WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
NAME: Alan Dickens
DATE OF BIRTH: 3 September 1964
DEBUT: 18 December 1982
LAST GAME: 23 May 1989
When it comes to cultured midfielders at West Ham United, there have not been many to rival Alan Dickens who lit up the team with his poise and passing during the 1980s.
Watching on against Everton this afternoon will be Alan Dickens. The former West Ham United favourite is a London taxi driver these days but he is still to be found at the Boleyn Ground every matchday. Instead of dictating the play of the pitch, the 44-year-old will be sat up in the Centenary Stand, watching things unfold along with his two West Ham-mad sons Luke,14 and Sam, 12.
"I am really enjoying going over to the matches again," says Dickens from his cab as he drove around the Capital's streets. We have had our season tickets for three years now. The team are definitely trying to play good football and I have quite enjoyed it of late, to be honest."
"You could not get a better footballer than Gianfranco Zola. I am sure he is going to bring all those good things he had as a player to West Ham and try and make the team play the way he likes to play. His arrival will only be a good thing."
Dickens knows a thing or two about the West Ham way with 231 league and cup appearances in claret and blue - and he appreciates the need for a bit of flair. "I would say the last couple of years we have just lacked that little bit extra. We have been used to players like Paolo Di Canio - every time I watched him play, he was fantastic. We had Carlos Tevez briefly and he was special, the kind of player that would get you out of your seat."
"Maybe we had become a little cautious but that's the way the game has gone generally. Apart from the top four, teams have been so desperate to stay in the division because if you come out of it you are in big trouble. Maybe that pressure wasn't there when I was playing - you could go for it and the fans demanded that."
Dickens is more than happy to be one of those supporters these days, and is relishing being able to bring his children to matches. "My sons are big fans and the really enjoy it. I don't really talk to them about my playing days. I sometimes remind them that I used to play but they are not that interested! It is a long time ago since I played. "We also enjoy watching all the great players that come here to play and all the fantastic footballers you get in the Premier League now. It is a different game these days and kids are also well informed. My two watch all the Spanish football and know all the players. We didn't really have that."
Dickens, who cites Mark Noble as one of the players he most enjoys watching, came through the ranks himself under John Lyall and he is gladdened to see the tradition of homegrown players continuing. "What is fantastic about West Ham is we are still true to the youth system. At the weekend we had Jack Collison and Freddie Sears playing, and I still remember the moment when I jumped out of my seat last season when Freddie scored against Blackburn. These youngsters give you a lift when you are going through a tough time. I have no doubt that Zola will stick to the West Ham tradition."
Dickens will be there to watch it unfold and does not mind that "no one takes any notice" of him as he takes his seat - nor that while driving his cab every day "no one really talks about football too much".
He added: "I just go along with my sons and we really enjoy it. What is great is my kids can go down and get a hot chocolate or whatever and there is never any trouble. In the 80s, it was a bit different and not as safe. I think football has gone the right way. My kids enjoy their football and I do too."