MICHAEL DAWSON had never experienced a footballing low to compare to May 24.
That earth-shattering moment, as the final whistle blew on Hull City’s two-year stay in the Premier League, is one the Northallerton-born defender will never forget.
However, as the 31-year-old prepares for his first taste of Championship football in more than a decade as Huddersfield Town today head to the KC Stadium, he is determined to use City’s relegation as a motivating factor.
“In terms of my career, I have had lots of lows,” said Dawson when speaking to The Yorkshire Post in the sunshine at Hull’s temporary training base in Bishop Burton.
“There have been injuries and setbacks. Or spells out of the team. But relegation was as low as it can go. It meant the summer was tough. Relegation was a real dampener on everything. People ask how long it will take to get over what happened last season.
“But I am not sure you ever get over having a relegation on your CV. It hurts and I guess it will always hurt.
“I know from experience that we have to use the hard times of last year to make sure we don’t have a repeat of feeling like that. We have to look for promotion.”
The first test of whether City have the mettle to bounce straight back comes today at home to Huddersfield.
Town have been back in the second tier for three seasons and last May’s 16th-place finish was the club’s highest since winning promotion. Dawson, though, knows from his own career that the Terriers will be dangerous opponents due to the presence of a few familiar faces within the West Yorkshire club’s ranks.
“James Vaughan and Ishmael Miller have played in the Premier League,” said City’s captain. “They are big players and did well up there. It shows what quality players there are in the Championship.
“People striving to be back in the Premier League is what it is all about. There are no easy games, none at all. And we have to go into the season realising that.”
City have had a busy summer, as is invariably the case for any club newly relegated from the Premier League. A double figure tally of departures – with the possibility of more to come, as high-earning trio Abel Hernandez, Dame N’Doye and Nikica Jelavic continue to be coveted by other clubs – meant Steve Bruce urgently needed reinforcements.
Progress was initially slow but, in the past ten days or so, the squad has started to take shape. Moses Odubajo became City’s fifth signing yesterday when he put pen to paper on a three-year deal and Bruce hopes to add the full back’s former Brentford team-mate Andre Gray soon.
Shaun Maloney, the former Scottish international who has been with MLS side Chicago Fire since January, is another that the Tigers chief wants to add to Arsenal duo, Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden, Chesterfield winger Sam Clucas and Ryan Taylor of Newcastle United on his list of captures.
Dawson has been delighted to see the arrival of young, hungry talent and hopes to become a mentoring figure similar to those who helped his own development.
“I was very fortunate to play as a young lad at Forest with Des Walker,” he recalls. “My first full season was alongside him.
“To have a senior head is a big help. They carry the can when playing alongside you. I then went to Tottenham and Ledley King filled that role. I was 21 at the time and Ledley 25 or 26 but I looked to him as a senior player at that age because of the experience he had. Plus, the presence he had and how he carried himself.
“If I can be like that for the young lads here. Curtis (Davies) and Tom (Huddlestone) will be thinking the same. We all have a big role to play.
“The two lads from Arsenal are quality. I saw that after one day’s training. Arsenal bring through talented players and these two are just that.
“Those boys have been at a massive club in Arsenal and been around top players. The way they have been brought up means they conduct themselves right. But if I can pass on any experience, I will.
“I am still as hungry as I was when 21. That hunger has never left me. I am the same every day.
Dawson’s last appearance in the Championship came on January 15, 2005. It was his 83rd and final league outing for Nottingham Forest before a £4m move to Tottenham Hotspur.
Forest lost 2-1 at home to Millwall en route to being relegated. Since then, Dawson’s career has been played out entirely in the Premier League, European competition and with England.
Asked if he believes the second tier has changed much since his last appearance, Dawson replied: “I’ll tell you after a couple of weeks playing here. Nothing is given to you. It has to be earned.”