Dean Wilkins had just eighteen League appearances under his belt when he left England for the Continent in 1984, but after three years in the Netherlands he returned considerably more experienced and played a large part at the Goldstone for nine years, appearing in more than 370 games and nearly leading the Albion back to the First Division in 1991.
Although he sometimes became the target of criticism from the terraces. the talented midfielder could transform a game when his vision and distribution came off. Equally, his outstanding free-kicks will long be remembered, especially the superb effort against Ipswich Town in May 1991 which famously clinched a place for the Albion in the Second Division play-Offs.
A member of the Wilkins football dynasty, Dean is the younger brother of Ray (ex-England skipper), Graham (Chelsea and Brentford) and Steve (Brentford): and the son of George (Brentford, Bradford (P.A.), Nottingham Forest and Leeds United). As a schoolboy, he represented Middlesex and trained with Chelsea and Manchester United. but it was with Queen’s Park Rangers that he served his apprenticeship. signing professional forms in May 1980.
Originally a defender. he developed into a midfielder but in three seasons at Lotus Road he made the starting line-up just twice. In August 1983, Dean arrived at the Goldstone on a free transfer and appeared in the first-team three times, but was released after a loan-spell with Orient towards the end of the season. Recommended to PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands by his former Albion colleague Hans Kraay, he honed his skills during three seasons in the Dutch League. Although Zwolle finished bottom of the First Division in his first campaign, they regained their place the following season and finished 1986-87 in mid table.
In July 1987, Albion manager Barry Lloyd brought the 25-year-old back to the Goldstone for a £10,000 fee. After a rocky start to his second spell with the club, Dean played an important part in Albion’s promotion back to the Second Division in 1987-88 and became an essential member of the side, making 123 consecutive appearances and captaining the team on many occasions. Although often criticised for his apparent lack of ‘bite’ and left-footed almost to a fault, there was no doubt that he was the chief play-maker in the side for several seasons and created countless goals with his imaginative passes.
Beset by injury problems in his latter days, Dean enjoyed a testimonial season in 1995-96, his brother Ray bringing Queen’s Park Rangers to the Goldstone for his benefit. At the end of the season, though, he was released, subsequently taking trials with Worthing and Torquay United. During 1996-97 he played for Worthing and Crawley Town before settling down with Bognor Regis Town.