This feature first appeared in the Crystal Palace v West Ham United matchday programme – 15th October 2016.
“I’ve played my best football here and enjoyed every minute”
In a relatively short space of time, Scott Dann has already achieved plenty at Palace. After representing the club for the 100th time last month at Southampton, he reflects on his time in south London as he continues to go from strength to strength in red and blue.
Having limped off the field after just 19 minutes and seeing his side’s interest in the EFL Cup end at Southampton last month, celebrations were far from Scott Dann’s mind. About to file that match in the pile marked ‘forget’, a browse of the club’s website meant that particular night would instead end up being very memorable.
That was how the newly-appointed Palace captain found out that he had actually just made his 100th appearance for the Eagles since moving from Blackburn Rovers back in January 2014. He admits the rapidness of reaching that milestone caught him by surprise, but helped ease the pain of a hamstring injury ever-so slightly.
“I didn’t realise it was my 100th game until the day afterwards when I spotted it on the club website,” he said. “It wasn’t a good night as I picked up an injury and we lost the game, but it was nice to reach that milestone. It’s really pleasing and it feels as though it’s come quite quickly. I know I’ve been here for a couple of years now but it’s come around fast and it’s something I’m proud of. I’ve played my best football here and enjoyed every minute, so for that reason I feel as though it’s the best part of my career.”
When you start digging through the stats, it’s actually no surprise that he has completed a century in just over two-anda- half seasons. Since making his debut in February 2014, Dann has not just played in, but started 100 out of a possible 111 matches, and never sat out more than two in succession.
Despite having played for five clubs on a permanent basis and captaining them all, it is only the second time that the 29-year-old has reached three figures at the same place, and is now just six games shy of the 106 he featured in for Blackburn during a similar timeframe.
It took weeks of negotiations with Rovers for Palace to land their man two-and-a-half years ago, but in a short space of time the club is a vastly different organisation to the one that the centre-back first walked into on a chilly January morning. After an arduous six or-so hour long wait in the training ground canteen on deadline day, his patience finally paid off.
Looking back on that time, he said: “It seemed to drag on; I first heard in the early part of the month that there was some interest, but as January transfers tend to do, it went on and on. Blackburn didn’t really want me to leave but I wanted to make sure I got back in the Premier League.
“Until you sign on the dotted line there’s always a doubt that something might pop up and scupper the deal. It took a while because I think everything was agreed but there were a few formalities and other transfers going on at the same time. I was just thankful to get it done in the end – I knew at the time that there were a couple of other teams I could have gone to, but this was where I wanted to come and it has proved to be the right decision.
“It’s been a really enjoyable place to be over the past couple of years. I’ve been at four other clubs and at the time you think: ‘there’s a good set of lads here’, but when I came here it’s the same but also they’re real men that you can count on. All the players that have come in since have bought into that and I’ve made some really good friends here. We’ve had some that have left, but I will be friends with them for a long time.”
Lining up alongside new colleagues that would become lifetime pals, Dann wore his number six shirt for the first time against West Bromwich Albion the following week. A memorable crisp spring afternoon brought a 3-1 victory, but possessing the keen eye for goal that has seen him net 13 times during his hundred, Dann’s abiding memory of that day is one of slight frustration.
“We won the game but the thing that sticks out most is that I was the only new player not to score! Joe [Ledley] scored and Tom Ince did too, but I didn’t, so that’s what comes to mind, which is strange! It was nice to start with a win though and from then on we had a really good second half to the season.”
From that moment, Dann’s time in south London has seen highlights easily outnumber low points. Admitting that “a lot has happened in a short space of time”, when asked to choose his favourite memory he selects the 2014/15 campaign; one filled with adversity and three managers, but culminated in the club’s equal-second best league placing and allowing Alan Pardew to finally bed some roots and begin to make the club feel like one truly established in the top-flight.
“Finishing in the top 10 that season was a huge highlight, especially having been where we were when I arrived,” Dann said. “To finish my first year in 11th was great, so to improve on that was amazing.
“People forget how difficult it is when managers keep changing and you find yourself in the bottom half of the table, trying to make sure you stay in the Premier League and then push on the next season. When the current manager came in it kind of settled everyone down as we could all see that he wouldn’t just be here for a year. The chairman wanted to bring him in and they work really well together, so we have a lot more stability now. It’s a good time to be here.”
When trying to pick out his favourite of his first 100 matches in red and blue, the Scouser immediately opts for encounters against the red and blue halves of Merseyside: “Being a Liverpool boy and supporting them, scoring the winner at Anfield is the game that sticks out for me, plus the matches where I scored against Everton. But the game at Selhurst when we were 3-0 down and came back to draw 3-3, that’s the one that sticks out the most. It was a great game to be involved in.”
The list of great matches, records broken and achievements – such as winning the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year in the past two seasons – could run and run, so regrets are too few to mention. However the one that does is still raw.
“I would say the FA Cup final is the main one,” he admits, the disappointment still evident despite the passing of a few months. “We had worked so hard to get to a big occasion like that and the game was so close, so to come out on the losing side was so disappointing. That was the lowest point of my time here.
“It’s an achievement to get to the cup final, but the only thing I really care about is winning, so it’s tough looking back. What we have to take away from that is that we’ve proved we can get there and try and do it again, and next time win it.”
What you notice when speaking to the Eagles captain is that he is always looking to the future and evaluating ways that he can improve. When asked what he would have liked to achieve if we sit down for a similar interview after his 200th appearance, he focuses on being the best possible leader and defender, and hopes that it brings personal and team success along the way.
“In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been here I feel as though I’ve performed really well but as though I have a lot more to give,” he said. “That’s what the aim is; to keep on improving game after game and just be the best I can be.
“I would like to see the club in an even better position and see how far we can go. To get to the next level of playing in Europe is a big step, but if we keep on doing what we’re doing, then maybe in a couple of years’ time we can be there.Personally I would love to play for my country at some stage, so if I can keep playing well I might have a chance of that. It’s something I would love to do.
“I have been on the losing side in the cup final, and I have a League Cup winners medal having played every game until the final which I missed through injury. Both of those memories are bittersweet, so it would be nice, especially as captain, to get a piece of silverware, and there’s no reason we can’t do that.”
And having already crammed so much enjoyment into his first 100 matches for the Eagles, you wouldn’t bet against Dann achieving everything he desires by the time he completes a second century. Should he become a cup-winning captain and full England international, then you can guarantee that he will know all about the magnitude of game number 200 on the official website, but this time well in advance.