Paul Dummett always dreamt of playing in black and white. Growing up on Tyneside, he used to be a season-ticket holder at St James Park and he used to follow Newcastle United away from home too, whether to the Stadium of Light for a local derby or to the Millennium Stadium for the 2005 FA Cup semi-final, where their cup dreams were dashed at the hands of Manchester United.
Having joined Newcastle at the age of eight, he worked his way through the youth ranks and embarked on a cup run of his own as the young Magpies reached the semi-finals of the 2009/10 FA Youth Cup, where they lost to their Aston Villa counterparts.
Dummett is now the only player from that side still playing for the club, but the local lad’s path from the youth team to the first team wasn’t a simple one.
When he dreamt of playing in black and white, he surely didn’t imagine it would be on loan at Gateshead and on loan at Saint Mirren, both of whom play in the same colours. When he announced he’d be joining the former, who played in the non-league, some of his teammates at the Newcastle academy giggled. Dummett, though, approached these loan stints with his unrelentingly positive attitude and now considers them to have been vital.
“Playing games for Saint Mirren every week was fantastic for me,” he told The Journal upon his return. “They also played the right sort of football, which was great. I learned a lot about playing the ball in tight situations, something we did a lot of in training, so it was a fantastic move. It was a crucial time and I came back to Newcastle better, quicker and stronger. That comes from playing against senior players all the time.”
As well as improving technically and physically, Dummett also returned south more confident. Winning the Scottish League Cup with Saint Mirren during his year – made up of two six-month loan stints – north of the border did wonders for his self-belief, while his time as an important member of a professional squad made him feel like he had fully graduated into the profession. He left Little Benton as a shy youth teamer who was scared to call for a pass whenever participating in first-team training. He returned as a footballer.
Still, though, there were obstacles between Dummett and his dream of pulling on the black and white shirt he really cared about. One of those obstacles was Alan Pardew. “I’ve had plenty of setbacks in my career,” he said in a recent interview with the club’s matchday programme. “Such as people saying ‘you’re not good enough’. When I got told I wasn’t good enough [by Pardew], I just said it was up to me to prove him wrong. As soon as I said that, he knew I had the right attitude because he said ‘that’s the attitude I want to see from my players’.” Even if it did take a while to break into the first team upon his return, he was featuring regularly for United by the end of the 2013/14 campaign and has basically been their first-choice left-back at the club since, no matter who the manager has been.
That doesn’t mean the 2013/14 season signalled a happy ever after for Dummett in the story of his journey to the Newcastle starting XI. There has always been a lot of criticism of his performances from sections of the home crowd and, of course, on social media too. As a local lad, the bar is set even higher and Dummett didn’t always convince. Even now there are still some who grimace when he has the ball.
Yet the 26-year-old has worked tirelessly to improve and to silence as many doubters as he can. A lot of the early criticism was entirely valid, as it was completely correct to point out that the full-back was limited when going forward. He’s the kind of left-back who is a defender first and foremost, but he has improved the attacking side of his game in recent seasons and he made Yoan Gouffran look excellent at points last season, when the Magpies won promotion from the Championship.
Nobody can say with a straight face that Dummett hasn’t evolved as a player and there’s no doubting that he’s a quick learner. Bad tackles may be made, wingers may be left unmarked and crosses may fly up towards the far rows of the Gallowgate End, but don’t expect to see Dummett commit the same error two matches in a row. As the saying goes, you can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice. Paul Dummett certainly buys into that mindset.
Then there’s the fact that Dummett has had to overcome injury after injury, but he has not let his iffy hamstrings get in the way of him and the St James’ Park turf. After featuring in all but one match in the Championship last season, the left-back was writhing in pain just five minutes into the 2017/18 season. “For the first four weeks, I was on crutches and in a brace, so I couldn’t do anything really,” the defender told Newcastle’s official media channels of this season’s four-month injury layoff. “I was getting a bit of treatment. Then, once you come out of the brace, you start to walk freely and it’s a matter of building up with jogging, then in the gym doing strength work. It’s hard work. You probably work even harder when you’re injured, trying to get fit, because the physio is trying to put you through a lot of intense work to make sure you can cope with full training.”
Yet hard work is Paul Dummett’s bread and butter. In his recovery from that specific injury and over his whole career so far, hard work has taken him from the stands to the starting XI. He signed a new contract with Newcastle last week, one which could run until 2022, an amazing achievement considering he feared he might be released in 2012. Not only is he now the longest-serving member of the current playing squad, but he’s one of the most indispensable too.
“If you talk about players that are important for the team, normally people talk about goalscorers, midfielders and No.10s,” Rafa Benítez said of the player. “But in modern football there are not too many consistent left-sided full-backs. Paul is exactly that. He’s a player you can trust.” It has been quite a journey so far for the local kid, and it’s not over yet.