WHEN Dean Windass takes his first peek at the Wembley pitch later today, the memories are sure to come flooding back.
Of how, in true Roy of the Rovers style, the Hull-born striker volleyed the Tigers into the Premier League and himself into the city’s sporting folklore.
Acompanying him on the stroll down memory lane, no doubt, will be a sense of relief that he is still around to enjoy watching Hull City, the club he has supported since childhood, appear in their first FA Cup final.
Since that magical day of May 24, 2008, when Windass scored the winner in the Championship play-off final, he has been to some very dark places.
Along the way he hit rock bottom, as a combination of his father John passing away, the break-up of his marriage and the depression that followed the end of his playing career led to one of Hull’s favourite sons attempting suicide.
That came in 2012 and, happily, since then Windass has been busy rebuilding his life.
“I feel good,” said the 45-year-old, looking fit and well, when speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post in a busy cafe just outside Hull. “And, more importantly, I feel to be in a good place.
“Going to rehab was the best 26 days of my life. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be talking to you here now. I am certain of that. What I learned during those 26 days was that what goes up, must come down. And what goes down, must come up.
“That is how I live my life now. I am 45 and I have another 40 years of my life to live.”
Windass’s football career began with Hull, given his chance by then manager Terry Dolan in 1991 after earlier having been released at the age of 18. Five successful years followed before Hull’s dire financial state meant their star asset had to be sold.
A move to Aberdeen brought top-flight football in Scotland, just as a later transfer to Bradford City did so south of the border.
Windass then went on to play for Terry Venables at Middlesbrough before a return to his home city in January, 2007, put him on a path to Wembley glory.
Windass not only scored the goals that kept Hull in the Championship, a year later, he volleyed ‘that’ goal at the age of 39 to bring Premier League football to the East Riding.
Hero status was bestowed on the striker, however uncomfortable he found the tag.
Before long, however, his playing career was over and, as happens with many ex-professionals, adapting to retirement was something that Windass found hard.
Drink filled the void and, by the first month of 2012, Windass had twice tried to kill himself. Fortunately, the Sporting Chance charity, set up by Tony Adams, came to his rescue.
“It isn’t just Dean Windass who has been in that position,” said the former Hull striker.
“There are a lot of ex-sports people who go through what I went through. It is hard giving up something that has been your life.
“It is the equivalent of climbing Everest, the best achievement ever. But then you have to get down from there. And when you do get down, you have to get back to normal. And that is hard after just climbing Everest and all the adrenalin that goes with it.
“I had 20 years of being a footballer and all the adulation that comes with it. All the ups and downs that you go through. Then, suddenly, that bloke is not there any more.
“It is difficult to handle. And I didn’t handle it well at all. The death of my dad then hit me, getting split up from (ex-wife) Helen the same. And before I knew it, I was really struggling.”
Thankfully, Windass has fought back from those dark days. He is still hoping the game that gave him so much joy can bring employment. “I’d love to get back into football,” he says. “But if it doesn’t happen then so be it. I will deal with it, just as I have everything else.
“There are a lot of ex-sports people who might be in a similar boat to what I was. And if anyone can listen to what I went through and think, ‘That’s me and I need help’ then that is great.”
Windass is busy enjoying life. He has been in demand from the media during recent weeks thanks to Hull’s FA Cup success. He will also be at Wembley later today.
Back living in Hull after spending well over a decade in West Yorkshire, Windass works four days a week for Quality Fixing Supplies as a rep, selling all manner of nuts and bolts on commission. The firm’s premises are within a good hoofed clearance of the KC Stadium.
When we meet in Fields Deli in Anlaby, Windass has had a good morning’s work with plenty of sales made and plenty of banter exchanged with customers, most of which is, unsurprisingly, football-related.
“Living back in Hull is great,” he says. “So, too, is the job I have. I do some hosting work at the KC for Hull home games with a few of the other ex-players but during the week I am doing the nuts and bolts.
“Getting the job a couple of years ago with Bob (Harding, owner) has given me an opportunity to get through the doors. Everyone wants to talk football.
“I do the repping and go all over. Hull, Sheffield, Rotherham, anywhere really. Middlesbrough will soon be on my patch when I get my driving licence back in the summer (he was banned in 2012 after being found guilty of drink driving).
“At the minute, my colleague Rob is driving me about. That helps, as Rob has worked here for 14 years so knows the trade. I have 40-odd customers of my own now and it is great to be generating that custom for the firm.
“I really enjoy talking to people. I always have, to be honest, so the job is great for me. I get through the door, I talk about the job and what we have available. The price is given and a deal done. And then we talk about football.”
In recent weeks, those football chats have, even in South Yorkshire, been dominated by the impending Cup final appearance by the Tigers.
Windass was at the KC for last month’s meeting between the two clubs, as Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners. He appreciates, therefore, that Steve Bruce and his side face an almighty task today as they look to pull off one of the Cup’s famous upsets.
“If Arsenal play like they did at the KC, we won’t have a cat in hell’s chance,” said Windass. “They were superb that day and really clinical.
“But this is a one-off game. Everyone dreams of playing in an FA Cup final and this is the Hull lads’ chance. Just play the game and not the occasion. Wembley can do funny things to supporters, never mind players. We go there as underdogs and anything we get will be a bonus. But I still have a sneaking suspicion we might do it.”