Remembering Dermot Drummy: 'An excellent coach and mentor'
Written by Simon Austin — November 27, 2022
DERMOT DRUMMY had been back coaching at Chelsea’s Academy in the week before he died.
This was where he'd enjoyed many of his best days as a coach, including leading their Under-18s to a first FA Youth Cup in 49 years in 2010. Following his sacking as manager of Crawley Town six months earlier, Drummy had been invited back to do some sessions at Chelsea by their Head of Youth Neil Bath.
According to those who were present that week, Drummy was in fine form, as funny and ebullient as ever.
“He had us rolling about laughing, trying on clothes he’d just bought on eBay,” remembers one of the Blues coaches.
However, just a few days later, on the morning of Monday November 27th 2017, the 56-year-old’s body was found in woodland near the A414 in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, where he lived. A short while later he was pronounced dead.
The inquest was held five months later and a verdict of suicide was recorded by Edward Solomons, the Assistant Coroner for Hertfordshire. The court heard from Drummy's GP, who revealed that he had been seeing a counsellor "for low mood after losing his football job".
Chelsea's Academy coaches had never seen this coming; neither had his closest friends in football. A phrase that kept coming up again and again was, “I had no idea.”
Yes, Drummy had been feeling low following his sacking as Head Coach of Crawley Town just six months earlier, but he had clearly been putting a brave face on.
“I’d seen Dermot shortly before and there was no way I could ever have dreamt that he would do that,” says Neil Banfield, QPR’s assistant manager and a friend of Drummy's since the 1970s, when they played district football together.
They had worked together as London cabbies and then at Arsenal’s Academy for eight years. They had always stayed in touch, but Banfield had no inkling that his pal was considering taking his own life.
“Dermot was always helping other people and he was always making people laugh," says Banfield, who went on to become Arsenal first-team coach under Arsene Wenger.
"Dermot had an effect on people’s lives, he really did, and you don’t forget someone like that. He should be remembered.”
And that's the reason for this piece.
A ‘GREAT DEVELOPER’ AT ARSENAL
Dermot Drummy was born on January 16th 1961 in Islington, North London.
He joined his beloved Arsenal in 1976, finding himself alongside Paul Davis, Paul Vaessen and Brian McDermott in the youth and reserve sides, although he never broke through into the senior set-up.
Instead, the midfielder went on to ply his trade in the lower leagues, with Hendon, Wealdstone and Enfield. In 1988, he and Iain Dowie scored the goals in a 2-0 win for Hendon against Wembley FC in the final of the Middlesex Charity Cup at Wembley Stadium.
As his playing career wound down, Drummy turned his hand to coaching, earning his badges while working as a black cab driver. His old friend Banfield did exactly the same.
“We were in that era where we finished playing, didn’t have the careers we’d hoped for, and being London cabbies gave us the freedom to do our football as well,” he tells TGG.
Being a cabbie actually helped the duo with their coaching.
“It gave you a perspective, working with the public,” Drummy later said. “I didn’t make it as a player at Arsenal and got up at 4am in the morning to work and then went coaching.
“My journey has been different, but it means I can talk to these lads.”
In football, the coach became renowned for his wit and one-liners, no doubt honed during those years as a London taxi driver.
One line he liked was: “Know why I gave up my job as a cabbie? Too many people talking behind my back.”
"Young players had a feeling that Dermot was helping them"— Training Ground Guru (@ground_guru) November 27, 2022
Remembering Dermot Drummy, the brilliant Arsenal and Chelsea development coach who took his own life 5 years ago today @chelseayouth @AbsoluteChelsea @ArsenalAcademy https://t.co/FXIFajQhIX pic.twitter.com/xEY9P38cVw
Yet underlying this humour was a fierce passion for coaching. A chance encounter with Liam Brady, by now the Head of Youth for Arsenal, took him back to the North London club he loved.
Drummy started off by coaching the Under-12s and worked his way up through the age groups. Over the years he helped to develop many youngsters who went on to have first-team careers at both Arsenal and beyond.
Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Frimpong, Jay Thomas, Francis Coquelin and Alex Iwobi were just a few.
“Technically and tactically Dermot was very good and he was extremely well thought of in his coaching ability," Banfield says, "but there was more to it than that and it was what made him a great coach - the young lads had a feeling he was helping them, not only in football but in life.
“He had a really good personality and brought humour into it. The lads could relate to him. We always felt we had to help these players develop into young men and they felt they could come to any of us.
“There are two kinds of coaches - a team coach and a developer. Dermot was the latter, a really good developer.”
There was a close link between the Academy and first team at Colney and Wenger later remembered Drummy as being “very very much appreciated here.”
The Frenchman added: “He did an excellent job, He had an outstanding record as a youth coach here and after.”
There was a tremendous camaraderie between Drummy, Banfield and Steve Bould, who was coming through the coaching ranks after a famous playing career at the club.
“We were close, me, Dermot and Steve,” says Banfield. “When I was doing the 18s, Dermot was doing the 16s and many times after training we would go over to The Colney Fox, have a Guinness and talk football.
“They were great times. Dermot had a wicked sense of humour, he was an extremely funny fella. We were always laughing and I miss him a lot."
MAKING HISTORY AT CHELSEA
In 2007, Drummy left the Gunners to become U16s coach at their London rivals Chelsea. The Blues were investing heavily in their youth programme and recognised Drummy’s pedigree as a player developer.
Two years later he took charge of the U18s and led them to their first FA Youth Cup in 49 years in his first season in charge. The 3-2 aggregate win over Aston Villa was big news for Chelsea, because it announced their arrival as a real Academy power.
A period of dominance followed, in both domestic and European youth football.
Next, Drummy took over the U21s, and in 2014 he led them to the Premier League title. The squad included Nathan Ake, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen and Lewis Baker, who have all gone on to forge impressive senior careers.
“Dermot was at the forefront of what happened at Chelsea,” Banfield says. “The proof is in the pudding, when you look at the players who came through under him.”
However, he was frustrated by the lack of first-team opportunities for his talented crop of players. In October 2016, Drummy, by now at Crawley, said: “Chelsea have produced plenty of players up to about the U20 level, but then what happens? They go out on loan. It's messy. There is no real link to the first team.
“I don't think Chelsea's managers know enough about these young players. Antonio Conte or any manager that comes in has to hit the ground running fast. You lose a game and it is alarm bells. Their remit is to keep their jobs, to be successful with the first team.”
These words proved prescient, because Drummy ended up getting the first-team opportunity he had craved, but the owners didn't show much patience.
FIRST-TEAM MANAGEMENT (AND DISAPPOINTMENT)
Drummy was appointed boss of League Two Crawley Town in April 2016. Word has it that he showed Turkish owner Ziya Eren a clip from Only Fools and Horses when he was laying out his vision for the club. It was intended as a humorous way of helping to explain his background and personality.
Despite having one of the smallest budgets in the division, Crawley stayed up. However, a run of one win in 13 led to Drummy being axed, just one year into his two-year contract.
“I think he always wanted to be a first-team coach, but if you’re chasing it, sometimes it disappoints,” says Banfield.
Drummy was a development coach, which was appreciated within the squad, but perhaps not by the owner.
“I learned from him as a man,” Crawley midfielder Josh Payne later explained. “He was brilliant, one of the best man-managers I have come across. He got everyone together.
“For me personally, the impact he made was incredible and you can only appreciate him.”
Publicly, Drummy was defiant.
“I genuinely felt that staying in the league with our budget was a success,” he said. “I have to review myself and see what I think went wrong. I will learn from that.”
But privately he was hit hard, especially when he found himself out of work for the first time in years. This was why Bath invited him into Chelsea to help with some sessions.
“His life was on the pitch and certainly he was very unhappy not to be on it any more,” Wenger later said.
At 9.57am on Monday November 27th, Drummy’s wife phoned the police because her husband had gone missing. This was “out of character.”
A search began and his body was discovered in woodland nearby. At 12.29pm, the 56-year-old was pronounced dead. Later, police found a note he had written to his family, signed off, “I hope you forgive me”.
Banfield found out the terrible news from John Yems, a mutual friend.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Banfield says. “I would never have known Dermot was thinking of doing that.”
Later that day, Drummy’s son, Joe, tweeted: “Ok, so this is the toughest day. Unfortunately, my Dad passed away this morning. I bloody loved that guy and couldn’t have been more proud of his achievements in all aspects of life. Best Dad I could have asked for. Too me a fucking legend and awesome role model.”
Tributes came from players and coaches Drummy had worked with too. Jack Wilshere tweeted, “Great man and great coach. RIP mate,” and Michael Beale said, “Terrible news. An excellent coach and mentor of young players. Always passionate about young players and had a fantastic sense of humour. Sleep well mate.”
At his inquest, on April 5th 2018, it emerged that Drummy had been seeing a counsellor “for low mood after losing his football job.”
No-one in football seemed to have known. Not the coaches he had seen at Chelsea the week before; not his fellow students on the LMA Diploma in Football Management.
One of those, Chris Hargreaves, said: “Like most of us, I would never have known that he had suffered from recent bouts of depression - this after being sacked from Crawley and not feeling he had been given a proper second chance anywhere.
“I feel very sad that Dermot could not open up properly to any of his fellow peers about his disappointment, or his frustrations, but I know how proud people can be and how difficult it can be to open up as a man. Certainly in the world of football, anyway.”
Even Banfield, a friend of 40 years, hadn’t know.
“I still find it hard to understand,” he says. “I don’t think it’s ever come out why. Maybe life got on top of him. When we had our conversations it got quite deep at times, and we’d talk about life, but there was never a moment when I thought, ‘He’s getting a bit blue here.’
“With mental health you just never know what’s going on inside, what might lead him to take his own life. It’s such a tragic thing for the people you leave behind.
"Mental health is extremely intricate and sometimes you can’t control your feelings. You’ve got to try and talk and discuss your problems and it's so sad that Dermot wasn't able to do that.”