Dean Austin is another manager in League Two with little or no managerial experience, having recently been appointed to his first position in the professional game at the relatively advanced age of 48. He has a lengthy career in football as a player and coach of course, but steps up to the manager’s chair with the significant challenge of stabilising a relegated club and starting the journey back towards League One.
Hailing from Hemel Hempstead, right back Austin spent his formative years at local club Watford, whom he joined at the age of 12. He would have an intermittent relationship with the club over the course of the next thirty-five years, but having missed out on a professional deal at the age of 18, he dropped into non-league football with St Albans City. Austin did well enough to earn a £14,000 transfer to Fourth Division Southend in April 1990 as the club was closing in on promotion. After seven appearances at the end of the 1989-90 season, he found himself in the Third Division. He became an automatic fixture in the side as Southend went straight through to the Second Division by finishing second. Two promotions in your first two seasons in the Football League is something the majority of players can only dream about, and the dream continued into the 1991-92 season as Southend finished in an excellent twelfth position in the second tier. Southend were actually top of the table after their 1-0 win at Oxford on Boxing Day, but fell away to miss promotion to the inaugural Premier League by a fair margin.
He need not have worried, because the Premier League was to be his immediate destination. Austin signed for Tottenham Hotspur, the club he supported as a boy, on 4 June 1992. A tribunal set the fee at £375,000. His six years at White Hart Lane were affected by a series of injuries which made winning a regular place in the side very difficult. He made 34 appearances as Spurs finished eighth in his first season of 1992-93, and also appeared in the 1-0 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal. He missed part of the following season with a broken leg as they avoided relegation by just three points, but still managed 23 Premier League games. A knee injury kept him out for part of 1994-95, although he did play in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Everton. He made 28 appearances in 1995-96 as Spurs narrowly missed out on a UEFA Cup place to neighbours Arsenal, but a series of knee injuries took their toll and he played very few games during his final two seasons at White Hart Lane. On 8 July 1998 he joined former manager Terry Venables at Crystal Palace on a free transfer. He made 154 appearances for Spurs in all competitions without scoring.
Palace had just been relegated from the Premier League and hopes were high for a swift return. However, his four seasons at Selhurst Park got off to a poor start, and owner Mark Goldberg was unable to continue the immense financial backing the club needed. Palace went into administration in March 1999, with Venables and his staff removed as a cost-cutting measure. Players walked away in large numbers because they were not being paid, and by the end of the season only Dean Austin, Hayden Mullin and Clinton Morrison remained from the squad that started the season. Austin decided to stay and accept a substantial pay cut. New manager Steve Coppell managed to keep the club in the First Division with a blend of reserves and players from the youth team, but it was a bargain-basement squad that went into the 1999-2000 season. Austin was appointed captain, but Palace struggled to finish fifteenth in a season that promised and delivered very little.
During the close season of 2000, the club was taken over by Simon Jordan and all debts were cleared. Things were looking better for Crystal Palace, but in a strange move, Coppell was replaced by former manager Alan Smith after some poor pre-season results. Palace struggled badly from the start. Having taken just eight points from their first fourteen games, they looked doomed to relegation. Bizarrely, they reached the semi-finals of the Worthington (League) Cup in the midst of poor league results. Form fluctuated wildly until a run of one win in fourteen games saw Smith sacked on 29 April with relegation almost inevitable. However, 4-2 win at Portsmouth in the penultimate game gave Palace hope, and an 87th-minute winner at Stockport on the final day kept the club up by a single point. The manager’s door continued to revolve, with Steve Bruce and Trevor Francis occupying the Selhurst Park office during 2001-02. Another series of injuries saw Austin fall out of favour, and he decided to retire from playing during the close season of 2002 at the age of 32. He made a brief comeback the following season at Woking, where Glenn Cockerill was manager. Having helped Woking stay in the Conference, Austin finally hung up his boots on his 33rd birthday.