By: Daniel Barnes
Dean Hardy is used to saving shots but this year he has been saving lives while working on a COVID-19 ward.
The 27-year-old is a goalkeeper for AFC Burnley and also works as a trainee doctor in the East Lancashire Hospital Trust.
As cases peaked in the north west several months ago, Hardy looked after hospital patients in Burnley and Blackburn.
“I got pulled from my placement and got put on a COVID-19 ward pretty much full time,” he said.
“I was quite naïve; I didn’t expect it to get so busy but as the days went on, every day there was a death and we were getting wrapped up in PPE for hours on end.
“We weren’t able to save people we normally could because they were so ill from the virus. It was frustrating because you’d go out after a bad day at work and see people not following the rules.
“It’s good to come out the other side now and hopefully it makes us stronger for the second wave that might be coming.”
Hardy began his footballing journey at Blackburn Rovers before joining Spanish giants Malaga at the age of 10.
He lived abroad for seven years while playing for the club’s academy and has fond memories of the experience.
“When I was younger, I went to the Bury school of excellence and ended up getting into Blackburn Rovers’ academy,” recalled Hardy.
“At the time, my dad moved to Spain for work. He managed to get me a trial at Malaga.
“They came over to have a look at me, but my dad didn’t tell me because I was just a kid so I didn’t really know what was going on.
“Then my dad said to me, ‘you’re going to come to Spain with me to play football’. Being a young kid who just wanted to play football I thought, ‘why not?’
“I moved out there with my dad, and my mum and three sisters came with us.”
Moving abroad can be a difficult time for any child, and Hardy had to adjust to a completely new lifestyle and culture.
But the goalkeeper enjoyed his time in Spain and took lots of positives from the journey.
“Even at that age, we were going to away games where sometimes we had to get on a plane because we were travelling to the other side of the country, and we would stay in hotels,” he said.
“As I got older, I met friends who were English who lived in Spain as well.
“We got used to the Spanish culture – things like eating late at night and having loads of barbeques.
“I brought some of that culture back to England – I still have paella all the time and we celebrate Christmas on January 5th because that’s something they do over there.”
Hardy moved back to England eight years ago and has since played for FC United of Manchester, Ramsbottom United and Nelson.
The goalkeeper now plays for AFC Burnley in the second division of the Lancashire Amateur League, and is enjoying his football.
He says his existing relationships with chairman Shane Hudson and manager Sean Horrocks made it an easy decision to join the club.
“I moved to Burnley in 2017 when I met my girlfriend and we got a house together,” recalled Hardy.
“I knew Shane from Nelson, where he was the goalkeeping coach, and I went with him pretty much from there on.
“At the same time, I knew Sean because I had played against him a few times in Sunday League.
“I can see the potential in the squad as a whole. The players are really good individually and they’re also nice lads off the field.
“We’ve also got a good management team and facilities you wouldn’t get anywhere else. It’s a club that is going places so it’s good to be part of the foundations.”
Hardy will be in action on Saturday afternoon when AFC Burnley take on league leaders Lymm away from home.
Horrock’s men have made an unbeaten start to the season, picking up seven points from their opening three games.
They currently sit in third place in the league table.