Clitheroe FC's Director of Football, Carl Garner, pays tribute to 'gentle giant' and 'Non-League legend' James Dean

Carl Garner has paid tribute to 'gentle giant' and 'Non-League legend' James Dean following the striker's tragic death.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 5:23 pm
Updated Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 5:24 pm
James Dean in action for Rimington against Clitheroe during the 'Festival of Football' at Shawbridge.

Clitheroe's Director of Football brought the prolific forward to Shawbridge at the start of the 2006-07 campaign after watching him play for Great Harwood Rovers.

Dean netted 13 times in 20 games for the Blues under the stewardship of Chris Stammers as the club reached its furthest ever point in the FA Trophy.

His performances in the Ribble Valley earned him a move to the Football Conference - with then Northwich Victoria boss Steve Burr paying £3,000 for his services.

Garner said: "He came to us as a midfielder, he told me that was his favoured position, and I replied 'not anymore!'

"It quickly became evident to us that he had all the tools to become a centre forward, and so it proved.

"He quickly started scoring goals under Chris Stammers and he added so much physicality to the side. He had a fabulous career as a centre forward."

He added: "I remember him coming in for his first training session. He came in and set off like a house on fire. He came into a strong group at Clitheroe and helped us record our best ever run in the FA Trophy.

"He made an impression as soon as he arrived. He scored goals straight away so the fans took to him immediately.

"He was pleasant around the place, he would always have a bit of fun, he was an all-round good guy. He was a joy to have at the club."

Dean's big break came in 2007 when former Manchester United defender Chris Casper, son of former Burnley manager Frank, handed him his Football League debut when in charge at Bury.

After making a handful of appearances for the Shakers, he would go on to represent Altrincham, Stalybridge Celtic and Harrogate Town before making the switch to Halifax Town.

Dean, signed by Neil Aspin, formed a three-pronged attack at The Shay alongside former England international Jamie Vardy and Derby County's Lee Gregory while keeping £9m ex-Aston Villa man Scott Hogan out of the side.

The trio were unplayable at that level and guided the Shaymen to back-to-back promotions from the Northern Premier League.

"He had all the attributes to be successful, he just scored goals regularly,"said Garner, whose son, Simon, was a former team-mate of Dean's.

"He played alongside Jamie Vardy and they were unplayable. He was pivotal in their success, he was the first name on the team sheet and kept out the likes of Scott Hogan and Lee Gregory.

"He was part of a golden period for Halifax. It was amazing and non-league football will probably never see anything like that again. They blew the league away; nobody could get near them.

"I can't speak highly enough of him. He was a great trainer with a great attitude and he looked after his body superbly. It's just a massive loss and I don't think he will ever be forgotten."

The 35-year-old, who also enjoyed a double promotion during his time at Chorley, returned to the home of Clitheroe last month.

He played in the club's 'Festival of Football' for Rimington and lined up against David Lynch's Blues.

"He was a gentle giant," said Garner. "He was a gentleman. He never gave anybody any problems but he would quickly put any trouble to bed if anything flared up during games. I've got nothing but good memories of him.

"He took part in our 'Festival of Football' when playing against us for Rimington. He came in, we shook hands, he gave me a big hug and introduced me to his son.

"That was just three weeks ago. He was praising all the changes at the club, all the work we had put in, he seemed as good as gold. It was great to see him.

"He was well thought of across the game, as you can see from all the tributes. He's going to be sorely missed."