But the sacking of the manager who was close to putting him in the side and his self-confessed immaturity saw him tumble down football’s pyramid.
Now the 40-year-old has told how he turned his fortunes around to launch his own business. His electrical company, Telford-based JCE Electrical Engineers & Contractors, has grown from turning over £70,000 in the first year, to £3 million this year.
“Thirteen years on from when we started I look back and think I wouldn’t want to start it again,” he says.
“It hasn’t been easy but am proud of what we have achieved.”
After being released by West Brom as a youngster, Dean spent two seasons at Shrewsbury before having spells with a host of non-league clubs including Hereford and Telford.
Dean admits his own immaturity and some bad decisions meant he was never able to fulfil his talent.
“I signed for West Brom when I was 15, was taken on as an apprentice and got a two-year-deal,” says the former wing back and central midfielder.
“At 17 I got carried away really and thought I had made it. I bought the flash car, I was stupid and have massive regrets. I thought I would make it to the top.
“We had a great bunch of lads and Ray Harford, who was manager at the time, had me training with the first team.
“I was very close. He was going to put me in against Bradford but then Kevin Kilbane came back into the side. He never got injured and I never got the chance again.
“When Ray left and the new guy came in he only watched us once and got rid of all the first year pros.
“I was a bit immature when I came from West Brom to Shrewsbury and I just didn’t settle. I should have done because they could have been some great times.
“I made some big mistakes and have a lot of regrets. It was my fault and my attitude wasn’t good enough.”
In his mid 20s Dean decided to prepare for the day when the final whistle would blow on his football career and went into business with his brother Paul.
Paul was working as an electrician and their dad, Jim, had nearly 20 years’ experience of running his own company.
“I was always trying to make money, buying something to sell for a bit more,” Dean continues.
“I worked on a concrete truck, been a postman, delivered Coca Cola, worked in factories and as a trainee accountant. I then went to college and did an electrical course when I was at Hereford.”
Dean admits the business struggled in the early days due to their lack of experience.
“We found it hard. I was working 12 hours a day, including Saturday mornings, and then playing a game. We made mistakes and found it stressful to start with, including getting paid.
“For the first couple of years it nearly broke us really. We needed to put all our efforts into the business and at the same time we didn’t have the experience.
“For the first four years the business could have gone either way because it was that bad. The sleepless nights were non-stop when things were going wrong and it nearly went under once. I had to remortgage the house to put money back in.”
“The first year of trading I think we did about £70,000 turnover which wasn’t a lot of money for the two of us. The next year it went up a bit.”
Dean says in the early days the brothers worked from home and shared a van going from job to job. The company now employs 30 people and has its own premises.
Dean says: “The turning point was when we working at a place in Madeley and there was a Seddon van over the road.
“I walked over and asked the bloke who he worked for and he gave me the number for his boss. I rang his boss who said ‘be here at 9am in the morning’. I was there at 7.30am and he gave us five jobs that day. They had just won the contracts for the schools in Telford. Over the next few weeks he transferred the whole contract to us.
“So we went from struggling on £70,000 turnover to over £1 million in the second year.
“It went from just me and Paul to having to employ people. It was still tough but that was the making of us.”
The business has carried out work all over the country as well as locally for clients including Telford & Wrekin Council and Aico, a firm specialising in domestic fire and carbon monoxide detectors which has just moved into new headquarters in Oswestry.
“The last few years have been very good and we have invested heavily in the company,” Dean says. “We have just done the Aico site and have had a contract with Telford & Wrekin for six years and look after all the schools, community centres, leisure centres. “We do a lot of work in Birmingham and London, and we have done work for Luton University and Cornwall.”
The father-of-three also runs a housing company called Dean Craven Homes and has 32 rental properties in Telford.
Dean admits it has been quite a journey but now wants to enjoy spending time with his family.
“It is a funny time now,” he says. “You get to your 40s and think about what you want to do,” he says. “It’s still up in the air.
“I just want to spend as much time watching the girls grow up and keep enjoying myself. The electrical company has gone up every year at least 20 per cent so you would like to think we would continue doing that.
“Would I say I want to take over the world? Not really. I just want to keep going and see where I end up.”