Professional footballers all live in big houses, with swimming pools and their shopaholic WAGS, right?

Wrong, unfortunately.

After a press request to interview one of Albion's star players before the big match, the powers that be rustle up captain Dean Hammond.

When the 23-year-old steps out of his new Mercedes sports coupe in a leather jacket and professionally creased jeans it's easy to see why he was picked rather than, say, some of his more "spirited" team mates.

Hammond is as wholesome as a sack full of new-born puppies - all floppy hair and shy smiles. He is polite and pristine and his life, in a four-bedroom house in Hastings ("the nicer part"), which he shares with his girlfriend Rachel, is a world away from the gloriously sleazy world of some professional footballers.

Sven-style indiscretions, Stan Collymore sex scandals and WAG shopping sprees are in a completely different league - a bit like West Ham.

Expecting to be wined and dined in some swanky back room, we're instead shuffled into some feral-smelling, mud-strewn changing rooms, where we get down to business.

"I'm not nervous about the match," he says about this afternoon's game at Upton Park. "We're a young, hungry squad, maybe inexperienced sometimes, but we're looking forward to playing a high-level premiership team and seeing how far we've come."

The positive attitude must be due, in part, to West Ham's 6-0 thrashing by Reading on New Year's Day - their third straight defeat.

But, as Hammond points out, Albion aren't exactly on a winning streak at the moment. "We have lost the last four games but, yeah, we're maybe more confident after West Ham's defeat. I see this as a chance for both teams to forget about league games. We'll just play our football and see what happens."

He says there will be no pre-match rituals before today's game, just a simple routine. Hardly the type to sprinkle cocaine on his cornflakes, he claims he'll be up at about 9am after a very good night's sleep.

Albion encourage their players to save their scoring for the football pitch and Hammond says he tries to oblige. "Sometimes I do but I try not to. Sex can weigh your legs down."

The player will then eat breakfast and put on some relaxing music (Keane and the Kooks are current favourites).

His pre-match meal is always chicken, pasta and beans ("not the tastiest, but does the job for my energy levels"). Then it'll be off to the ground to see the boys and talk tactics.

Hammond, who has been at Brighton since he was spotted as an 11-year-old, will also face his one-time team mate Bobby Zamora on Saturday. Does seeing the former Albion striker's move to a Premiership team make Hammond hunger for something a little more, well, Premiership?

"When I was younger I had goals and ambitions and they were to be a professional footballer - so I am already living my own personal dream," he says. "I'm as ambitious as the next footballer and I want to play as hard as I can and at the highest level - hopefully that'll be with Brighton."

He says Albion have some really good young players coming through and the only thing holding the team back is the stadium they are after at Falmer. Like many Albion supporters, he seems to see the Falmer stadium as a panacea for their ills - but whether a new ground would stop them slipping further down the league table remains to be seen.

When it comes to the Premiership footballer lifestyle, does this boy-done-good from Hastings long for the distastefully large mock-Tudor home, the money, the WAG?

Hammond says he has just sold his two-bedroom apartment in Eastbourne for a four-bedroom house in Hastings.

"It's not exactly as glamorous as the Premiership players," he says. "Of course, everyone watches MTV Cribs and sees the big houses with the games rooms and the swimming pools - but that only comes if the football is going well on the field. When that happens things tend to go well off the field, too."

Hammond is far too polite and humble to talk cash but general wisdom seems to be he could be earning anything between one and two grand a week. The most extravagant thing he has ever bought with his earnings is his new silver Mercedes.

His nights out in Brighton are generally tame affairs - meals with his girlfriend at Donatello (which, incidentally, sponsors the team - but he says it's the food he likes) or a session with the football boys at Karma or the Ebony Room at the marina.

Believe the tabloids, and footballers out on the lash are often the target of tanked-up alpha males hoping to make a name for themselves by taking a pop or wily women who think they could be on to a good thing.

"It's not like that," he says. "You do get fans coming up to you on a Saturday night. Obviously it's better if you've just won rather than just lost but, personally, I've never had any trouble on a night out.

It's a nice feeling when fans say hello.

They basically pay our wages so they have every right to come and speak to you."

He says he gets some fan mail - "usually from kids" - and he always replies. "If someone takes the time to write to you, it's nice to write back."

As he keeps mentioning throughout the interview he has a 20-year-old girlfriend, Rachel, who he lives with, so ladies are not on his radar.

"I'm sure the younger boys go out and have a nice time," he says euphemistically.

"They attract the attention of the girls - most of the boys in the squad are reasonably good-looking."

Hammond's girlfriend would appear unlikely ever to sully herself with the WAG tag. It's doubtful she'll ever make a Celebrity Big Brother appearance like Teddy Sheringham's squeeze ditzy Danielle Lloyd or be snapped at the charity bashes cum WAG conventions which see the likes of Bobby Zamora's girlfriend Charlotte Mears crawl out of the woodwork But the footballer has no problem with WAGs, even the ones whose careers seemed to have somehow eclipsed those of their football-playing better halves.

Coleen McLoughlin may have Wayne Rooney - but would she have had the column in Closer, the fitness DVD and that appearance on the cover of Vogue sans pink terry-towelling trackie without him?

"I don't think there's anything wrong with it," he says. "People are interested in what they get up to and it's not harming anyone. Premiership footballers earn so much money, the WAGs and the nice clothes are just part of it - it's something for the media to write about and it gives the footballers more publicity."

But Hammond could never see his girlfriend going out on a WAG-style shopping bender.

"She's not like that," he insists. "She likes to keep herself to herself.

She doesn't take any notice of that sort of thing. She's an intelligent girl."

Rachel is studying property surveying at Oxford Brookes University.

I ask if he's thinking about marriage or children and he laughs and says I'm starting to sound like his girlfriend but admits that growing up in a close-knit family in Hastings has made family life important to him.

"My idea of perfect happiness is a big family, three or four kids, to be healthy, friends and family around me and to play in the Premiership with Brighton."

Standing at 6ft 1in Hammond is especially lean-looking after losing ten pounds due to the stomach bug that kept him out of Albion's Boxing Day match against Yeovil, which they lost 3-1.

As Albion boss Dean Wilkins said: "He is the type of player every team loves to have. You only really appreciate him when he is missing."

The stomach bug not only kept him out of the match but from his Christmas dinner. At least he could enjoy his favourite present - a portrait of himself in action from his girlfriend.

While he's not exactly looking pasty now, I noticed while doing a bit of research that the midfielder's skin suddenly turned from classic English corned beef to sun-kissed Mediterranean last season.

Is he as metrosexual as his sporting contemporaries? Has he been perhaps indulging in a spot of fake tanning like Gavin Henderson or David Beckham?

"I have never fake tanned."


"Well... Just before summer I did have a couple of sessions on the sunbed.

I'm really pale and I didn't want to go to the beach looking like an albino."

A gentle prod into the grooming habits of the rest of the team and Hammond sings like a canary.

"Alex Revell (Albion striker) says he doesn't go on the sunbed but he's always tanned - so I'm suspicious but I've not got any proof.

"Guy Butters has a problem with er..."


"Yeah - and he always tries to blame it on other people.

"I think Kerry Mayo has waxed a few times... but it was for charity and Adam El-Abd just thinks he's a style guru."

Hammond claims he has never had a facial, manicure or back, sack and crack wax and his love of clothes shopping is about as new man as he gets.

If he had to sum himself up in a few words he'd go for "determined, laid back, open-minded and up for a laugh" (that'll be the Deep Heat in his team mates shorts) and he says his heroes are Roy Keane and Steven Gerrard.

If he could create his own fantasy football player he would have the goal scoring and speed of Thierry Henry, the power of Steven Gerrard, the passing of Paul Scholes, the leadership of Roy Keane and the legs of Brazil's Rivaldo. I've got bow legs so I'd have to say Rivaldo because he's got the same problem," he says. "We've got to stick together."

As for the highlight of Hammond's career, that came during his last face-toface with West Ham.

"Funnily enough my greatest moment was scoring two against West Ham two seasons ago," he says. "It was a relegation battle and it was a great feeling and a great way to end the season."

No doubt it's a feeling he'll want to repeat.