There’s a very small club of players, tiny in membership, that can claim to have played in each of the top five levels of the English football pyramid.
One member of that group is a lad from Exeter who was thrown in at the deep end, a club in crisis whose very existence was touch and go, who went on to rise all the way to the top and played in the world’s greatest league before returning home and helping the club he loves to two playoff finals. That lad is Dean Moxey.
Managers usually like to try to softly imbed youth team players into the first team, giving them a few minutes here and there before a potential start in a cup or non-consequential league game. However, unfortunately for Dean, he was afforded no such luxuries.
Exeter had just been relegated to the Conference for the first time in the club’s history and with a mountain of debt to try to cut, new manager Eamonn Dolan had to drastically cut the squad down and was forced to rely on unproven academy players in order to put a full squad out.
Dean’s first taste of action was a substitute appearance in a win against Accrington Stanley before making his start three days later at Hereford United, aged just 17. After cementing his place in the first team in his debut season, Dean knuckled down and made the national news in 2004/05, when his stunning 50-yard goal against Doncaster sent the Grecians through to the FA Cup Third Round to face Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Faced with playing on the wing against Phil Neville and Gerard Pique, Dean put in an outstanding performance as the City side played out of their skins to hold the Premier League giants to a 0-0 draw. A respectable 2-0 defeat in the replay not only secured City’s financial future but put Dean on the radar of a number of bigger clubs as he looked to work his way up pyramid.
Helping the Grecians to back-to-back promotions to League One increased Dean’s stock, leading to Derby County to come calling with an offer City couldn’t refuse and the homegrown left-back left Devon to join the Rams in the Championship.
Two seasons of consistently strong performances earned Dean a move to Crystal Palace where he won the 2013 Championship playoff final and reached the pinnacle of English football – becoming a Premier League player.
Four years and a spell at Bolton Wanderers later Dean returned to Exeter, bringing experience to a young backline and helping the squad reach two playoff finals in three years before joining Torquay United last summer, where he once again came close to promotion, however his Gulls side were beaten on penalties by Hartlepool United.