Dawson: Memory of 2006 still makes me sick

TOTTENHAM'S players may have been sickened by their failure to beat Everton on Sunday, but Michael Dawson can remember a time when he felt infinitely worse. Currently sitting in fourth place in the run-up to Christmas...

By Ben Pearce

TOTTENHAM'S players may have been sickened by their failure to beat Everton on Sunday, but Michael Dawson can remember a time when he felt infinitely worse.

Currently sitting in fourth place in the run-up to Christmas, Spurs could yet be involved in a dramatic sprint for the Champions League spots in May.

But Dawson has painful memories of that very scenario, when Tottenham's entire season was flushed down the toilet in a wave of sickness on the final day of the campaign.

Occupying the vital fourth place on the morning of May 7, 2006, Spurs simply needed to beat West Ham at Upton Park to win the season-long race with arch-rivals Arsenal.

But, with deadly timing, a virus struck the Tottenham squad overnight. The bleary-eyed Lilywhites were disastrously defeated 2-1, and the dream was over.

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Three seasons have passed without Spurs getting close to their long-term goal, and Dawson admits that the agony of that day - both physically and mentally - still motivates him.

"There's still quite a few lads still here who were involved in that West Ham game, which was gutting and so hard to take," said Dawson.

"To go there and have a lot of the lads ill, and not make it into the Champions League, it was hard to take. We were fourth for a long time that season, and the way we went out of it on the last day, it was hard. It's maybe made us a bit more hungry for this year."

Dawson, Aaron Lennon, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe were all involved on that fateful day for Martin Jol's side. Carl Fletcher put the Hammers ahead after 10 minutes and, although Defoe equalised 10 minutes before the break, Yossi Benayoun's 80th-minute winner broke Lilywhites hearts.

"Unfortunately I was one of the guys who was ill," Dawson recalls. "I was up in the middle of the night, I think it got to 4 o'clock and I phoned the doc and said 'I think I'm going to be struggling'. I was throwing up all the time. Then 8 o'clock came, we all went down to meet up and there were quite a few more like that.

"I played the whole game - well, I was out there anyway! To be honest I just couldn't wait to get to bed. I'd been up all night being sick, and everyone knows when you're being sick it wipes you out, and you have to go and run around for 90 minutes.

"You don't want to make excuses but I know how bad I felt and I know everyone else was in a bad way. Michael Carrick was the one who stands out to me. He came off and he was just in bits.

"But it's gone now. Hopefully this year we won't be looking back to the last day of the season and it happening again."

Of course, if Spurs were to reach another defining final-day showdown, there is no guarantee that Dawson would be involved. Harry Redknapp admits that, in an ideal world, he would partner Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate at the heart of his defence.

The arrival of Sebastien Bassong in the summer also seemed to nudge Dawson further down the pecking order, and his first league start of the campaign came just three weeks ago - in the 9-1 win over Wigan Athletic.

However, the 26-year-old has exploded back onto the scene, leading Tottenham out in their last three outings and scoring in two of them.

His joy, however, is tempered by the knowledge that his chance has come because of King and Woodgate's continuing injury hell.

"Of course I've got mixed feelings," said Dawson. "I've been here five years and Leds has been fantastic. Woody's the same. Football's about a little of luck and bad luck for someone else. You never want your mates to be injured but when you get a chance you've got to make sure you take it."

Ironically, Dawson is in the same position at international level, relying on injuries to win a first cap for England - and ideally at the World Cup.

Dawson was included in squads under Steve McLaren but was never capped. He was also on standby for the 2006 World Cup under Sven Goran Eriksson - again because of injuries, as the metatarsal curse hit the Three Lions before the tournament. And again, it was a case of so near, but so far for the Tottenham defender.

"It was the first time I was called into the England squad, and I had two fantastic weeks preparing with the lads," he added. "I wasn't on the plane in the end but it gave me the hunger to achieve. I'm still dreaming of becoming an England international, and dreams are there to be achieved.