The Dorman who wasn’t allowed in

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind – I am Welsh. Through and through. Despite having great-grandparents that descend from Stoke on one side of the family and great-grandparents that descend from Cork on the other side, I have always felt a 100% Welsh. I’ve always really liked the fact that I genuinely love my country of birth and having such a strong national identity, so I cannot imagine how it must feel to have your national identity so mixed up – which brings me onto Andy “is he or isn’t he Welsh?” Dorman.

The city of Chester almost acts like a gateway from North Wales into the North-West of England, sitting on the River Dee. In regards to football, there is not a ‘more-Welsh’, English team than Chester FC (the phoenix that has risen from the flames of the liquidation of Chester City FC) with the club’s Deva Stadium. Amazingly, the stadium, which sits just outside the city itself, straddles the Wales/England border with the ground’s front gates and offices located in England, while the pitch itself actually resides in the county of Flintshire, Wales. It was in this Anglo-Welsh or Welsh-Anglo city that Andy Dorman was born. Dorman was born on English soil to English parents and thus making him born a fully certified Englishman – he would not, however, grow up as one.

Half Welsh; Half English – The Deva Stadium, home of Chester FC

Dorman was educated in North Wales at Hawarden High School. The school has a reputation for producing great footballers having had the late, great Gary Speed pass through the school in the late 80s, as well as England star Michael Owen attending the school. Dorman would follow these two greats into the world of professional football. Owen, Speed and Dorman all played schoolboy football for Wales, their adopted country in the case of Dorman and Owen. From an early age, Owen’s progress had been monitored closely by many of the Premier League’s biggest names with many ready to pounce and offer him his first contract; Liverpool would win the race and the rest is history as they say. Speed, on the other hand, headed to Yorkshire following his time at Hawarden to become a trainee with Leeds United, a club he would go on to play for over 200 times, before eventually moving on to very successful spells at Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United. Dorman would take a much different route into professional football to Hawarden’s two other footballing alumni.

After completing his education, an 18-year old Dorman was on his way to Lost Boyo status (more on how he counts as Welsh later) as he crossed the pond to the US. Dorman was to move to Boston to undergo a ‘soccer scholarship’ in the States at Boston University. Dorman was offered the opportunity to make the switch abroad after a Wales U-18 training camp and a PE teacher who put his name forward for the scholarship at Boston. After three years at the university, Dorman entered the MLS Superdraft in 2004; the MLS Superdraft is a system where clubs are given the opportunity to sign players that have graduated from college/university or have been signed by the league itself. The Superdraft consists of three rounds in which the order of the players chosen is determined by a combination of the teams’ playoff and regular season positions, with the last placed team (or expansion teams) getting the first pick of the draft players. The first pick of the 2004 Superdraft was perhaps football’s greatest ‘whatever happened to…’ story: Freddy Adu, who was signed by D.C. United with astronomical expectations – many were surprised that the 15 year old Adu chose to begin his professional career in the US in the first place after supposed lucrative offers from Europe. 57 choices after first pick Adu, Andy Dorman was selected by the New England Revolution franchise. New England Revolution made three other signings in the MLS Superdraft Jeremiah White, from Wake Forest University, the brilliantly named Felix Brillant from Franklin Pierce College and a young Texan graduate from Furman University, who was 8th pick in the whole Superdraft process; the young striker was called Clint Dempsey.

Dorman in action for New England Revolution

New England Revolution were formed in 1996 and from the start of the 2000s they have generally been very successful throughout their MLS history, although they found themselves as the unlucky runners up on all four occasions they have reached the final of the MLS Cup (the final played out between Western and Eastern conference champions to determine the overall MLS champion). The 2005, 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup finals all featured New England Revolution, although they would lose all three finals, to LA Galaxy in 2005 and to Houston Dynamo in both 2006 and 2007 finals. The 2005 and 2006 finals would feature a young Andy Dorman, still learning his trade in the US.

New England’s impressive 68,000 seater Gillette Stadium

The step up from college ‘soccer’ to MLS football would have been quite a leap for Dorman, especially when looking at the new arena he was expected to perform in. In 2002 the club’s old Foxboro Stadium was replaced by the modern 68,000 capacity Gillette Stadium, which the football team shares with the American Football team the New England Patriots. Obviously with ‘soccer’ still to really take off in the US, the crowds have not even eaten into this capacity with New England’s average attendances just rising and falling either side of the 15,000 mark throughout the 21st century. In his first season, Dorman made sporadic appearances in the team and finished the 2004 season with 20 appearances in the team and 2 assists and 1 goal. Dorman found himself playing after injuries to key players left the team stricken and bottom of the MLS Eastern Conference, but a late surge at the season’s close saw them make the Eastern Conference final. Following 2004, Dorman became a more regular feature in the New England side, making 30 appearances plus in each of his final 3 seasons. In the 2006 MLS season, Dorman was particularly impressive after notching 6 goals and 11 assists in 32 appearances; Dorman was awarded ‘Man of the Year’ by the club’s supporters group ‘the Midnight Riders’. Dorman featured in both the 2005 and 2006 MLS Cup finals, featuring solely in the extra-time of the 2005 final where they were defeated 1-0 during extra-time by LA Galaxy and he found himself in the starting XI for the final against Houston Dynamo.

Dorman was a usually played at centre midfielder, usually in a more defensive position (he had played as an attacking midfielder throughout his college football years), but following Clint Dempsey’s move to Fulham in 2007, Dorman was forced to play further up the field and fill in for the attacking role left by Dempsey. Dempsey had been a revelation at New England Revolution, winning ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the 2004 MLS season and being a significant factor in New England getting to three MLS Cup finals in a row. Dorman struggled to recapture his form after his positional change and he soon found himself not the regular starter he once was.

After the 2007 season, Dorman was keen to sign a new contract at New England Revolution. Dorman had clearly enjoyed his time in the US and he had even begun to look into acquiring American citizenship, which would have made him eligible to represent the USA national team. Unfortunately for Dorman, after a breakdown in negotiations, he left the club for pastures new.

Following his spell in the US, Andy Dorman made his second Lost Boyo conquest, this time much nearer to home in Scotland. Andy Dorman signed for Scottish Premier League side St. Mirren halfway through the 2007/08 season. St. Mirren were halfway through the second season of their return to the Scottish Premier League under long standing manager Gus MacPherson. In their first season back in the SPL they had finished in 11th place and the club were now determined to improve on this and make themselves a solid club in the SPL; there had been a number of transfers in and out of the club, with the biggest blow coming from the departure of the impressive Scottish full-back Kirk Broadfoot to Rangers. There were perhaps no more important signings, in their bid for SPL stability, than that of Andy Dorman.

Dorman made his debut in January 2008 in an SPL fixture against Motherwell. Motherwell were one of the in-form teams in the SPL at the time, but St. Mirren defeated them 3-1 thanks to a great debut performance from Dorman. Dorman was causing problems throughout the game with his shooting and creativity and he created the first goal for Mark Corcoran. Dorman had only started the game because of suspension to Gary Mason, but he would soon become one of the first names on the team sheet. Dorman would feature in another 19 games (in league and cup) before the end of the season, scoring 5 times, with his first coming from a typical late run into the box against Dundee United at Tannadice. Stuart Gillespie in a piece for stmirren-mad.co.uk describes Dorman’s incredible impact at Love Street:

“When Dorman arrived from New England Revolution in January, he quickly established himself in the side and looked a fine player. His late runs into the box were a joy to watch and caught out several defences, while he seemed to be able to pick out passes with ease. His control, energy and ability were superb and, overall, he was arguably the most exciting player seen in a Saints shirt at Love Street for years. He even chipped in with a few goals and ended up our second highest scorer for the season.”

Dorman in action against Celtic for St. Mirren

Dorman had only been at the Paisley club for six months and there was already a lot of speculation about him joining a Championship club, and supposedly even Premiership teams were interested. In fact, for nearly the whole duration of Dorman’s time at the club, there was a cloud of speculation following him. Dorman had always stated that St. Mirren was a stepping stone to bigger things, but the early speculation in the summer of 2008 may have made Dorman take his eye off his form for his current club at the time.

The earlier ‘waxing lyrical’ about Dorman from Gillespie comes from a piece entitled ‘Could the real Andy Dorman please stand up?’ as Gillespie discusses Dorman’s poor start to the 2009/09 in comparison to his electrifying beginning at St. Mirren. After a number of poor showings, Dorman found himself residing on the St. Mirren bench. Dorman’s preseason had been interrupted through injuries and many fans pointed to this as a reason why he was not firing on all cylinders. Gillespie also points to the fact that Dorman was regularly playing out of position on the right wing, in an alien role compared to his usual attacking midfield berth.

St. Mirren found themselves struggling in the lower regions of the SPL for the opening part of the season, but by Christmas they began resurgence up the league, largely thanks to an inspired Dorman who was back to his dynamic best. The manager, MacPherson, hailed Dorman’s input into St. Mirren’s excellent form in the Daily Record. MacPherson pointed the finger at his injury problems for the reason why he had taken a while to get going again:

“It was about fitness for Andy because he had missed most of the pre-season work. Then he got another injury at Darlington and that hampered him.  The type of player he is with box-to-box running, a lot of his game is based on fitness. Andy’s confidence took a dent because he wasn’t able to do the stuff he did so well when he arrived in January. But four or five weeks ago we could see the improvement with each training session and game. He was getting stronger.  Now he’s making the runs and we know he has the composure when he gets in to score.”

Dorman scoring against Falkirk in April 2010

Dorman was superb for the remainder of the season as he inspired St. Mirren up the table; Dorman even won the SPL Player of the Month award for February. Dorman finished the season as the club’s joint top goalscorer, alongside striker Billy Mehmet, with 12 goals in all competitions and helped the club remain in the SPL another season (the club finished in 10th place – a one place improvement on the season before). Once again, speculation was rife about Dorman making a move south of the Scottish border, even though the club had taken up their extra year option in March. As well as talk of who Dorman’s next club might be, talk also ignited again about his international career.

Dorman has always stated that he feels Welsh, having lived there most of his life, been brought up there and went to school there. Dorman had made appearances for Wales schoolboys and Wales U-18s, but just months after his appearances for Wales U-18 there was a significant rule change that made him ineligible to represent Wales at any level. Dorman was born in England, his parents and grandparents were all English and thus he was not considered Welsh in FIFA’s eyes. Despite various fights against the ruling Dorman could not represent the nationality that he considered himself. Dorman told the BBC of his despair at not being allowed to represent Wales in March 2009:

“I played under-18 schoolboys, I think it was just before the rule changed where to play for the schoolboys you had to have been born in Wales or have Welsh parents. I lived in Wales for 18 years and went to school there, so I would love to have the opportunity to represent them. I would love to play international football.”

In October 2009, FIFA finally offered Dorman the chance he’d been waiting for with a change in certain eligibility rules. The Home Nations agreed to the clause that a player is eligible if:

“He has engaged in a minimum of five years education under the age of 18 within the territory of the relevant association.”

 Having completed the entirety of his compulsory education in Wales, Dorman was officially eligible for Wales and despite a healthy amount of options in the Wales midfield, word was that manager John Toshack was interested in calling up Dorman. Conveniently, Wales had a friendly fixture against Scotland in the month after the rule change, so Toshack sent his assistant Roy Evans to watch Dorman in action against Motherwell. Dorman played well and scored a goal in a thrilling 3-3 draw. After all the talk, it came as quite a shock when Dorman was not called up to the Welsh squad for a friendly fixture against Scotland in Cardiff. Dorman did not complain and decided he was going to work even harder now that his dream of international was in sight. Dorman would not have to wait long at all.

Dorman finally makes the Wales squad, over a decade after representing the U18s, after the introduction of the ‘five year school rule’.

On 9th November 2009, only 3 day after the Dorman-less Welsh squad had been announced, history was made, as Andy Dorman became the first international footballer to be called up to their national team under the new ‘five-year school rule’. Dorman was called up after Craig Bellamy, Simon Davies and James Collins had to all pull out of the original squad with injuries. Dorman made his way to Cardiff to meet up with the Welsh squad that was going to take on the country where Dorman played his domestic football. The game was played on Saturday 14th November and was the first international played at the Cardiff City Stadium. Unfortunately, Dorman would remain on the bench for the whole encounter and thus be denied his first cap in what must be considered one of (if not the) best performances of the Toshack era. Wales won 3-0 after a virtuoso display from an 18-year old Aaron Ramsey, who would score twice, one of them a superb solo run through the Scotland defence. Dorman left the Welsh camp disappointed after not earning his first cap, but he now had a taste for the national setup and he wanted more.

In May 2010, 6 months after his first call up to the Welsh squad, Dorman finally earned his first cap in a tough fixture out in Croatia. Wales had been denied the services of 15 senior players, so the team that lined up opposite Croatia certainly had a makeshift look about it. Dorman played alongside David Edwards and Brian Stock in the midfield and they put up a good fight against a strong Croatia team, but eventually their efforts were overcome by Croatia’s class as they went onto win 2-0.

By the time Dorman had earned his first cap, he had completed his final season at St. Mirren. The links with a move south had finally caught up with Dorman and he opted not to sign a new contract at the Scottish club and look to move south of the border ready for the 2010/11 season. After a number of clubs were linked to Dorman, largely teams in the second tier, Dorman signed for Championship club Crystal Palace. Dorman would never quite find his feet at Crystal Palace after a stuttering start to his time at the club and he was faced with long spells out of the first team. Dorman finished the season with just 20 appearances and 1 goal.

Dorman signs for Crystal Palace for the 2010/2011 season, but struggles to make an impact.

His second season at Crystal Palace was even worse and he made just three appearances (twice in the Carling Cup) for the first team and was largely confined to playing in the reserve team. After the opening months of the season it appeared that Dorman was destined to leave the club to look for regular football on a loan deal. November 2011, saw Dorman join Bristol Rovers on a two month loan, a loan that was eventually extended until the end of the season. Amazingly, after only a brief period playing in Britain, Dorman was 29 years old when he signed for Bristol Rovers.

Paul Buckle hailed the signing of Dorman, especially considering the mini injury crisis that was taking over Bristol Rovers. Dorman had signed in time to feature in the club’s FA Cup second round tie against lowly Corby Town. Buckle said:

“He is a box-to-box player and his record shows that he can score goals. He made 23 appearances for a Championship side last year, and he is the perfect age for us. He will add lots of value to our squad and the fact he is available for Saturday’s FA Cup game is a massive plus for us.”

Rovers would win the FA Cup tie 3-1 and Dorman played the whole 90 minutes.

On signing for the club, Dorman unveiled made a strange confession – he had joined the club expecting to play League One football, but on arriving he found out they were actually a league lower:

“If I’m being honest I thought they were still in League One,” the midfielder, 29, told BBC Radio Bristol. But I’ve got that chance to move them up the table and I’m just looking forward to playing and doing well.”

Dorman would feature 28 times for the Pirates, but unfortunately, they would not make the step up to the league he originally thought they played in.

Dorman celebrating for League Two (not League One) side Bristol Rovers

Dorman has since moved back to Crystal Palace following his loan spell at Bristol Rovers. Dorman’s future is very unclear at the moment, but current Bristol Rovers has claimed that he would like Dorman back at the club to help rebuild a side that will challenge for promotion from League Two. Dorman appears to have been dissatisfied with life at the Bristolian club on first arriving, but this turned around in the latter months of his loan spell; he speaks highly of new manager Mark McGhee and saw a lot of reasons why Rovers can be optimistic for the upcoming season:

“When I first came, things weren’t going great – although there was time to turn it around. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and there were changes with the management. But I think the last few weeks have shown there are definite reasons to be optimistic about next season. We’ve done really well in the last couple of home matches. The lads are full of confidence at the moment and it’s showing in the way we are playing and the goals we are scoring. Now things have been shored up, we are letting in far fewer goals and have been keeping more clean sheets. It has been an up and down season, but it is finishing off well.”

Dorman has stated that he is still evaluating his options on returning to Palace. There is still a chance that Palace manager Dougie Freedman might give Dorman another chance, but this is looking more and more unlikely. After such a long battle to get near the Wales squad, it would be a shame now if Dorman could not build on his 3 international caps; for Dorman to do this it is essential that he is playing fairly regular for a club side, whether it is Palace or not. With the rise in quality of the Welsh midfield over the past couple of seasons, it would also look like he would have to be playing at at least Championship level to be in with a chance of getting into the squad. It would be a shame if the Dorman could not get in again.

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