A football genius with Blue blood in his veins
Tommy Dickson, the Duke of Windsor, dies aged 77
One of the immortals of Linfield Tommy Dickson, given the appellation The Duke of Windsor, has died in Belfast after a short illness. He was 77.
Over the decades since the club's formation in a Belfast mill in 1885, many players have been heroes - the list is endless - but few have had the lasting impact of the bantamweight-built Dickson.
He epitomised Linfield, its tradition, its heritage, was the ultimate as a player and idolised by fans.
That idolatry never really waned though shockwaves hit Bluemen after his contract had not been renewed by the club and he signed for archrivals Glentoran in August 1965. That was tantamount to Field Marshall Montgomery defecting to Rommell's Afrika Korps.
It was Gibby Mackenzie, then in charge at The Oval, who enticed him to change his allegiance but he played only five games for them - one against Linfield for whom he had been a player during 17 years.
How strange it was to see him wearing the red, green and black instead of the familiar royal blue jersey.
"I had no regrets - I knew what I was doing," he once said. "They treated me exceptionally well and I wouldn't have taken the step for anyone other than Gibby - the best manager and coach with whom I worked."
Yet, deep down one could detect there had been that little niggling doubt, an uncertainty at the enormity of what he had done.
And this was underlined one night before a European Cup match against Aris in Luxembourg where the late Walter Davidson, accompanied by the Windsor Park hierarchy, presented him with his life membership. "Thank you. I know I am now back home," he said in an emotional acceptance speech.
There was no bitterness, no anger remaining. It was water under the bridge. Linfield blood ran through his veins, Windsor Park was his home.
The Tommy Dickson story goes back to his boyhood days in Sandy Row where, as a 16-year-old, he played for Roosevelt Street Boys Club; had the odd matches with Old Lodge in the Minor League and All Souls in the Churches League.
His main ambition, however, was to play for Linfield "to pull on that blue jersey in the dressing room", as he once told me. He won junior medals with Larne and Brantwood and a plethora with the Swifts after signing for Linfield manager Jock Hutton. Elisha Scott, legendary manager of Belfast Celtic, offered him a huge fee but he declined.
When the Blues transferred George Hannah and Alfie McMichael to Newcastle United Dickson - TD to his team-mates - became a permanent fixture at inside-forward. For many of the old timers it was their twilight, for Dickson the dawn. The rest is history.
Although he never sampled cross-channel football, Preston, Everton, Manchester City and Rangers were interested while Hull manager Raich Carter offered £8,500. Linfield, though, wanted much more than that and the deal never materialised.
He was capped by Northern Ireland against Scotland at Hampden Park in 1954 on a night to forget. " I simply froze - I was out of my depth," he admitted. His consistent club performances merited another international chance but it didn't come.
One of his finest displays was in the Irish League's 5-2 defeat of a star-packed Football League side which included Albert Quixall (Sheffield Wednesday), Tommy Taylor (Manchester United), Johnny Haynes (Fulham) and Jimmy Armfield (Blackpool) at Windsor Park in 1956.
Dickson captained Linfield's seven-trophy winning team in 1962 - Irish, Ulster, City, Gold and North-South Cups, Irish League and County Antrim Shield. He played in 53 matches and scored more than 20 goals in what he called a family team.
He recalled: "Actually we never thought about the seven trophies until it came near the end of the season. Then we realised we could repeat the 1922 achievement."
It was at Cliftonville on May 17, 1962 that Linfield, led by Dickson who had tremendous battles with Wilbur Cush, clinched the Irish League championship with a 3-1 win over Portadown, Jim Reid scoring twice and Bobby Braithwaite, now in South Africa, getting the other. History had been repeated.
Dickson possessed all the attributes - skill, heading power, astonishing stamina for one so slightly built, and an impish cheek which frequently irritated referees. Before a match he rested for 15 minutes, putting everything out of his mind, simply concentrating on the game.
After his departure from football he turned his attention to coaching, was for a period a member of the Linfield management committee and had many jobs - an industrial company's sports officer, he ran a fish and chip shop, taxi business and news agency and, in his later years, found his niche in charity and cross-community work at which he excelled.
Tommy Dickson, the Duke of Windsor, was a man apart and a football genius whose name will forever be synonymous with Linfield and one of its golden eras.