Be upstanding and raise your glasses, please, to a Member of the British Empire, and the No. 1 gentleman of soccer, Jimmy Dickinson.
It's a toast we are honouring to mark the last lap of the Portsmouth man's march towards an all-time record for any one-club player in the history of British soccer. The record? 900 matches!
Never in any country, or at any time, has any one-club man even aimed at such a fantastic figure. And in doing so, Dickinson, a famed England defender of years ago, looks back with considerable satisfaction at the fact that already he has
- played nearly 750 League games, and eighty-eight Cup and friendly games for Portsmouth
- been capped forty-eight tunes by England
- never missed a match in nine seasons, five of them consecutive, and
- never been sent off or even ticked off.
What a wonderful reference. It shines like a beacon through these days of stress and strife in the world of sport, and surely makes him the automatic model for all athletic-minded youngsters.
In an era when so many are pointing the finger of scorn at soccer, and saying there is a lot of phoney business always going on behind the scenes, Dickinson proves them wrong. He believes there is no better game, and that it still offers a challenging and rewarding career, though he himself only came into it by a fluke.
He had no idea what kind of job he might fancy when quitting the Services, but somebody else decided all that for him. Jack Tinn shaped his future. The famous Portsmouth manager of those days - he always wore spats, if you remember - heard about Dickinson's soccer prowess in Navy teams. So he strolled along to a Services game one day, saw the lad in action, liked his promise, and talked him into a footballer's life. It was the best day's work Tinn ever did for himself, and it was the best day's work Dickinson ever did for himself, too, because it landed him a job for life, and travelling commissions around the world.
It was late in 1944 when the two men met, and Dickinson signed on the dotted line. Shortly afterwards he made his debut, and only injuries have occasionally kept his name off the team sheet ever since. Perhaps not quite so consistent and commanding as in his earlier days in a Pompey shirt, Dickinson nevertheless remains among the greats, ranking alongside Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney and Billy Wright - the three with whom he shares the honour of having been named in the Queen's Honours Lists.
Of course, the teenagers he grew up with have mostly departed the scene. Those who are a bit longer in the tooth will remember that they included Frank Swift, George Hardwick, Raich Carter, "Dally" Duncan, Leon Leuty, Laurie Scott, Nell Franklin, Wilf Mannion, Bobby Langton and a host of others, all stars in their own right. Then there was the era in which Bryn Jones, Jimmy Logie, Wally Barnes, Joe Mercer, Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley, Tommy Lawton, Stan Mortensen, Phil Taylor and Jackie Milburn topped the bill. Dickinson was maturing all the time. He was gradually underlining Jack Tinn's comments to me when, shortly after the signing, he said: "Watch this boy, he's going to the top, and he'll stay there because he's got everything."
Eventually, he caught the selectors' eyes, and slipped into an England "B" team in 1949, at a time when Len Shackleton, Jimmy Mullen, Bill Eckersley and Nat Lofthouse were usually claiming the headlines. A programme commentator wrote of him: "He has got great staying powers." I don't suppose he ever thought how true that particular point would be proved.
His strong tackling and first rate positional sense, especially in loose defence, won him a permanent spot in England's full international line-up, and usually had him playing at left-half with Nell Franklin at No. 5, Billy Wright at No. 4, and the backs generally All Ramsey and Johnny Aston. Jackie Froggatt, his old pal, kept him out of the centre-half spot later, and further shuffling paired Les Medley and Eddie Bailey ahead of him on the left wing, with Bill Eckcrsley at left-back. But Dickinson stayed put as they departed one by one until Manchester United groomed Duncan Edwards, and when that powerhouse of a wing-half who, unfortunately, was one of those who lost their lives in the Munich crash, touched top form Dickinson had to step down at last.
And what does Dickinson, now wondering whether life begins again next year at forty, think of it all? He's no talker, though admitting to taking on a new lease of life when Portsmouth switched him from wing-half to centre half. And, just in case you may be wondering about a testimonial match like those staged for Dixie Dean and Bert Trautmann last season, he is not thinking of 'packing his bags yet. For, after all, he notes that his old friend Stan Matthews is still playing in his fiftieth year, and Trautmann only gave up in his forty-second year. But Dickinson, who always looks facts in the face, says this: "Once I find the game becoming too much of an effort for me, I will pack it up without any more ado."
This article originally appeared in the November 1964 edition of World Soccer.