Fifteen years as a professional goalkeeper told Dean Brill the opportunity to work at Tottenham Hotspur was one to grab with both hands.
Brill, who spent three years in the north of Scotland with Caley Thistle, took up a role as an academy goalkeeping coach with Spurs this month, after four years at Leyton Orient.
The first-team picture may be in flux – Tottenham are still to appoint a new manager – but Brill is crystal clear on his remit: develop the England goalkeepers of the future.
“This is up a level from anything I’ve ever been at,” said Brill. “I’d never had an interview in my life. I went through the process – I had to draw up a CV, which I’ve never done before.
“This is Tottenham Hotspur, it’s a billion-pound company. The training ground, if you’ve seen the Amazon documentary, is unbelievable.
“The fact I get to go in daily and try to create elite footballers; the remit is making an England and Tottenham goalkeeper. That’s perfectionist level.
“We’re talking if a goalkeeper gets into Tottenham’s first-team – what are goalkeepers going for these days, £60m or £70m? I’m not saying they’ll replace Hugo Lloris but that’s what we’ve got to aim for.
“I’ll work all the way down through the age groups, but my day job will be with the under-23s and under-18s. It’s amazing to be able to contribute to something on that scale. Premier League players are effectively superstars now.
“Everything is there for success. What more can you want? It’s up to you now.”
There is a strong, established connection between Orient and Tottenham. Their training grounds are close together and Brill had been invited to watch them train as part of his coaching education.
England and Spurs captain Harry Kane sponsors the club’s shirts for charitable causes, having made his professional debut with the O’s, while goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux came through the Tottenham academy.
However, arguably the most fitting connection is that of Justin Edinburgh, the former Orient manager.
THE GAFFER ❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/ONFoVYao4v
— Dean Brill (@BrillDean) June 8, 2021
Edinburgh spent the entirety of the 1990s as a full-back at White Hart Lane, winning the FA Cup in 1991 and League Cup in 1999. After retiring as a player he embarked on a coaching career and took over at Orient in 2017, where he worked closely with Brill as a player-coach.
His death at the age of 49, after suffering a cardiac arrest, two years ago shocked and devastated many. The club had just celebrated promotion back into the Football League.
There is a sense of pride for Brill in following in his footsteps.
“I know what he would be saying,” added Brill with a smile. “He would be bantering me about going to see his statue in the hallway.
“He loved Tottenham to bits. It just puts a nice ring to it; it’s another connection that makes it meant to be, if you believe in that sort of thing.
“I know he’d be smiling.”
Brill has been a lifelong Luton Town fan and had two separate spells playing for the Hatters. Terry Butcher brought him to Inverness in 2013 where he was first-choice, until a serious knee injury saw him miss their 2015 Scottish Cup triumph and derailed his professional life.
The 2016-17 campaign was a wash-out with spells at Motherwell and Colchester United where he did not play a game. He joined Orient initially as goalkeeping coach but returned to playing duties after Edinburgh’s appointment, becoming their number one.
But any achievements in first-team football have been matched by those in his three years as a coach.
Brill has always enjoyed the mentoring side of the game. Working with Vigouroux, Charlie Grainger and Sam Sargeant at Brisbane Road has been an enriching experience, while he was also uplifted by the story of youth team goalkeeper Rhys Byrne.
“He ruptured his ACL before lockdown in the second year of his apprenticeship,” said Brill, “which is your last year down here. They offered him a third year, which is very rare, to get him back healthy and give him the chance he missed out on.
“He came back, worked with us and got himself fit. When the season was done he got himself a pro contract, which was brilliant.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with the young boys; I worked with Cammy Mackay and Daniel Hoban up in Scotland (at Inverness). I’ve enjoyed giving them advice and seeing them do well.
“I love first-team football – I’ve been part of it my whole life – but working with the younger ones just clicked for me. I sat in the room when Rhys got his acceptance letter and his parents were there. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, to see the look on his mum and dad’s faces. They had no idea.
“The look on their faces and the sense of achievement for me was unbelievable. It’s hard to describe but those few moments, they’re what I enjoy most.”