Joe Dixon began his playing career with Dawdon Colliery Welfare Juniors in 1962, scoring 50 goals in a single season at the age of 17, and eventually retired in 1989, scoring twice before half-time for Durham Fire Brigade Over 40s before a knee injury forced him off the pitch for good. During his career he turned out in both the Wearside League and Northern Football Alliance, representing Eppleton CW, Dawdon, Ryhope CA, Seaham Red Star and Silksworth among many others. In 1984-85, as joint manager of Dawdon, he coached an injury-hit side to an improbable Wearside League Cup victory, beating the then mighty Newcastle Blue Star along the way.
How did you first get involved in local football?
After leaving school in 1961 the first team I played for was Dawdon CW Juniors who played in the excellent Hetton Junior League. At the end of that first season several of the players were still eligible to play the following season, 1962/63, and we agreed to stick together because we felt we would have a side capable of winning the league. Now at this time I was on the youth club committee at Ryhope and out of the blue the youth club leader, Bill Bond, put the idea to the committee about forming a Junior team to play in the Hetton Junior League. This caused me a big problem as I had to explain that I had already committed myself to playing for Dawdon CW Juniors for the coming season. Everyone accepted my situation and a junior team was formed and they got access to the Ryhope CW ground for its home games. Because everyone knew my situation from the beginning there was obviously no ill feeling and I continued my role at the club and still helped to get the team started. Actually, they did very well in their first season and at Dawdon I had a great season but was really disappointed in finishing second to Hylton CW Juniors in the league.
At the end of this season, as myself and a few of the YC players were no longer eligible to play in the Hetton Junior League, Bill Bond suggested we form a senior team. I was pleased to go along with this as I still felt a bit guilty about the previous season. It was agreed and our application to join the Seaham & District League for the 1963/64 season was accepted. And so I started my senior career playing mostly for Ryhope YC which became Ryhope CA and finally, well after my playing days were over, Sunderland RCA (who now play in Division One of the Northern League).
Looking back, what was your proudest achievement as a player or coach?
Getting my FA Preliminary Coaching Badge was one of my proudest achievements in my football career. Why? Because when I registered for the 12 session course, each of 2 hours, I was told that because I was going to be away on holiday and miss 4 of the sessions, I couldn’t pass the course and it was suggested I leave it for another year.
I still thought I could learn from the 8 sessions so I decided to join even if I couldn’t be successful. Out of the 12-14 that attended the course only 4 passed and one of them was me. The following is what happened.
I went to the the Southmoor School in Sunderland to register for the course not really knowing what was involved. It was there that I met Arthur Philliskirk, the Hon. Sec. of the Durham Coaches Association, who was running the course. When I said I would be away on a 2 week holiday in the middle of the course he suggested I would be wasting my money, as I wouldn’t pass because I would miss too many aspects of the practical coaching. He suggested I leave it until next year. I thought for a moment then told him that if it was ok with him I would still like to join the course because I would still learn a bit from the 8 sessions I could attend.
I sat down near the entrance to the registration room to fill in my form. As I was doing it a fella came in and asked me if he could register for the course. He obviously thought I was one of the organisers. I explained that I was just like him and pointed to Arthur as the man to see. He went off and came back and sat next to me to fill in his form. We had a few friendly words and then after glancing at his form I started to chuckle. I had to explain that I had said earlier that I was just like him when his previous clubs were Sunderland AFC, Scotland under 21’s, Preston NE etc and mine were Ryhope CA, Seaham Red Star etc. It was Jimmy McNab and we both saw the funny side of it.
There was about 12-14 people on the course and as we didn’t know any of the others, Jimmy and I tended to stick together throughout the course and got to know each other quite well. I must admit I was quite chuffed about this.
When I came back from holiday I was asked if I wanted to attend a ‘Residential Refresher Weekend for Coaches’ at Houghall College, Durham that weekend. This course was run mainly for qualified coaches, by Durham Coaches Association, but they thought it would benefit our course members. About 3 members from the course, including Jimmy McNab had already accepted the offer so I said yes despite it being at very short notice.
The course was really enjoyable. In addition to Jimmy McNab there were other well known people including George Wardle the Middlesbrough FC first team coach, Jimmy Shoulder the Australian National Coach and David Armstrong the ex Middlesbrough, Southampton and England International.
On the Saturday afternoon Arthur Philliskirk asked the course members whether anyone would like to volunteer to do a coaching session on the Sunday afternoon and if so would they let him know by the Saturday night. No one initially volunteered so I started to think of giving it a go myself. I had ideas in my mind about the benefits of short corner kicks, if done in the right way, so I decided that this is what I’d coach if no one else volunteered. No one did. So I did. It certainly surprised the organisers as the majority of the course had there preliminary/full FA coaching badges.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night but by morning I knew exactly how I should go about the afternoon session. It was a great help to know I would have David Armstrong to rely on for not messing up the corners.
The session went better than I dared hope for and a lot of nice things were said to me by other course members. At tea, which immediately followed my session, I was asked to join the organisers at their table. I received some very nice complements and after they enquired about my football background, and realised I’d never coached before, George Wardle told me ‘Joe set your sights high and I mean high – you’ll do well’. I was told about a two week ‘Full Badge’ course being held later that year but the costs and finding the spare time would have been a problem. The other problem was I doubted my ability after also being told that on the last ’Full Badge’ course, which consisted of a large number of professionals, only a small proportion passed. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had given it a go and been successful.
When I went to the next coaching session I was told by Arthur Philliskirk that it had been decided that my voluntary coaching on the weekend refresher course would be taken into consideration as part of my preliminary badge practical work. I was over the moon. I completed the course (‘Practical Performance’), took the ‘Practical Coaching’ test (coaching school children), the ‘Theory of Coaching’ exam and the ‘Laws of the Game’ exam.
On 14 August 1979 I received some great news from Ted Croker, the FA Secretary, to say that I had passed all categories. Enclosed was also my coaching certificate and badge. What a great feeling that was.
From a playing point of view I’m very proud of my 1975/76 season playing for Silksworth ‘Buffs’ and winning the very strong Sunderland CIU Sunday League and League Cup. I’m also proud of the service I gave to Ryhope CA, now Sunderland RCA, and for being selected to represent and captain the Seaham & District League in three end of season interleague games.
Finally, I’m very proud of the number of friends I made during my football career.
You once scored after ten seconds without any of your teammates touching the ball. How did that happen?
I was playing for Ryhope Poplars Club in the Saturday morning Hetton CIU League against Pallion WMC, who were by far the best team in the league at that time. They kicked off and the ball was played back to a midfielder who immediately played a square pass which I intercepted. As I took the ball in my stride it left me in the clear to score. The goalkeeper blocked my first shot and I scored from the rebound. I only had to sprint about 35 yards or so from the kick off before shooting so even scoring from the rebound it was still probably under 10 seconds.
Most of their team, instead of finger pointing and blaming each other, just laughed. They obviously saw the funny side of it and that they were sure they would still win the match. And guess what they did…
What was the best team you played in?
There are two teams that immediately come to mind.
The Ryhope CA team of the 1972/73 season was an exceptional side. We won the Houghton and District League, the Durham Hospitals Cup and were runners up in the League Cup and Easington Aged Miners Cup. In the league we W26 D1 L1, scoring 110 and conceding 29. I basically played as a lone striker up front but I was supported by some really outstanding players capable of playing at much higher levels. One in particular was Billy Mitchell, whose brother Kenny was a regular in Newcastle Utd’s first team. Kenny admitted to me one day that Billy was a better player. Fortunately for us Billy was 1 of 7 of us who had played in the team’s previous seasons and enjoyed being part of the ‘family’. As a goal scorer I never felt any great pressure to score because of our great defence and the service I received. I always felt that just one goal would probably win us the game. Being injury free – and at 27 I was probably at my peak as a centre forward – it proved to be my best ever goal scoring season with 85 goals. During this season in 3 consecutive games we won 5-1, 2-1 and 2-0 and I scored all 9 goals. That was some team.
The other was the 1975/76 Silksworth R.A.O.B (Buffs) team that played in the very strong Sunderland CIU Sunday League. I’d played for the ‘Buffs’ for a few seasons and, after the 1974/1975 season, I decided, at 30, I would just concentrate on the Saturday football. However before the 1975/1976 season started I had a visit from Ernie Muckles who had joined the club and was a proven goal scorer in the Northern League. He was so enthusiastic about the Buffs team for the coming season. He told me of the quality players who had already signed for the club and the ones he was sure would sign. He was certain our partnership up front would work great and we would win the league, something that the ‘Buffs’ had never come close to winning before. His enthusiasm and commitment changed my mind and I agreed to sign. It turned out to be a very good decision. We not only won the League but also the League Cup. Our partnership up front did work really well, just as he said it would, and we scored plenty of goals between us. I’ve got to admit that Ernie finished as the leading goal scorer which he deserved for all of his pre-season efforts in helping build a great team.
How about the best teams and individual players you came up against?
When I first started to watch senior football in the early 1960’s I was in awe of the Ryhope CW side. They never seemed to have a weakness and it was simple – if you were in the side you had to be a really good player. In 6 seasons they won the Weaside League Championship 4 times, Shipowners Cup, League Challenge Cup and the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup twice. In winning the League title in 1961/1962 they had 28 wins, 2 draws and 0 defeats. However, the achievement they are most famous for was reaching the 1st Round proper of the FA Cup on 9th December 1967 only to be beaten 1-0 at home by Workington Town on a near frozen pitch. Nearly 4500 spectators crammed into the ground. In reaching that stage they beat some great Northern League teams including the legendary Bishop Auckland. Some of the great players, who were the heart of the team for several seasons, were Jackie Wilkinson, Charlie Grose, Jackie Cope, John Forster and Ronnie Jobson.
Blue Star were the best Wearside League team in the late 1970’s and 80’s. They were the first ever team to win all 4 competions in the 1982/83 season and yet this was not even their most outstanding achievement. To me this would be when they won the FA Challenge Vase trophy in the 1977/78 season beating Barton Rovers 2-1 at Wembley. The Blue Star goal scorers that day were from two greats, Ian Crumplin and Barry Dunn.
Another great side was Whickham, again from the Wearside League, who although not quite as successful as Blue Star did also win the FA Challenge Vase trophy in the 1980/81 season beating Willenhall 3-2 at Wembley.
Seaham Red Star, when managed by Larry Phillips, were outstanding from 1979-1982. They won the Phillips Floodlit Trophy, Durham Challenge Cup, Wearside League Title and Wearside League Cup. In this period they had some real quality players who I’d played with and against like Freddie Guy, Norman Taylor, Tommy Henderson, Nigel Gleghorn, Ray Moon, Billy Mitchell, Jimmy Ashett, Geoff Dale, Malcolm Baxter. The list goes on and on.
Two teams that I had great success with were Ryhope CA and Silksworth Buffs, see above. They were full of good players and five of them, Brian Page, Harry Clark, Billy Mitchell, Bobby Pickering and Keith Hemborough, played alongside me over several seasons.
Finally, I’ll mention two players who could always produce that little piece of magic when it mattered. Dougie Crosby, who I first saw play for Ryhope CW, and Barry Dunn, who played for the great Sunday morning team Humbledon & Plains Farm FC, Blue Star and finally Sunderland AFC. Both had incredible skill in dribbling, passing, creating chances and scoring spectacular goals. They were special.
You played in the Houghton & District, Seaham & District, Wearside League and the Northern Alliance. How did they compare?
With regard to the qualities of these leagues the Wearside league was without doubt the strongest. The others in order of strength:
I played for Seaham Red Star in the 1976/77 season and we played a friendly at Dawdon CW’s ground against a very strong Carlisle Utd team. Playing for Bobby Moncur’s side were the likes of Bill Rafferty, Dixie Deans, Ian McDonald and Phil Bonneyman. It was a tremendous game and we won 3-2. If you think that Moncur didn’t take the game too seriously you should have heard his anger from the dressing room at half time and more so at full time. They couldn’t complain about the playing surface because it was, after all, played on the excellent Green Drive ground at Dawdon. Nor could they complain about being unlucky. On any other day they would no doubt win but on this occasion they were beaten by a quality Seaham Red Star side who on the day outplayed them and deserved to win. As we didn’t win the league you can say the standard of the teams was pretty high.
Houghton & District
In the 1973/74 season we played a Durham Challenge cup tie against Shildon Utd from the Northern League and we drew 2-2 at home. In the replay it took extra time to beat us and I think it was mainly their extra fitness that gave them the edge. We were only runners up that season and with teams like Seaham Red Star, Natcobos, Dawdon CW, Eppleton CW, Blackhall Athletic, Houghton Town, in the league that season I do believe the Houghton & District League was still a really good standard.
Seaham & District
Playing for Ryhope YC, 1969/70 season, there were always very difficult matches against Blackhall Athletic, Seaham Red Star, Seaham UDC and a few others. When you consider we defeated Eppleton CW in a cup final and Burnmoor in a cup semi final, two top teams from the Houghton & District League, indicates that the Seaham & District League wasn’t far behind.
All in all local football in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s was a very enjoyable era to play in.
You managed Dawdon in the mid-1980s. How did you enjoy it compared to playing?
First, can I explain my attraction to Seaham and Dawdon in particular?
I’ll be honest in those days Dawdon was never an attractive place to visit. It is located on the south side of Seaham and was a dead end. The two roads leading to it, both from the north direction, led to either the colliery or the Green Drive football ground, the home of Dawdon CW and its Junior side. Unlike today no road passed through it. I spent many happy weekends with relations there and with mates from school. My cousin, 3 years older, played for the ‘CW Junior side and I’d watch them play on one of the best playing surfaces in the north east. I knew I just wanted to play there in the Juniors side, playing in the Hetton Junior League, which I did a couple of years later. I just loved it. After leaving school, as part of my engineering training with the NCB, I spent quite a bit in Seaham at both Vane Tempest and Dawdon Collieries, and made even more friends there. So maybe you can understand why Dawdon was like a second home to me.
I started off in the 1984/1985 season as coach at Eppleton CW in the Wearside League. This was my second season there and the manager was Tony Lynch. He had first approached me to coach under him in the 1982/1983 season when he was manager of Seaham Red Star who were playing in the Wearside League. I was thoroughly enjoying my time with him and learnt quite a bit from Tony. He was very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and was determined to be successful. However, when I was approached in early November 1984 by Norman Kelly and Ivan Arthur (from Dawdon CW, who played in the same league) to join them in a role that gave me a lot more responsibility I just couldn’t resist.
Although the official position was team coach, I also did all the team talks and tactics. Team selection was a joint effort as I always involved Ivan, who was still officially team manager, and Norman. I don’t suppose this would work with many clubs but we were always on the same wavelength. As another key member of the club was Norman’s dad, Ralph Pigg, you can understand why the club had a family like feel about the place. In fact I can’t recall any real disagreements in the 4 seasons I was there. In that time our best finish was 8th in the league in the 1986-87 season, which was disappointing as we were joint top after 16 games. However a very proud moment for me, and everyone associated with the club, was when we won the League Cup in 1985 beating Eppleton CW in the final having beaten the mighty Blue Star on their home ground in the semi-final. Blue Star won the League and Sunderland Shipowners Cup that season and in the previous 5 seasons they had won the League Cup on 4 occasions. Absolute magic.
Generally speaking every ex-player would prefer playing for a cup winning side to managing one. However, a manager will always rightly feel that they will have played their part in the victory and they will feel very pleased, proud and enjoy the accolades. Yet this is not always how a player feels, even if he is a cup winner, because if he‘s played really badly he thinks he hasn’t contributed to his team’s win and he will be disappointed. For example, I was playing for Ryhope CA and we won 1-0 against Thorns S.C. in the Durham Hospitals Cup Final and I came off the field totally depressed. Before I scored the only goal, which I cannot recall, I was guilty of the worst miss in all of my playing days. Unfortunately I still remember my worst 3 misses. On this day I would definitely have preferred to have been our manager.
As a Ryhope lad you must be pleased to see both teams doing so well nowadays.
I’m absolutely delighted.
With not playing so much golf these days and being retired I was able to spend my spare time developing my website. As I had a lot of memories from my time with Ryhope CA, now Sunderland RCA, from its formation it was of great interest to their current committee and I was contacted by their secretary Colin Wilson. The upshot was that I started to take an interest in watching some of their home games. This was during the 2009/2010 season when they got promoted to the 1st division of the STL Northern League. The following season I again watched a lot of their games and to finish in mid-table was, I’m sure, better than the club’s expectations.
At the Alan Thompson Memorial Trophy game, a charity match played each year between the 2 Ryhope sides, I bumped into the Ryhope CW chairman, Ronnie Crosby, who I last saw when he came to play for Ryhope CA in the 1974/75 season. I was taken aback a bit because he paid me a lovely compliment by recalling how much he appreciated the help and encouragement I’d given him when he joined the ‘CA. I couldn’t specifically recall doing this although I would have wanted everyone to play well as I would benefit from it. He was also very appreciative of the section, on my website, on his team. To be honest it made me feel really good and so I then started to watch the ’CW in the last third of this last season. At this time Easington CW were coasting to the title and the ‘CW were, it seemed, competing for 2nd place. Every game I saw them play they won and they finished incredibly with a clean sweep of the Wearside League trophies.
It certainly doesn’t get much better than this. As I said I’m absolutely delighted.
It seems remarkable that I went many years not watching any local football and when I started, in such a short time, I’ve witnessed some amazing achievements. Perhaps I’m a lucky mascot or was I just lucky. Obviously the latter but if Niall Quinn or Mike Ashley reads this I may well finish up on their payroll.
It’s often said that the standard of the Wearside League has declined in recent years Do you think this is true?
In the 1960’s I thought the standard of the Wearside League was very high and the top teams, in particular Ryhope CW, were capable of beating some of the top teams in the Northern League. As I used to view it they were separate leagues playing side by side but overall the NL being the stronger of the two. Since then with the introduction of a Division 2 of the NL and the pyramid system the WL is effectively two leagues below the NL Division 1so in that sense yes the standard has declined. But perhaps not as much as you might think. It’s logical to assume that all the best players would be in the NL’s but I still think there are some that are still attracted to the WL because of its history and in particular the magnificent Sunderland Shipowners and Monkwearmouth Charity Cups, which are two of the oldest and most prestigious trophies in the world.
You can read much more from Joe on his own website, a lovingly-kept treasure trove of stories, clippings and photographs from his half century involvement in local football.