Dawson started his career at Nottingham Forest playing alongside veteran defender Des Walker before moving to Tottenham Hotspur with teammate Andy Reid for a fee of £8 million. While at Tottenham, Dawson won the League Cup in 2008. His form in the 2009–10 season saw him included in England's preliminary 2010 FIFA World Cup squad. Although he initially failed to make the final 23-man squad, an injury to captain Rio Ferdinand saw him drafted in as replacement.
In August 2014, Hull City signed Dawson from Tottenham for a fee believed to be £3.5 million. Although relegated with Hull at the end of the 2014–15 season, he helped them return to the Premier League when they beat Sheffield Wednesday in the 2016 Championship play-off Final.
Born in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, Dawson grew up in Leyburn and attended Wensleydale school. He is the younger brother of fellow footballers Andy Dawson and Kevin Dawson.
Dawson started his career playing for his local team, Northallerton Juniors, and also spent a year playing for Richmond before signing as a junior professional with Nottingham Forest at the age of 14. He turned professional in November 2000 and made his first-team debut for Forest on 1 April 2002 against Walsall in a 3–2 home defeat.
In February 2003, Dawson signed a new five-and-a-half-year contract at Forest. During the 2002–03 season, Dawson established himself in the team alongside veteran defender Des Walker, as Forest finished sixth in the First Division to enter the play-offs. Forest played Sheffield United, and Dawson was sent off late in the first leg, making it his final appearance that season. Without Dawson, Forest lost 4–3 in the second leg of the semi-final, being eliminated 5–4 on aggregate.
In the close season, Dawson contracted glandular fever whilst on duty with the England under-21s, causing him to miss the start of the 2003–04 season. Forest also struggled – winning only twice between the end of September and the beginning of February caused Paul Hart to be replaced by Joe Kinnear. The season was transformed from one battling relegation to a confident mid-table finish with the return of Dawson and David Johnson to the team being one of the reasons for this.
Dawson and one of his Forest teammates, winger Andy Reid, signed for Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur on 31 January 2005 deadline day transfer for a fee thought to be worth a combined £8 million. Dawson made his debut for Tottenham towards the end of the 2004–05 season in the 2–2 draw at Liverpool on 16 April 2005.
Dawson enjoyed a good 2005–06 season, impressing many with his aerial ability and attitude. This in turn led to a contract extension until 2011. This was followed by a call-up to the England squad as a standby player for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
On 5 November 2006, Dawson scored his first goal for Tottenham in their 2–1 win over Chelsea at White Hart Lane. His goal levelled the score at 1–1 after Claude Makélélé's strike, with Aaron Lennon scoring the winner. Dawson first captained the team in the 2006–07 FA Cup quarter-final match away to Chelsea, due to injuries to stand-in captains Robbie Keane and Paul Robinson and the club's regular captain Ledley King. After a season in which he played all but one of Tottenham's 59 matches, he was rewarded with a new five-year contract on 11 May 2007 which would have kept him at the club until 2012.
In the 2007–08 season, Dawson scored his first goal in the UEFA Cup home match against the Greek team Anorthosis Famagusta where Tottenham won 6–1. In November 2007, Tottenham went away to West Ham United in the Premier League and drew 1–1, Dawson scored the away goal. During the course of the season, Tottenham reached the 2008 League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, where they beat Chelsea 2–1 to earn Dawson his first ever silverware, though he missed the final through injury.
In October 2008, when Tottenham played away to Stoke, Vedran Ćorluka suffered an injury in the 77th minute. Dawson replaced him only to be sent off in injury time. In April 2009, Dawson sustain an injury against Newcastle United which left him out for the rest of the 2008–09 season. The 2009–10 season was to be judged by many as Dawson's finest season in a Spurs shirt to date as he helped the club to a fourth-place finish, their highest league finish for 20 years and qualification for the 2010–11 UEFA Champions League.
On 27 January 2010, he signed a new five-year contract with Tottenham, taking him to 2015. Dawson's excellent performances throughout the course of the season saw him awarded Tottenham's Player of the Year award. His form that season led to Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez calling him "the best English defender I have played against" due to his strength. Dawson missed the rest of the 2011–12 season after rupturing an ankle ligament during Tottenham's 3–1 FA Cup fifth round win over Stevenage on 7 March 2012.
At the beginning of the 2012–13 season, Dawson could have signed for Tottenham's Premier League rivals Queens Park Rangers as the two clubs had agreed a £7.5 million fee, but the move collapsed as Dawson had "an issue with personal terms". Instead, Dawson was appointed club captain and signed a new three-year contract with Tottenham in October 2013. He scored his first goal of the season in a 3–1 win over Reading at White Hart Lane on 1 January 2013.
On 26 August 2014, he joined Premier League club Hull City on a three-year contract for an undisclosed fee understood to be £3.5 million. He made his debut on 31 August 2014 at Villa Park in a 2–1 defeat to Aston Villa. During the course of the 2014–15 season, Dawson established himself in the team and was even selected captain on 17 occasions. With five matches left to go in the Premier League season, Hull played Liverpool, in which Dawson scored his first goal for the club and the only goal in the match, earning a vital three points in their fight against relegation. However, this was not enough as Hull went on to lose their next three matches and in their final match against Manchester United they only drew 0–0, sending Dawson and Hull to the Championship for next season.
Dawson was their main choice for captain and scored in their home match against Queens Park Rangers on 2 October 2016. The 2015–16 season saw Hull finish fourth in the table and were promoted back to the Premier League via the play-offs, beating Sheffield Wednesday 1–0 at Wembley Stadium in the final.
At the start of the 2016–17 season, Dawson picked up an injury in a pre-season friendly against Mansfield Town, which ruled him out for three months.
Dawson made his debut for the England under-21 team against Italy on 11 February 2003. He went on to earn 13 England under-21 international caps, captaining the team on several occasions. His last appearance for the under-21 team was in a 2–1 loss to France on 15 November 2005.
Dawson was capped twice for the England B team, his first cap coming in their 2–1 loss to Belarus at Reading's Madejski Stadium on 25 May 2006. His second cap came in their 3–1 win over Albania at Burnley's Turf Moor ground exactly a year later.
Dawson was named in England's 30-man provisional squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but was not selected for the final 23-man squad. Rio Ferdinand was withdrawn from the squad due to an injury sustained in the team's first training session, and Capello announced Dawson as Ferdinand's replacement. He made his first appearance for England in a warm-up match against the Platinum Stars; however, the match was not counted as a full international, merely a training match, so he did not receive a cap for his appearance. However, Capello did not use Dawson at the World Cup, and he was the only uncapped member of the squad.
He made his full international debut in a friendly against Hungary on 11 August 2010, coming on as a half time substitute and was involved in a controversy over Hungary's goal. After making a mistake in the build-up, he got back to clear the ball off the line – a goal was given, however replays suggested the ball had actually not crossed the line.
On 3 September 2010, Dawson made his first competitive start for England in the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying match against Bulgaria. He sustained a knee injury and left the field on a stretcher after 56 minutes.As of 16 September 2017
As of match played 26 March 2011
Tottenham HotspurFootball League Cup: 2007–08
Hull CityFootball League Championship play-offs: 2015–16
PFA Team of the Year (Football League First Division): 2002–03
PFA Team of the Year (Football League Championship): 2015–16
Tottenham Hotspur Player of the Year: 2009–10
Hull City Player of the Year: 2014–15