trophy-laden climb to Step 4 of non-league since they first began play just over three years ago. A pair of promotions and cup successes have helped make it his most unforgettable time in football to date, and his family have immersed themselves in the club – nobody more so than his late granddad.
Scorer of the Purps’ first home league goal (in the memorable 3-2 win over Bacup Borough), a recent Achilles injury means there will be no shortcut back for the City of Liverpool centurion centre-half. Rest assured, though, he won’t be having the obituary written on his playing days just yet – DJ Dalton’s got a few more to spin…
How is the injury at the moment and when did you do it?
I did it in the first 45 seconds of the Warrington Town replay in the FA Cup. I thought I got kicked from behind, but not a single person touched me, and it’s looking like a snapped Achilles. I’ve got to go back on Tuesday to see the damage really. I’m in a cast now; I’m sitting in the kitchen with my leg up on the table. I said to work ‘I probably won’t see you until after Christmas, because I’ve been told it’s a bad injury,’ but they’ve been okay with it. They’ve even offered to pay for physio, so that’s a bonus.
Have you generally been alright with injuries up to now? Is this the first big one?
I’ve been quite lucky, to be honest. The main injury I’ve had was last year, and it was tendinitis of the knee, but that’s just wear and tear. I’ve had dead legs and all that, that’s just part and parcel of it, but this is the worst one. They said ‘I don’t think you’ll play again,’ but that’s just more of a challenge to me. My aim is to get back in April; maybe get a little cameo at the end of the year.
We mentioned work, what is a typical week like for you?
I work in a Pupil Referral Unit high school, so it’s a very challenging environment with kids who can be violent; I’ve been punched, I’ve been spat at. I love the job, though, and it’s very rewarding once you see them coming in and then you see them leaving with a different perspective of school and stuff like that. We get kids who can’t sort of hack it in mainstream school, they stay with us for a bit and then we send them back on. Normally day-to-day, I’m the behaviour side, so whenever there’s any problems they come to me. It is a stressful job but footy’s my thing away from it all. We train twice a week and that’s my release.
Whereabouts have you grown up in Liverpool?
Very close to Anfield. I was born by Goodison Park and then we moved across. When I moved out with the missus, I only moved around the corner, so still in the same area, born and bred.
You’ve been with City of Liverpool since the start, but where else has football taken you before the Purps?
I was playing for Bootle youth when I was 16/17, and then I went to Skem youth when they were doing quite well; they might have been in the North West Counties Prem at the time. I was 17 when I went there and then I got promoted to the first team when I was 18; had little cameo roles now and then. They got promoted into the Unibond at the time, I got promised a contract and all that, but they sacked the manager, after getting them promoted. It was like ‘fair enough, I’m stuck in limbo,’ and then I didn’t get carried on with the first team, so I sort of gave up football for about a year. Luckily enough, it was my granddad who got me into Runcorn Town when they were in the West Cheshire; it was a friend of my granddad who was the manager at the time.
I went with them, enjoyed it, was there for about seven years and got promoted twice from the West Cheshire into the North West Counties One. I never won anything with them apart from a local cup. (City of Liverpool’s first manager) Simon Burton was there; I played with him at first and then he became the manager. About five or six years ago, I just thought ‘I need a change,’ so I signed for Daisy Hill in the North West Counties One, through my missus’ dad’s friend. I thought ‘no, I want a change, I’ve done that league,’ so I went to Wales and played for Mold (Alexandra) for two years and we won a cup. I was at uni at the time so it was a bit hard to travel there, and it got on top of me, so I left Mold at the end of the season. Luckily enough, Simon Burton got the City of Liverpool job and just said ‘do you fancy it?’ I thought ‘why not?’ It looked like a new challenge, new team, and it looked like they wanted to go ahead and push forward. To be honest, it’s been the best choice I’ve made in non-league footy.
The core values are the same of course, but with the Purps moving up the leagues, do you look around and see little things here and there that have changed or developed since you first joined?
In ways, like when it comes to training kit, being a bit more professional and that. At the start, it was very like ‘what do we do here?’ It was all new for everyone but we were just there to play. It’s changed a bit, it’s a bit more professional, a bit more organised now.
Having those high standards and everyone wanting to progress the club, but also maintaining that sense of ‘it’s non-league, it should be fun, it should be an escape from work etc.’ – has the club been good at striking that balance?
Yeah, definitely. I think having a good camaraderie in the dressing room’s a big factor in that, and since the start, we’ve always had that. I think I’m the longest-serving player at the minute, but there’s a few that have been there since the first season, so there’s like a core group. You get players in, they’re a bit shy, but then they come out their shell and that’s massive. The professionalism obviously comes from people at the top; how you should be behaving and stuff like that. Even interviews like this; we’re only just working lads at the end of the day, so we’ve never really had this. This is probably the biggest interview I’ve ever done! (Finance director/deputy chairman) Peter Furmedge and (chairman/commercial director) Paul Manning, they’re the ones keeping it going, but with Robbo (manager Craig Robinson) – Simon (Burton) was good as well, he knew the league, he got us the wins – with Robbo now, because he’s been so high up, he’s the one who’s keeping the professionalism. He’s got a couple of coaches there who are really professional in what they do.
With Craig Robinson having to transition from player to manager, has he had to leave behind the joking around and being in with the lads, or has it been more seamless than that?
No, you’re joking, aren’t you? He’s been one miserable get the last year! No, he’s took to it well, to be honest. I’ve read his interview where he’s said most of us were his friends and he’s found it hard at first to change, but that’s obviously gonna happen. He has done it well, to be honest. He’s still jokey now and again, but he knows the right things to say and I think he’s a good manager.
When (Purps forward) Tom Peterson was on the site last year he said about you: “He’s been at the club since the start. He’s 30+, he’s always got plenty to say, and he’s also a very good lad and someone you can turn to. If you’re struggling a bit, he’ll ring you up and have a chat to you and lighten things up a bit.” How big a part of it is that for you?
30+, he had to get that in, didn’t he?! When I was their age, I had players at Runcorn who always put their arm around me; Simon Burton was a big one, because he was a player and then he became a manager. I just thought I’ve had it done to me, so I wanna do that for them, because the younger you are, you do take things more personal when it comes to football. If you’ve got someone there just to say ‘you’ve had a bad game but that’s gone now,’ that’s a big thing I had, and it could be a stepping stone for the younger players at this level to go even higher. To have someone just to say ‘you played well there,’ or ‘it wasn’t your day, don’t worry, go again next week and get it out your head,’ it can only be a good thing.
In terms of other characters in the team, who’s always in amongst it?
Like Tom said, I can be one of them! Kevin McEllin’s one of the funniest lads I’ve ever met; his dancing is the best I’ve ever seen, to be honest. You’ve got Anthony Brown who doesn’t half give it to people. Jamie Mac (Jamie McDonald) as well, he’s a big character. To be honest, we all do the jokes and pranks and stuff like that, so it’s a good thing. There’s a great spirit and camaraderie, but it’s mainly us few.
Which players you’ve grown up with, or played with later on, have you looked at, in terms of ability alone, and thought they deserve/deserved to be at a higher level?
When I was younger, I did play with Craig Noone who was at Cardiff; it was at Bootle and then up to Skem with him. He was a good mate at the time but obviously he’s gone a different path. He was like me, he just gave up football, but he’s just gone on and done well. In this team, it’s got to be Jack Hazlehurst. He’s just quality, and for his age, his temperament, he gets kicked every game and he just gets up. Even in the changing room, he gets some stick but he just laughs it off and gets on with his game.
One singer/band/song you’d sneak on to the team playlist? Or do you run it already?
I do actually. We do a mix really, I get every player to give me one song; this was last year anyway, I haven’t done it this year, to be honest. I get them to give me one song that gets them up for a game and then just put it on a playlist and shuffle it, but my one is probably a crazy old-school dance tune – N-Joi ‘Anthem’. That gets me going for a game – although it won’t be doing for a while now!
Away from football and work, what else besides family and friends do you fill your time with?
I’ve been trying to learn the ukulele for the past year. Coming home from work, I just find I need to do things to keep my mind occupied. I don’t wanna bring work home with me; you work to live. I like drawing as well, so that gets my mind off it.
Where did wanting to learn the ukulele come from?
It was in the school I work in. We try to do things with all the kids, instead of just sitting in a classroom, so it might be learning an instrument or going out and doing something. We had a few ukuleles in school and I just thought ‘I’m gonna have a go,’ and I could hear myself getting it, so I asked my missus to get me one at Christmas! I’m just trying to get it up and going at the minute; I’m still not that good yet.
Finally, what have you enjoyed most about being part of the club, and reflecting so far, what are the main memories that always come to mind first? Whether it’s specific matches, celebrating the trophies, nights out with everyone.
The lot. No disrespect to Runcorn Town, I loved my time there, but the camaraderie here, even with the fans, and the chairman, you can go to him and speak to him, or have a drink with him. With the fans, it’s like you’ve known them for ages. Even at the start it was just like ‘let’s make this a big group’ type thing. That’s the best thing about it and I think that’s helped us to win things. We’ve all got songs now and you never expect that at this level; banners and everything. The club’s just on the rise. The last four years, two promotions and the most successful club in the North West Counties. Just everything about it’s a good thing. Fingers crossed this isn’t me finishing, but when I do finish, I wanna stay in with the club and do something off the field – just waiting for Paul Manning to give me a heads-up on what job I can have!
Interview by @chris_brookes
You can read previous Purps features on Non-League Daily here: