Many Hammers will remember Dean Ashton as one of the best and most promising strikers to ever grace a West Ham United shirt, but just how good was he? Why didn’t he fulfill his true potential at Upton Park? And where is he now?
The former England international Dean Ashton began his coveted career at the then Championship side Crewe Alexander during their best years of the modern Football era.
The forward single handily guided the club to safety from the then Football League Division One and scored some memorable goals along the way. However, Ashton, who had quickly become an England international at U19 level, would soon attract the attention of some of the big boys and make a move to Norwich City in 2005.
It was in East-Anglia that the hard-hitting striker made his name in The Top-Flight and caught the eye of a certain Alan Pardew. The fee was believed to be in the region of £3 million to join The Canaries in January of that year and he would score in his second game against Middlesbrough. Ashton would go onto score 27 goals that season for both Norwich and Crewe in the 2004/2005 season, including a brace against us at Gresty Road in The Carling Cup.
However, just a year after the move to Carrow Road, the then 23-year-old told the Norwich board that we wanted to pursue a new challenge and that was at Upton Park for £7.5 million. The move would be the start of a love affair between Ashton and The Claret & Blue Army, who yearned for an old-fashioned striker like The No9.
Just like he did in green and yellow, Ashton notched his first Hammers’ goal in his second appearance in a clash with Sunderland at Upton Park, and then his second in the next game against Birmingham City. The forward would go onto contribute importantly to our F.A Cup run and even score in The Final, as we were edged out on penalties by Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool.
However, the former Crewe man would soon be brought back down to Earth rapidly in a tragic career-defining moment following his first ever England call up. Just a day before his expected Three Lions’ debut in a friendly with Greece, the born finisher broke his ankle in a tackle with Shaun Wright- Phillips. The injury was enough to keep him out for the whole of our “Great Escape” during the 2006/2007 season, but the striker would return for the start of the 2007/2008 campaign.
Fortunately, the Swindon born forward would enjoy a relative injury scare-free third season as a Hammer, as he made 35 appearances in all competitions scoring 11 goals. The campaign would also bring an even greater reward for the forward, as he made his England debut in a friendly with Trinidad and Tobago under Fabio Capello. Despite the fantastic breakthrough, it wouldn’t be long before a reoccurrence of the ankle injury caught up with Ashton.
After making a blistering start to the 2008/2009 season with two goals against Wigan Athletic in the opener, Dean Ashton would play his final ever game as a Professional Footballer in a 2-3 loss at The Hawthorns in September 2008. In December 2009, having had over a year out with the same ankle injury, Ashton announced his tragic retirement from Football at the age of 26 having scored over 90 career goals in 248 appearances for Crewe Alexander, Norwich City, and West Ham United.
Following the now 33-year-old’s announcement, he received praise and sympathy from the likes of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, Legendary striker Tony Cottee and former boss Alan Pardew. However, there would be no love lost between the barnstorming forward and The English Football Association, who he sued for his injury and reached an out of Court settlement believed to be worth many millions with.
The club also got in on the act too and threatened to sue The FA for the injury that Ashton received whilst on England duty to the tune of £10 million, such was the caliber of player that we were missing out on.
Nowadays, the former Canaries man is a poignant figure around the game, featuring as a pundit for Sky Sports, BT Sport, and BBC Sport regularly. However, now in his 30’s, he made the headlines more recently for an amazing moment during Mark Noble’s Testimonial in April 2016.
Playing for West Ham United All Stars against the first-team, Ashton received a long pass from fellow Legend Ian Bishop and duly dispatched the ball into the net with an outrageous overhead-kick. The goal mimicked his Premier League strike at Old Trafford in 2008 and made Football headlines all over the world, going down as one of the great Boleyn Ground moments.
Ashton is also now a very keen Golfer and has featured in several Amateur events across the country. However, flashback ten-years and the only time that the striker was trying to shoot-low was in the bottom corners of the opponent’s nets.
Unfortunately, Dean Ashton’s story is one that displays the darker side of the Footballer’s dream and leaves many fans to ponder whether the superb finisher could have surpassed the likes of Geoff Hurst, Paulo Di Canio and maybe even the great Vic Watson as the most clinical striker in West Ham United history, if only he could have stayed fit.