SUSPENDED, injured or in a huff because you’ve been dropped.
The unwritten rule for footballers is that you sit in the stands offering some moral support to your teammates whether you want to be there or not.
But Braintree Town players shouldn’t have been offended by Dean Wells’ absence on occasion for the past two seasons.
It’s not that he would rather spend the afternoon in Homebase or at some ropey chicken joint. It’s not that he doesn’t love his football, either. Life would have been a whole lot simpler if that was actually the case.
No, the problem is that, for the past two seasons, the central defender has been banned from entering a football stadium if he isn’t taking part in a match. It’s only good fortune he is allowed into grounds when he is.
Just under two years ago, Wells was released from prison having served six months of a years’ sentence at Her Majesty’s pleasure for his part in an arranged brawl between football fans in May 2010 outside Liverpool Street Station.
The banning order placed on him and other members of the groups found guilty of the disorder after rival Brentford and Leyton Orient fans clashed, forbids them to go within a mile of a stadium on matchdays.
A tall order if you’re a Conference Premier player, wouldn’t you agree?
Wells, speaking for the first time about the darkest period in a life he is working hard to get back on track, said: “It was touch and go for a while. We appealed because of the circumstances, the fact I was a semipro footballer, and, thankfully, the police accepted that and I was allowed in when I was playing.
“But if I wasn’t involved in the game I couldn’t attend, simple as that. I had to agree to those terms so if I was left out I’d have to turn around and go home. I got the news a few weeks ago that the ban is over a few months earlier than expected. It’s a bit of closure for me, I can officially consign that horrible part of my life to history. The ban from grounds has killed me, I’ve not been able to see Brentford at all except on TV. I couldn’t go to Wembley for the League One play-off final in May, that really hurt.
“I’ve got a lot of love for football, and everyone that knows me understands I have a passion for Brentford. Since I was four years old they’ve been in my heart, but one day three years ago it went too far.
“We were out drinking and the beer goggles came out. Brentford were playing Hartlepool and Leyton Orient were at home to Colchester. We went into London for a drink, someone saw something on facebook, and before we knew it, arrangements were being made. Someone came up with the bright idea of meeting them at Liverpool Street station and things had got seriously out of hand.
“I’m not going to put the blame on anyone else. I was 25, I knew better. I spent the first five months in Belmarsh and the last month in Hollesley Bay, in Suffolk.
“In a weird way getting caught and going down was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I would never glorify going away – but this was a serious reality check, I don’t want to say I needed it but it needed something to slap me in the face quite hard. Six months inside allowed me to get my head right.
“When I came out of prison my whole focus on life just changed. I’ll be honest – sitting behind those bars thinking of my son and my family made me realise what a selfish, terrible person I had become. I’d rather go and have a drink than do family things. Now my life is different – it’s about earning money to support my boy Joe and making him proud.”
Wells’ demons aren’t limited to alcohol and being easily led. His gambling addiction had caused him to slip off the rails too, but he took a brave decision to straighten that area of his life out as well.
The former Hampton & Richmond player, who has been justifiably rewarded with his first ever contract since his early days at the Beveree, added: “My friend told me about hypnosis, and how he believed it could be a way forward for me.
“I thought I had nothing to lose so I gave it a go. I was sceptical, of course I was. I didn’t know what to expect but do you know what, I haven’t placed a bet since going a few months ago – so far so good.
“It was initially a bit scary as I was going into the unknown, I haven’t looked back since doing it and I would recommend it to anyone that needs to kick a habit.
“I have been sidetracked in my life, that’s obvious. I was drinking too much and I wanted to quit football at one stage. I have had to get myself sorted but I think I am in the best place I have ever been and, hopefully, people can see that on the pitch as well as those around me can see it off it.”
He needs to have his head right. Not only is Wells a vital part of the Iron squad that is preparing for a surprise tilt at the play-offs in their third season in Non-League’s top flight, but he is also manager Alan Devonshire’s personal chauffeur!
“Dev is more than a manager,” accepts the defender, who followed the West Ham legend to Cressing Road after great success at home town team Hampton. “He is a friend, he has done an awful lot for me over the year. He helped me through some bad times. Hopefully, by being his driver, I am paying him back.
“Last year there were a few of us players and Dev. Even if it’s two minutes before you’re due at his he is calling you ‘where are you, where are you!”
I’m quite local to him so thankfully I don’t hit too much traffic, the problem comes through the other boys, Ryan Peters and James Mulley – if they’re running late I’ll get it in the ear!
“It’s not easy getting everyone over to the other end of Essex from west London, but I like the responsibility and they chip in with the petrol money so who am I to complain?
“I think he’s pleased with my progress. One thing prison did for me was get me back in gym mode.
“Since I went in I have managed to lose two and a half stone. That is why I am playing at Conference Premier level – I can move more, so going to prison has actually contributed to my football. I was nearly 16 stone before that, do you know how happy it makes me that they no longer scream ‘you fat c***’ from behind the goal!”
“I can’t wait for the season to get going. I had a funny feeling we would be playing Hereford United in the first game and that’s who we got. Seeing the fixtures always gives you a buzz, and so far the pre-season running hasn’t been too bad.
“We’re heading into our third season in the Conference Premier. We’re still unfashionable Braintree but you won’t find a set of players that work harder. We’ve beaten Luton Town in each of our last three games. If you aren’t up for a fight, you’re going home with nothing. It’s our philosophy.
“We’re looking to keep surprising people and seeing where it takes us.”