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Friday, 19 November 2010

Forfarshire Legends

Recently, fans of Dundee FC have been given the opportunity to enjoy another book about the club in the shape of Kenny Ross's "Dundee Legends". This book seeks out over 80 of the club's finest servants and celebrates their achievements. Similarly, I'd like to do the same for players active in Forfarshire County pre-Dundee FC and the first such player featured is a gentleman by the name of William Alexander Dickson.

 William Dickson was quite possibly one of the the most famous of the county's players prior to professionalism. Born in 1866, he would make his name with Dundee Strathmore. His stint at the club coincided with perhaps the club's most successful era. During this time the club, with Dickson, would finish runners-up of the Forfarshire Cup in 1886-1887 and 1887-1888 and the Dundee Charity Cup in 1885-1886. The "Stripes" were particularly unlucky in the Fofarshire Cup finals owing to playing two of the finest pre-professional era teams to come out of the county - Dundee Harp in 1886 and Arbroath in 1887. The latter final saw Dickson score for his team, but to no avail in a shock 10-2 defeat.

 By 1888 William Dickson was well known nationally but had still to pick up an international cap. This had, naturally, not gone unnoticed in Dundee and the Scotsman reported the following in March 1888 after Dickson's latest snub:

"Our Dundee correspondent writes: ~ The news of the remit of the match was received in Dundee with feelings of incredulity and amazement, and the disaster was attributed wholly to what is considered as the selfishness and partiality of the Scottish Committee in selecting such a team and, in particular, such a front line. The eleven chosen has, as a whole, been generally condemned, not only on the ground that it was far from being a representative one, but that even within the limited circle from which it was drawn several better men for their respective places could have been secured. A strong feeling prevails in Forfarshire that the county is not getting justice in the matter of the selection of international teams, and among footballers, notwithstanding strong club jealousy, the almost unanimous verdict is that Dickson, of Dundee Strathmore, is at present the finest centre forward in Scotland, and that he should have been preferred to one who is looked upon as having served his day and generation."

Harsh words indeed, borne out of a frustration that modern day city of Dundee football fans can identify to all too well. Whether this strongly worded article in the national press was responsible for Dickson's subsequent call up to the game against Ireland as a late replacement for Sandy Higgins is not known, but he had, at last, his chance to play in the dark blue of Scotland. On the eve of the game, the Dundee Courier noted its approval - in an "it's about time" fashion:

"After many years of weary waiting, Dundee has received representation in an international eleven. The tardy recognition has not come in a direct manner, but still footballers in this quarter must be grateful for small mercies. We are sure that the whole of Forfarshire will be gratified to learn that Dickson, of the Dundee Strathmore, has been invited to play centre forward in the team which tomorrow at Belfast will endeavour to make a better fight in behalf of the national honour than the eleven which was so disastrously beaten last week by the representatives of the Rose. The invitation, it is needless to say, has been accepted, and it is hoped that the Dundee champion will materially add to the already large majority of goals at the credit of the Thistle against the Shamrock. The invitation came through the inability of Higgins to take the place assigned him."

Dickson did not disappoint and did indeed add to the majority of goals for the Thistle scoring 4 (all in the first half) in a 10-2 win for the Scots. However, instead of being a platform for more appearances, he is only one of 2 players to score 4 goals in his only Scottish international appearance- a dubious honour and one no player should have bestowed upon him. Perhaps the selection committee were trying to placate the footballing public and authorities in the north eastern outpost of Scottish football's sphere of influence with the token gesture to cap Dickson? Whatever their reason, Dickson was lured south to Bolton then Sunderland- a crack team of the era. He only spent brief sojourns there, however, before securing a move to the emerging force that was Aston Villa. Dickson, as can only be expected made his mark at the club, scoring 33 goals in 58 league games. He was given the honour of leading Villa out in the 1892 FA Cup final at Kennington Oval in front of 25,000. It was to be another runners-up medal unfortunately, as Villa lost 3-0 to West Bromich Albion in a final noted as being the first for using goal nets and, according to Villa historian John Lerwill, also notable for Villa fans' feelings that the goalkeeper- Jimmy Warner- had thrown the game.
 Soon after, Dickson joined Stoke where he ended his career in 1897. Dickson stayed in that city where he became a licensee until his death on the 1st June 1910. William (endearingly referred to as Billy by the Villa football fans) Dickson undoubtedly hit the heights someone of his talent so richly deserved, however, there is a sense that it could have been so much more. As a Dundee Strathmore player he could have had a clutch of local titles to his name had he and the club not had the misfortune of peaking at the same time as "the invincibles" of Dundee Harp and the remnants of the famous "36-0" team of Arbroath. Internationally speaking, the fact he was selected once, and even speaking 122 years after the fact, is nothing short of scandalous. That said, it should not detract from what a truly special talent he was.

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