After a decade away from the club he started his career at, Dean Gerken returned to Colchester United in the summer of 2019 with one aim in mind; promotion to Sky Bet League One.
Following his release from Ipswich Town, Gerken has proved to be an excellent addition to the U’s squad this season and is hoping he and the side can end it with promotion.
The 34 year old recently passed 300 Football League appearances, a personal landmark he is proud of and, by his own admission, this season has been one of his most enjoyable.
As Colchester prepare to face Exeter City in Thursday night’s League Two Play-Off Semi-Final, the EFL caught up with the U’s stopper to discuss a wide range of topics including; being back in training, Colchester’s Carabao Cup run, his return to the club and facing Exeter City in the Play-Offs.
On being back in training…
"Personally, I’m buzzing to be back in training. It’s great to be with the boys again, we’ve had plenty of Zoom calls and online meetings, but nothing is the same as actually being around the lads face-to-face. It’s been a strange one because we’ve had our programmes to follow, but with gyms being closed we’ve had to do it all from home and we don’t have our own personal gyms at home so we've had to improvise a bit.
"It’s been hard work because we’ve had to cram six weeks of a normal pre-season into 18 days to get as best prepared as we can for the potential of three huge games coming up. So it’s been hard work for sure, but I’m just buzzing to be back and have the opportunity to play more football.
"For the first week of us being back in training we had to follow the government guidelines of social distancing at all times and non-contact training, so it was difficult because we were only allowed so many of us there at a time. When you’re trying to replicate drills that are as close to football as you can get with a limited amount of people all keeping their distance from one another, it becomes quite difficult eventually, so it’s been strange and not something that anyone has experienced before."
On Colchester’s season so far…
"It’s been great. Even away from the league, just looking at the cup competitions, we had a great run in the Carabao Cup and eventually lost to Manchester United in the Quarter-Finals. That was probably one of the highlights.
"Looking at our form in January/February you could say that the cup run maybe affected our league form but that’s hearsay, and it was a great time for us. With the exception of the first three or four games, we've been consistent all season in the league and been in and around the Play-Offs which was the aim, so when you put that together with making the Quarter-Finals of the Carabao Cup it’s got to go down as a successful season. Of course the icing on the cake would be to get promoted at the end of it, because that would be an outstanding achievement."
On reaching the Carabao Cup Quarter-Finals for the first time in 45 years...
"I think if we were to get promoted, people would look back on this season and say it’s one of the most successful we’ve had. The Carabao Cup run in particular will be something for the fans to always remember, especially when you look at the sides we beat to get as far as we did. To beat Tottenham Hotspur at home, to beat Crystal Palace away, it’s just unforgettable. And for me personally, I’ve never been past Round Four, so to reach the Quarter-Finals of a major cup competition in England, it’s a massive achievement and definitely something us as players and the fans will take with us forever.
"In terms of confidence and momentum, it helped us in the league too. Even though our results against the Premier League teams were 0-0 and we won on penalties, just the fact that we restricted them to that, kept two clean sheets and ultimately beat them on penalties, it gave us massive confidence. I was obviously new to the team this season and I think a lot of trust was built between me and some of my teammates from those performances so there's no doubt that they definitely impacted out season."
On his own performances this season…
I’ve loved every minute of being back at Colchester United. I was here as a youth team player, they're a part of my past and it means a lot to be back playing my football here. Colchester has always been close to my heart because of that, so to perform as I have this season which I think has been good, to have that connection to the club, to have the relationship with the manager and the fans, it’s been a great first season back for me and I'd say it’s probably been one of my most enjoyable seasons in football."
On re-signing for Colchester United…
"I always look back at my time at Colchester United when I was younger and thought I had unfinished business here. We had a great season winning promotion to the Championship when I was here in 2006 and we had a great first season in the Championship as well. When we got relegated back to League One my plan was to stay at the club, but I moved to Bristol City and my career went on from there.
"So I always felt like I had unfinished business with the club, and I want to help them win promotion and get them to a position where I think they should be, which is in League One. It’s a club that I love, I felt confident that they had a chance to be successful this season and that’s something I wanted to be a part of."
On John McGreal…
"He was a massive influence in me re-signing. As soon as I spoke to him and the assistant manager I felt comfortable knowing that I wanted to come back here. They put no pressure on me to sign, they just showed me what they were about and where they wanted to be. As soon as I walked through the door, I knew I wanted to sign and be a part of what they were planning, because I had full belief in them.
"If you look at the season we’ve had, they’ve achieved that. They’ve got us to where we are now and we need to finish it off with promotion. I have massive respect for the manager and the coaching staff here, because without their knowledge, expertise, training sessions and the hours that they put in we wouldn’t even be in the position that we’re in."
On the Play-Off Semi-Final against Exeter City...
"For me, the Play-Offs are always a lottery, because it’s always about which team turns up. I think it’s even more of a lottery at the moment because of the way everyone has prepared and the break that we’ve had. We know that Exeter have talent, we know they’ve been a strong team throughout this season and they’ve probably been unlucky to not get promoted automatically. If the season had carried on, who knows what could have happened. They’re a strong team, a well structured team, with good management staff and good players. But we’re fully prepared to give our best shot against them and hopefully get the win.
"I think with the three Play-Off games that are to be played, whoever is best prepared, along with a bit of luck on the day, is going to be who advances to the Final and ultimately gets promoted.
"There have been times this season where we’ve played big teams, whether that’s in the Carabao Cup or just against the top sides in League Two, and the pressure has been on us and we’ve got results. I'm not saying that we're a big-game playing team but I have full confidence in us that we’re capable of doing what we need to do."
On winning promotion with Colchester…
"I’m coming to the end of my career at the moment. I still feel like I’ve got a few more seasons in me but you never know, so to finish off near the end of my career with Colchester, a club I love and respect so much and to take them up to League One where I think they belong would top things off brilliantly. It’s a great club and I think if we were to get to League One you never know where that could take you, especially with the momentum we’d have from this season. So it would be the absolute icing on the cake and we’ll give it everything we have to get there."
On using past promotion experience…
"Being a senior player and a goalkeeper, I think I have a responsibility to bring a calmness to the squad. The decisions you make as a goalkeeper can reassure the whole team, so I’m hoping my experience will be influential in the remaining games we have left, but there’s a lot of experience in our side and hopefully that can help get us over the line."