Former Chelsea, Fulham and Republic of Ireland star John Dempsey was a no-nonsense, tough tackling defender in his heyday. Now he's giving his all for a different cause. IAN LLOYD finds out more

Picture this. David Beckham, aged 46, working in a hostel for the homeless.

Becks' benevolence comes not just because he needs the spare cash to pay for Posh's extravagant lifestyle and Brooklyn's first Mercedes but because he loves his new job as much as he loved pulling on the red shirt of Manchester United. It's an unlikely scenario.

But for former Chelsea legend John Dempsey this is reality. The central defender, who began his career at Fulham in 1962, and went on to win the FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup with Chelsea, played in an era when top footballers were not the multi-millionaire superstars they are now.

They were left with the daunting prospect of finding something else to do when their playing days were over.

Most went on to open pubs and a few made a successful job of coaching. But John found his job satisfaction after football at Edgware's Broadfields Resource Centre where he works with people with learning disabilities.

"Footballers today would never go into this sort of work because they don't need to certainly if they are Premiership or Division One," said John, now 55. "Even from my era, there is no-one I know who has gone into it but today the chances of it happening are nil. Today the players get fortunes. In 1970 we were getting £60 or £80 a week no more than £100 and the average man was getting £30 to £40.

"People would think that because you played in those days you must be rich which is rubbish. It's completely different."

Not that John is complaining. His need to pay the bills led him to a career which has been just as rewarding as playing football. He began working at the Springwood Crescent centre in 1988 as a physical education and sports instructor, helping clients aged 22 to 68.

"I do it because I have got to earn a living and because I really enjoy what I do. When I meet ex-footballers I am proud to tell them what I do. I get a lot out of it and I find the people here really warm and loving."

John, who lives in Hemel Hempstead, speaks with a sense of compassion he never afforded opposition strikers during his playing days. A strong centre-half in the Tony Adams mould, he won 19 caps for the Republic of Ireland, and played against some of the world's greatest players including Pel and Johan Cruyff.

In 1979 he was voted Defender of the Year while playing in America's National Soccer League for Philadelphia Fury. Germany's 1974 World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer was runner-up.

As a boy, John's father took him to see Chelsea one week and Fulham the next. "It was a miracle I ended up playing for both of them," he admits. At Fulham he appeared alongside such greats as Rodney Marsh, Wold Cup-winner George Cohen, Johnny Haynes and his central defensive partner and mentor Bobby Robson, now manager of Newcastle.

In 1968, aged 23, he moved to Chelsea for £70,000 to play for arguably the Blues' greatest ever side. It had the perfect mix of creative flair in the form of Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson and Charlie Cooke, and tough tacklers most notably Ron 'Chopper' Harris.

The brawn factor manifested itself in a bitterly fought FA Cup final against Leeds in 1970, which Chelsea won 2-1 after a replay.

"There was a good spirit and camaraderie in the team and everyone worked well together. All the players had outstanding skills," said John.

"I think I was part of the best Chelsea team ever,” said John. If that team was still playing it would be on a par if not better than the one today. The current side struggles a bit and cannot handle some games because they are too physical and they don't fancy the away trips on a cold night. But we relished that."

The FA Cup success was followed up the next season when Chelsea lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup after beating the mighty Real Madrid. The 2-1 win included a rare Dempsey goal.

After a brief spell as player-manager with League of Ireland side Dundalk and at Maidenhead and Egham, John finally hung up his boots in 1984.

"It was an exciting time playing football and winning those medals," said John.

"But I get as much satisfaction out of my job now. It is the main thing in the clients' lives coming here and it is great seeing them come through against the odds."