'I count myself very lucky to have played in those games' - Dean Furman on THAT day at Brentford, his departure and reuniting with Doncaster Rovers this weekend

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“You always look for some sort of connection when the draw comes up so it was great for it to be Donny.”

Sunday’s FA Cup clash between Rovers and Carlisle United will have special significance for one player in particular in the opposition camp.

Five years after his departure from the Keepmoat, Dean Furman will be reunited with his former club when they arrive at Brunton Park.

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The energetic midfielder was a popular player during his time with Rovers.

Dean Furman celebrates winning the League One title alongside David CotterillDean Furman celebrates winning the League One title alongside David Cotterill
Dean Furman celebrates winning the League One title alongside David Cotterill

And his status in club folklore was sealed during the eight game loan spell that preceded a permanent switch - when he became a hero of Brentford.

“It probably gave me one of the greatest highlights of my career, the promotion,” he told the Free Press.

“It’s hard because I wasn’t there for the full season so I didn’t feel like I was fully a part of the whole thing.

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“To be a part of the last quarter, that squad and that mentality and that final day of the season, it’s special to me and it was an incredible time.

Dean FurmanDean Furman
Dean Furman

“I always remember speaking to Iain Hume after the game and he said he’d never really won anything, which was a mark of the achievement and a special team that won the league.

“That was very special and I count myself very lucky to have played in those final few games that season for the club.”

South Africa international Furman had switched to Rovers from Oldham Athletic on loan in March 2013, and started the final six matches of the season in the push for promotion back to the Championship.

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He played the full 90-odd minutes of THAT final day clash at Brentford which brought tension, agony and then overwhelming ecstasy on one unforgettable afternoon.

Dean Furman in action for South Africa in a Africa Cup of Nations qualifier last yearDean Furman in action for South Africa in a Africa Cup of Nations qualifier last year
Dean Furman in action for South Africa in a Africa Cup of Nations qualifier last year

Every player involved has their own account of what was going through their minds when Rovers conceded the penalty in added time which looked to be sending them from automatic promotion into the play-offs only for, mere seconds later, James Coppinger to net the goal that won the League One title.

And Furman is no different.

“My brother was living in Miami at the time and I’d booked to go and see him,” he said.

“I was thinking ‘play-offs, oh no, I’m going to have to cancel.’ I hadn’t seen him for over a year at that point and I was excited to see him.

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Dean Furman in action for Rovers in 2015Dean Furman in action for Rovers in 2015
Dean Furman in action for Rovers in 2015

“But I thought we’d messed it up and we were going into the play-offs. What a disaster.

“Thankfully we very quickly ran down the other end, won promotion, and the holiday was back on!

“What a moment. Absolutely incredible.

“And I think every player and fan was only too happy that it was Copps that scored the winner for us.

“What a legend. I follow him and the club and every week while I was away I’d look how he was getting on and what he’s doing.

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“For him to go and get that goal made it even more special. It couldn’t have been written any better.

“It’s incredible. It’s one of those things that comes around every year, the videos circulate again and the memories come.

“I imagine that video will still be going round and round in 30 years, it’s such a rare thing.

“To be on the pitch and involved in the celebrations, it was so special.

“I do get goosebumps every time I see it.”

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After the dust settled on the promotion win, Furman joined Rovers on a permanent deal and played 35 times the following season as Rovers battled against relegation in the Championship.

And just like the year before, their fate came down to the final day, with relegation confirmed in added time in sickening fashion as Birmingham City scored a last gasp equaliser against Bolton Wanderers to secure survival at Rovers’ expense.

“It’s something I think anyone involved will say still hurts because with seven games to go we were clear,” Furman said.

“But the results didn’t come. We dominated at home against Birmingham and lost 1-0, we had Bolton at home which was a tough one to take.“And then the drama of the final day. As good as it was the year before it was as devastating with Birmingham equalising in the last minute when it was too late for us to do anything about it.

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“It’s a question that I ask - would you prefer to be in a team that’s winning every week and chasing promotion or one that’s really fighting and scrapping and suffering down the bottom end.

“I probably enjoyed the ten games I was involved with trying to win the league more.

The Championship is a fantastic league,. It was always a goal of mine to play in the Championship, though I would have hoped it would be for more than one season.

“Despite being at the wrong end of the table I did love being involved, playing against some fantastic players in fantastic stadiums, the Keepmoat being packed every week, winning at home against Leicester.”

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The following season, Rovers failed to deliver the expected challenge for an immediate return to the Championship and ultimately finished 13th.

For Furman himself, it was a strong campaign as he became increasingly influential in Rovers’ attacking play - particularly in aiding one of his team mates.

“I was injury free, I played a bit more of an attacking role within the midfield three we played and I really enjoyed getting forward,” he said.

“My main role, because I’d got the legs in there, was to move the left back so Copps had more space.

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“It was a bit of an unselfish job, running into space so Copps could have more of the ball but I really enjoyed my role.”

Furman was offered a new contract by then-boss Paul Dickov at the end of the season but insists he already had his mind on moving on from Rovers, entirely due to off-field matters.

“As much as I loved my time at Donny, I was just travelling too much,” he said.

“It’s probably my fault and I should have moved closer. But I was travelling too much and I wanted to look for something closer to where I was living.

“We were in Manchester.

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“There was myself, Richie [Wellens], Reece Wabara. The year before we had Billy Paynter, and Mark Duffy, so there were always a few of us travelling.

“Personally, I like to be on the training ground, taking my time, doing a bit extra. With the travelling it wasn’t really conducive for that. You’re on everyone else’s time, not just your own so it made it more difficult.

“I don’t blame anyone for that, I should have moved closer to the club.

“That was it. I loved my time at the club. The fans were great and the club is just fantastic.

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“But in looking to move closer to home I ended up moving to the other side of the world!”

Though options to remain in English football arose, nothing stood out that would satisfy what Furman was looking for.

And it was a call from back home that ultimately drew him in.

Furman joined SuperSport United in Pretoria, beginning what would prove to be a five-year stay at the top level in his native South Africa.

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“Since I’d played for the national team, it was an option that came up every year,” he said.

“There were always clubs trying to get me back and the timing was right to get back there.

“It was brilliant. A fantastic experience.

“At the time we had no real responsibilities in terms of family so I said to my wife we should go and try it and if we didn’t like it we could come back after a year.

“Five years on, if we hadn’t had the little one then we probably would have stayed. It was a fantastic way of life.

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“Football wise we were very successful, we won a lot domestically, we got to the final of the Europa League equivalent and it did my national team prospects the world of good too.

“I lifted four trophies while I was there, which is pretty special.

“I was really proud to have been the captain and been a part of it.”

Representing the national team and playing in the top division brought inevitable celebrity status that Furman had not experienced before.

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He said: “You’re recognised everywhere you go. You go in chatshows. It’s like here for the top players.

“There was a different dynamic to my status. It was nice. It was good to be under that spotlight of pressure.”

Again, it was matters off the pitch that influenced the next career move for Furman.

With his wife pregnant with their first child, the couple decided it would be wise to return to England to be closer to their families, as well as ensuring Furman would not be away from home as much as he would have had he continued to play in the DSTV Premier League.

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But, as with many things in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic ensured moving to the other end of the world was far from simple.

“The time in the sun had to come to an end unfortunately,” he said.

“We’d made our decision long before Covid took its toll but it definitely made a difficult job ten times harder.

“It certainly wasn’t easy coming back, finding a club and settling down while all this was going on.

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“I thought I was going to miss the birth of my daughter. I’d sent my wife back just before we went into lockdown and I said I’ll make it back when I can.

“It was tough. South Africa just completely closed their borders. Repatriation flights started happening but they got postponed or cancelled and no one knew what was going on.

“It was a bit of a disaster but we made it back okay.”

On returning to England, Furman signed with Carlisle in League Two.

So far, he admits it has been tough re-adapting to life in English football, particularly with Carlisle making a strong start to the campaign.

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And he believes Rovers will face a tough test on Sunday as they look for a place in the lucrative third round of the FA Cup.

“It’s great to be up there in those positions chasing something,” the 32-year-old said.

“I don’t think anyone really expects anything from us, if you look at the favourites at the start of the season.

“Having been involved for more than a dozen games, we’re looking really strong.

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“We’re direct, aggressive and a team that puts the ball in the box, that has boys that will attack the ball and we will be very strong this season.

“I hope that we can carry it on throughout the season.

“But it’s great to be involved with a team fighting at the right end of the table.”

Plenty has changed since Furman departed Rovers five years ago but he will be warning his team mates of a constant threat that has run through the side since well before his own time at the Keepmoat.

He said: “Hopefully there’s some people there that I will know.

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“I know Paul Gerrard is still there and obviously the main man Copps.

“I’ll be trying to tell the full back to stay on his feet because Copps has given me that trick plenty of times in training.”

He admits that this cup draw brought a smile to his face as well as bringing back memories of the good times with Rovers.

He said: “I’ll have the odd chats with Copps now and again.

“I saw Kyule Bennett at Grimsby the other week and had a great chat. And I still speak to Dave Syers.

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“You follow each other on social media so whenever you see someone doing something special you’ll send a message.

“Whenever the Brentford goal comes around again or Copps reaches another milestone you get back in touch and it’s always nice to have a little chat and catch-up.

“They’re great memories.

“If you want moments to remember your career by, I had a few of them there in my short period at Doncaster.”

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.

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