Features. 'It's going to completely change my life' - Dan Burn interview

Dan Burn January 2022
08 Feb 22

In the dimly-lit manager's office at the stadium where he spent his childhood Saturdays, Dan Burn – Ashington-born, Blyth-raised and now back home – is recalling a meeting with his idol. Burn played with Olly Lee, son of Magpies hero Rob, at Birmingham City. He was at his teammate's engagement party with his wife, Roz, when he froze.

Tom Easterby
Written by

"I'd met Rob a few times, so I was already star struck anyway," explains the 29-year-old. "But then we went to the party and Shearer was there. I was like, 'oh my God, it's Alan Shearer!'

"I was speaking to Rob, and then Shearer came over and said something to me. I replied, but I did not know what to say. I completely bottled it. I just stood there.

"Luckily my wife's really chatty, so she came over and kind of saved us a bit. But I've been gutted ever since. I had one chance to say hello to him, and I couldn't even get a question out."

Will it feel a little easier if you meet him now, as a Newcastle United player? "I hope so," he replies. "I'll try and play it cool. But inside, I'll be fizzing."

January's transfer deadline day was emotional. Burn brought Roz and his parents, David and Kay, to St. James' Park to see him sign and moments earlier, the home dressing room was filled with quiet pride as he posed for his first photographs as a Newcastle player. He is still recomposing himself as he explains how his time at the club's development centre came to an end just under two decades ago.

"Every six weeks, you'd get a letter to say whether they were keeping you involved. At Christmas, they just said that they weren't going to invite me back," says Burn, who grew up in South Beach. "You're gutted at the time, because you think once you're in that environment you're going to be in it forever. But I was at the stage where my body was running away from me and I really wasn't catching up. I wasn't very good, so I can understand why it happened.

"I've had a lot of knockbacks like that in my career, I feel, but I've always bounced back from them. It's just made me more determined to prove people wrong."

Burn is six feet seven inches tall, towering in a very literal sense, and his height saw him thrown between the sticks as a child. His time at the development centre had given him a degree of hope that he could make it outfield and being dropped when not long out of primary school came as a shock. "Me being young and naïve, it probably was (a surprise) – me thinking I was a good footballer, just because I was involved. In reality, it was about right. I probably wasn't getting a game for my Sunday league team at the time, so to be thinking I could be involved in Newcastle, I was a bit deluded. But you're a kid, and you dream."

Making a living from the game felt improbable then. Burn played for Blyth Spartans and New Hartley's junior sides, filling spare time with games of futsal and five-a-side. He remembers captaining Blyth Community College against Paul Dummett’s Kenton School. "It was the county cup final. He scored a free kick. I think he was their captain as well." He also faced Sammy Ameobi at Walker. "You could tell these lads who were at Newcastle were just miles ahead of where the rest of us were."

He left BCC and went into the sixth form at Cramlington to do a sports diploma. Burn needed money and David, who had been a store manager at Asda, got him an interview at the supermarket. Weekends became about work. "I was pushing trolleys! I did that every Saturday for the best part of a year," he says. "I remember turning up in my suit, just seeing what job I could get. That was the only job they had on offer. I was like, 'yeah, sound'. I did a few other things but my main job was that. I stacked shelves, did the freezer work, the bread and all that.

"I think it helped, because when I moved into football, I knew I never wanted to do that again. Not to be disrespectful, but I knew I didn't enjoy doing that and I wanted to do something else. I've always felt that it's spurred us on a bit more.

"I went to Fulham, and you saw the lads and what they got given to them. At Darlington, you had to wash your own kit and have your own packed lunches. I would come home from a game on a Tuesday night – I'd be ball boy – then have to drive an hour back to Blyth, wash all my kit, get up in the middle of the night and put it on the radiator so it was ready for the next day. But when you go to a club like Fulham, the young lads, they didn't have to do that – a lot of stuff was given to them. I felt like I always had the edge on people, because I was prepared to work hard and do more."

His break came in a home nations tournament for an England representative side made up of youngsters who hadn’t been signed by clubs. Darlington spotted him and, after a week’s trial, kept him on. Burn left Asda and jumped into a dysfunctional, chaotic club. It turned out to be the making of him.

"I didn't know any different at the time," he shrugs. "It helped me as well. Because there was such a changeover of players, I got a few opportunities when I was nowhere near ready. I played five games in League Two when I was nowhere near ready. But it helped me a bit."

He remembers receiving a harsh lesson at the hands of the wily Dagenham forward Paul Benson. There were plenty more in the pipeline, too, for a teenager not long out of full-time education and trying to keep a proud old club afloat amid financial and operational disarray. "I was so raw at the time. I had something, because they'd taken a chance on me, but I was 16, 17," he adds. "I'm 100 kilos now and I'm slim. I was 75, 80 kilos then, and playing against men. I just wasn't ready for it.

"I remember my first game. I came on as a sub, we were getting beaten 1-0 off Torquay. We got beat 5-0. But I was buzzing just to be on the pitch, just to say that I'd played a game in League Two. I remember we took the coach back to Darlington – nine hours – and then I got in my car to drive the final hour… I was just ecstatic, I couldn't believe how happy I was. And I'd just been battered 5-0!"

Burn tells his stories with self-effacing humour. He could have ended up back here in 2011 when Newcastle matched Fulham’s bid for him but he suspected his boyhood club, fearful of missing out on a local talent, was just trying to save face. He smiles as he recalls turning up in formal wear for his medical at Craven Cottage. "I was 18. My dad was like, 'you're wearing a suit, you’re doing it properly'. They always laugh about that now, but to me I was just trying to be respectful. The way I was brought up has always helped us." Don’t you have to get changed quite a few times during a medical? "Yeah. I had cufflinks on and everything. It took about 20 minutes to get in and out of my suit."

The last decade has seen Burn rise incrementally through the divisions. There were productive loans from Fulham to Yeovil Town and Birmingham. "The very first thing that happened at Yeovil was a striker pinning me. The ball got played into him, he elbowed me in the face and nearly broke my nose. 'This is mad, this'. But it helps. You can feed on it."

In 2013, he scored the winner at Wembley as Yeovil beat Brentford 2-1 in the League One play-off final, winning promotion to the second tier against the odds. By the time he joined Wigan in 2016 he was an established Championship player and he chuckles at a missed opportunity at the Leazes End during a 2-1 defeat for the Latics the following year. "I had a chance, I should have scored," he shakes his head. "Free kick came in, I was miles open, but as the ball was coming in I was already thinking about celebrating. I was like, 'I'm going to do a Shearer here, a hundred per cent'," he laughs. "I ended up knacking it up."

At that stage some still felt his sheer size masked some less refined attributes but Brighton changed Burn's career trajectory again. He stepped up to the Premier League to join the Seagulls, initially as cover, in 2018 and Graham Potter's arrival as head coach a year later sparked something.

"I think that people don't realise, in and around the environment, that I'm better than what they think," he says, with conviction. "I think people have got this preconception of me, just because of the way I move about, that I'm this certain type of player. But I feel as if I'm better than that, so I'll back myself no matter who I play against. I knew when I got there that I could force my way in, but I don't think it was until Potter came in that I really saw that – and believed it."

Potter, a defender in his day and a man familiar with the lower-league landscape which moulded Burn, pushed him out of his comfort zone. He played him at centre half, left back and even left wing-back in a progressive and stylish team. Burn thrived despite some doubting his suitability, primarily because of his ungainly frame.

Was that frustrating? "A little bit, but I always like being the underdog anyway. I can see that people, when I play against them, they eye me up as if to say they think they're going to have me. I love it when I feel as if I've got the better of them. Obviously, there are times where with the quality of the Premier League, you're going to get done the odd game. But I like to think that when you play against me, you don't get an easy game."

It has been a surreal few days for Burn and those closest to him. His dad used to take him to watch United from the halfway line in the East Stand. Sometimes he would share a ticket with his younger brother, Jack. "At the start of every season, we'd put every team in a hat, put the top six in another hat – and Sunderland – and then split the games," he says. "And we'd fight over the Sunderland game. It was nice, though. Some games we might get an extra ticket and all go together.

"We'd park up by Mr Lynch's – it was like a student bar, do you remember it? We'd park up there, have a drink, walk right through the city, past City Hall and that. I've got memories of doing that on cold Tuesday nights, getting in just for kick off as you're coming up the steps. It was class, like."

His eyes drift as he revisits those days in his mind. There were big names, big games, Champions League nights. These are romantic memories too; of falling in love with a club. Burn nods at a photo of Sir Bobby Robson on the wall. "He's there. They were huge times." And now, in the middle of it all, here he is. "I think it will sink in slowly. Once I get the first game out of the way, I'll be settled. But I just want to get training and get going. It's been a lot, this past week, building up to it. I just want to get going."

Burn met Roz, who is from Cramlington, at school and they will bring their children – Indi, three, and Ari, one – with them to the North East soon. "I'm dead excited to get them up. My little girl's still got a southern accent, so I'm going to try and get that out of her sharpish." Kay lives in Seahouses and David lives in Gosforth. There are aunties, uncles, in-laws and a grandma nearby. He hopes Jack will get over from Melbourne to see him in black and white soon.

There was a moment in the dressing room an hour earlier when Burn put on his club's shirt for the first time. David looked overwhelmed. They all did. Burn's family were beaming and it felt like tears might not be far away. He shakes his head. "It's just crazy, just to think I'm going to be running about in a Newcastle top. I don't think I've had one since I was about 13. It's a big moment for them.

"Generations of my family have all been Newcastle fans, so I really wanted my mam and dad to be here when I was signing. They took us up and down the country. They came and sat and watched me on the bench at Hereford, knowing I was never getting on. They put the miles in for us.

"I'm grateful. You can see how emotional my mam and dad and wife are. It's massive for us. It's going to completely change my life."

Related Content