‘I did not know what would happen’: Eric Dier on fan confrontation, abuse and earning his England recall

Whether heading to Qatar or charging into the crowd, Eric Dier thinks he carries his principles with him. An England recall is well-timed for a footballer who believes he is in the form of his life and a thinker who wants to understand the issues in the World Cup’s host country. “From my point of view, wherever I go in the world as an individual I’m going to carry the same values no matter where it is,” he said.

Dier can be a man of action as well as words. His insight into fan misbehaviour and intimidation of players’ families stems from personal experience. He is the grandson of Ted Croker, a former secretary of the Football Association, and was banned by the FA for four games in 2020 for venturing into the stands to defend his brother, Patrick, when he was insulted by Tottenham fans.

“I wasn’t at all happy with the way it was handled,” he said. “I don’t know what I can say about it because I don’t know if I’ll get banned or fined again. But I don’t regret it at all and I’d do it again. [For] my family, my team-mates, anyone, a friend of mine. I consider myself to be extremely loyal.”

Dier was charged and banned by the FA after charging into the stands in March 2020

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If there is a widespread feeling that crowd trouble has become more frequent and more unpleasant after lockdown, Dier concurs. It is why his mother won’t go to Tottenham’s matches on the road. “It has definitely got worse,” he said. “For me, it is a serious problem. I had some family and friends at the Chelsea away game with Tottenham and they had problems. Not nice ones either. It is a huge, huge problem. It was verbal, not physical, but bad stuff.

“I never complain about this stuff and I don’t really mind. We played Burnley in the next away game after I went into the stands and the Burnley fans were singing a song about my brother and I like that kind of thing: I find it quite funny. I like that kind of humour. But there are some things I find very strange. It is not nice. My mum has not been to an away game. She would love to, but I would be worried about it – and that’s crazy, isn’t it?”

If Louise Dier cannot travel to watch her son play, she is missing seeing a player enjoying a personal renaissance. Dier was a stalwart of Gareth Southgate’s England, the player whose penalty won the 2018 World Cup shootout against Colombia but he lost his place in the squad before Euro 2020, a troubled year accompanied by a dip in form as Jose Mourinho’s Spurs struggled, and wondered whether he had an international future.

“Not going to the Euros… maybe at that point I did not know what would happen after that,” he said. Unlike some in his profession, Dier tunes into games. He saw much of Euro 2020, when England reached the final in his absence, and when his former team-mate Christian Eriksen almost died on the pitch in Denmark’s colours.

Dier was a key figure in England’s 2018 World Cup campaign but then suffered a dip in form

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“To be honest, when I think about the Euros, the first thing I think about is Christian,” he said. “I have been extremely lucky in my life in that I have never really lost anybody close to me. That was just a very bad day. I was watching on television; I can’t really talk about it, man. It was tough.”

Dier’s on-pitch renaissance owes much to Antonio Conte; as England have adopted a back three, he is playing at the heart of the Italian’s 3-4-3. “He is the godfather of that system,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like a teacher’s pet but he has done a lot for me. He has had a great effect on me in every aspect: tactically, physically, mentally. I think I’ve reached my best level in my career, not just this season but last season as well.”

Dier is the key piece in Tottenham’s improved defence and has earned his England recall

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Dier may be England’s best centre-back – or certainly their most in-form one – now and yet he feels reports of his demise were exaggerated. He opted not to revisit the darkest days under Mourinho – “I don’t want to go there,” he said – but reflected: “I think it was my most difficult season when I did miss out on the Euros but I don’t think it was as bad a season as it is made out to be: nowhere near,” he explained. “I would be very happy to sit down with anyone and go through every game and then we could discuss it.”

Whether or not Southgate agrees, Dier remained in international exile for the best part of two years. He became a cause celebre among Tottenham fans as he remained stuck on 45 caps, tantalisingly near to a personal half-century. “When I wasn’t in the squad, it was playing on my mind that I was so close to it. That did annoy me,” he said.

Now a player with the FA in his blood is close to getting the kind of recognition that comes from joining an exclusive club, populated almost exclusively by the greats and the very goods. “I would love to be able to get to that kind of milestone,” he added. “I’ve seen they’ve got a board up now in the reception of the hotel of all the people who have made 50 and 100. It’s a dream to be able to reach that.” Go to Qatar and Dier probably will, and he will have got there his way.

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