Written by Alec MacKechnie
When Dean Horrix was sold by Reading manager Ian Branfoot to
Millwall on March 10th 1988 for £75,000, the reactions of the two halves
of the Elm Park club were curiously opposite. The Royals management (together
with the local press) appeared to be pleasantly surprised by the Lions' offer
for a striker no longer figuring - Simod Cup run excepted - in the first team
plans of a side nosediving at express train speed towards the old Division
3. The Elm Park supporters, on the other hand, were almost unaminously shocked
and saddened by the great man's decision to join the ranks of other ex-Reading
legends, Terry Hurlock and Steve Wood, at the Den. For them his departure
signalled the end of an era for Reading F.C.
Millwall were promoted to the top division (and, consequently, endless ITV coverage, this being a Sky Sports-free era, of course) at the end of that season, but only occasionally did we see glimpses of Horrix on the box, as his chances of edging out first choice forwards Terry Sheringham and Tony Cascarino were limited. So it was no real surprise when he was moved on to Bristol City for £50,000 to revive his career and renew old acquaintances in league battles with Reading and other associate leaguers.
However, his time at Ashton Gate proved to be tragically short. Even after leaving Elm Park he had continued to live in nearby Tadley, and he was returning there with his family on March 10th 1990 when he was killed in a car crash, 2 years to the day after he had left Reading F.C. All who had the pleasure of knowing him or seeing him play knew the football world was a poorer place without him.
Horrix started his professional career at the Den with Millwall and he achieved so much success there (Young Player of the Year and Player of the Year) and enjoyed such a rapport with the fans, that it came as something of a surprise when he was sold to Gillingham. His stay at the Priestfield Stadium was shortlived, and it was down to one of Maurice Evans' managerial masterstrokes that he was persuaded to join Reading in the summer of 1983 for £10,000, his arrival coinciding with that of another striker, 'Clever' Trevor Senior. The rest, as they say, is history.
Reading had just been relegated to the basement division of the Football League with - Kerry Dixon apart - arguably their weakest squad of players in the last quarter of the 20th century. New chairman Roger Smee had only narrowly prevented Robert Maxwell from making Reading F.C. extinct with his ridiculous 'Thames Valley Royals' plan, and the club was in desperate financial straits with match attendances at an all-time low.
The signing of Horrix and Senior instantly lifted the gloom and doom at the club. The new striking partnership hit it off straight away, producing goals on a seemingly permanent basis, in fact over 50 in the first season, and was the major factor in Reading's instant return to the old Division 3 (now known as Div 2!). Although Senior scored most of the goals, the fans took to Dean more readily and soon nicknamed him 'Deano' - a chant which was to reverberate around Elm Park for five years on a regular basis.
'Deano' was loved by the fans for his ever-positive attitude, his awkward but brave style, for his unselfish 'assists' which gave Senior most of his goals. Senior and Horrix succeeded Bristol Rovers' Warboys and Bannister as the King 'Smash and Grab' partnership of the lower divisions. 'Deano' would do all of the smashing, 'Clever Trevor' most of the grabbing, as Reading's long ball game, perfected by Maurice Evans' successor Ian Branfoot, rapidly took the Royals into dreamland - (old) Division Two and league games against the likes of Leeds United, Sunderland and Derby County.
The difference in goalscoring style between Horrix and Senior was remarkable. The former's goals, while less frequent, tended to be spectacular; the latter's, invariably two-yard screechers from a 'Deano' assist. Who will ever forget Dean's truly hilarious 50-yard cross which almost broke the net against Bristol City in April 1984 - a 'fluke' it may have been in the eyes of the media and bald-headed City goalkeeper, Peter Springett; but to us, the South Bank faithful, it was right up there with Robin Friday's 'goal of this or any other season' against Tranmere in 1976. And I dare anyone present at Elm Park on New Year's Day of 1986 to deny that his 15 yard shoulder high volley past Gillingham's 'keeper Ron Hillyard was anything but the work of a genius. My abiding memory of the memorable Senior, on the other hand, was of him scoring the winner against Huddersfield Town one evening in 1987 from one yard with his bottom!
Some of Dean's most crucial strikes came in his final season at Reading. Inexplicably overlooked for league games by the increasingly under-fire manager Ian Branfoot in favour of Steve 'No Goals' Moran (at £250,000 a very expensive purchase that Branfoot couldn't afford to drop), 'Deano' was left to ply his trade almost solely in the Simod Cup run, for which Moran was ineligible to play. History will show that Reading won the trophy because they beat Luton Town 4-1 at Wembley Stadium in the final, shortly after Horrix had been transferred back to Millwall; but it was the great man Horrix himself who acted as the catalyst for that success, scoring vital goals on the way to Wembley against Oxford, Nottingham Forest, Bradford City and, finally, in the semi-final penalty shoot-out, a vital strike against Coventry City.
Over five seasons with the Royals, 'Deano' became the fans' Number One favourite. The man could have an absolute stinker from time to time, and the South Bank terrace faithful would still be chanting "Deano, Deano" whenever he was on the ball, because you never quite knew what he might do next. More likely than not, he would be playing the role of support act for Trevor Senior, setting up chance after chance for his sidekick; but then, on occasion, would come one of his trademark stunners into the top corner of the net, and he would deservedly take some glory for himself.
Eleven and a half years later, and Reading F.C. has moved forward in ways we wouldn't have dared dream of in Deano's days. Close shaves with the Premiership, one of the best stadia in the country, a fantastic and wealthy chairman, and some truly great players that have come and gone. This is a truly different, and much bigger club. And yet we're still in Division 2 (or should we say, the old Division 3?).
Would Deano have figured in a Reading forward line-up with the likes of Quinn and Lovell, Morley, Cureton and Butler, or Forster and Rougier? It's impossible to say, the game is so different to what it was in 1990, and so much more is at stake now. The finest accolade I can give Dean Horrix in 2001 is that, if we had a player of his honesty, endeavour and charisma in our squad today, the likes of Cureton and Butler would want him in their side.
'Deano', thanks for the memories.
Written by ALEC MACKECHNIE
(originally written in 1990 but never submitted, now revised to bring it up-to date).