Happy 52nd Birthday Julian Dicks
Today’s focus falls on a player who was one of my childhood heroes, a hard-as-nails but talented left-back with a thunderous shot. Julian Dicks was born in Bristol on 8th August 1968 and was a £300,000 signing for West Ham United from Birmingham in March 1988. He made his debut at the age of 19 the following month in a 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday. Dicks scored his first goal for the Hammers in a 2-1 defeat at Arsenal in February 1989 and followed that up with a goal in the 3-0 win over Millwall in April. The Irons were relegated at the end of the 1988/89 campaign and the manager who had signed Dicks, John Lyall, was sacked as a consequence.
Dicks became the club’s penalty-taker in 1989/90 under Lou Macari, his 14 goals going some way to seeing him voted Hammer of the Year as the Hammers adjusted to life in the second tier. He was also sent off in a 1-0 League Cup fourth round home win over Wimbledon, a game which saw an on-pitch brawl between the opposing players with the fighting sparked by a two-footed tackle by Wimbledon’s Dennis Wise on Dicks. With Billy Bonds having taken over the managerial reigns, Dicks suffered a knee injury in October 1990. In a match at Bristol City, Dicks hit a dip on the edge of the pitch, his foot going over the edge resulting in a loss of feeling in his left leg. He played on and was selected by Bonds for the next two games against Swindon and Blackburn although he had to be substituted in both. A knee operation followed which would keep him out for 14 months.
By the time Dicks returned from injury, the Hammers had been promoted but were struggling in the top flight – he scored on his return, a penalty to claim a point in a 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United four days before Christmas 1991. The Hammers would be relegated in 1991/92; ‘The Terminator’ was voted Hammer of the Year for the second time and picked up two caps for the England ‘B’ team. The following season saw Dicks regularly at the centre of controversy – he was sent off three times during 1992/93. The first red card came at Newcastle in August 1992 for elbowing former Hammer Franz Carr, while the second came at Wolves two months later for a skirmish with Paul Birch and Steve Bull. Bonds had to run down the touchline to restrain Dicks from further trouble. Dicks’ third red card of the season came at Derby in January 1993 for two bad tackles on Ted McMinn and there were calls for the left-back to be banned from football permanently. Dicks sat out a number of matches through suspension but still scored 14 goals as the Hammers were promoted at the first time of asking.
Dicks left the Hammers in September 1993 to become Graeme Souness’ last signing for Liverpool in a player-plus-cash deal which was valued at £2.5m. The Hammers received left-back David Burrows and midfielder Mike Marsh from the Anfield club and spent the cash on strikers Lee Chapman and Jeroen Boere. During his first spell at West Ham, Dicks had scored 40 goals in 203 appearances. In the weeks before his departure, a training-ground tackle by Dicks broke the leg of new signing Simon Webster. Dicks scored three goals in 28 appearances for Liverpool and has the honour of scoring the last ever Liverpool goal in front of the old standing Kop, a penalty in a 1-0 win against Ipswich in April 1994.
After being isolated by new Liverpool manager Roy Evans, Dicks returned to east London to sign for Harry Redknapp in October 1994. Now sporting a shaven head, the left-back made his second debut for the club in the 2-0 home triumph over Southampton and scored his first goal since returning in a 1-0 home victory over Leicester the following month. Dicks helped the Hammers avoid relegation to ensure a successful first season back at the Boleyn.
Dicks was superb the following season as the Hammers claimed a top-ten finish in 1995/96 – he even went in goal for more than half the match after Ludek Miklosko was sent off in the 3-0 defeat at Everton. He was again named Hammer of the Year but two controversial incidents at the start of the season – an alleged stamp on the head of Chelsea’s John Spencer (an allegation Dicks denies to this day) and a red card at Arsenal – played their part in ensuring Dicks was denied an England call-up in the build-up to Euro ’96.
Dicks was voted Hammer of the Year for a fourth time in 1996/97 as he played a significant role in ensuring the Hammers survived in the Premier League for another season, his two-goal salvo in a 4-3 win over Tottenham proving particularly inspirational while a penalty fired beyond Peter Schmeichel rescued a point in a 2-2 draw against champions Man Utd. Dicks’ season was ended in March 1997 by another knee injury and this was to keep him out of the entire 1997/98 campaign. He made his return after 18 months out in a 1-0 League Cup second round second leg win over Northampton at the Boleyn Ground but the Hammers were knocked out 2-1 on aggregate. He scored his final goal for the club in January 1999 at home against Swansea to earn an FA Cup third round replay which the Hammers went on to lose at the Vetch Field. His final appearance for the Hammers came in a 4-0 home defeat to Arsenal in February 1999. Over both spells with the Irons, Dicks scored 65 goals in 326 appearances in all competitions – a penalty king, he scored 35 of his spot-kicks while failing to convert just four. He announced his retirement at the age of 30 after eight operations on his left knee. My video below shows all 65 of Julian’s goals in claret and blue.
Dicks tried to come to terms with life outside football as he told Four Four Two: “When I quit West Ham I had enough money in the bank to never work again. Then, in 2001, I got divorced and my wife took it all. We’d set up professional kennels and were looking after other people’s dogs. I had 13 of them at one time and two young girls and there was never any problem. When the wife left she took the dogs too.” Dicks made an attempt at a new career playing golf but had to quit that sport as well due to the problems with his knees. He made a brief return to football in 2001 when he signed for non-league Canvey Island but only made four appearances for the Essex club.
Dicks became a publican in Langham, Essex for a while before moving to Spain but returned to the non-league scene in January 2009 when he was appointed manager of Wivenhoe Town. Dicks steered the club away from relegation but left at the end of the season. He became manager of Conference club Grays Athletic in September 2009; the club were relegated in his first season and Dicks and Grays parted ways at the end of the 2010/11 season. He returned to the Hammers, where he managed the Ladies team in 2014/15 and was then appointed First Team Coaching Assistant under Super Slaven Bilic in the summer of 2015. He is now in a similar role at newly-promoted West Brom.
Happy Birthday also to 1981 Hammer of the Year Phil Parkes, who turns 70 today. 2006 winner Danny Gabbidon is 41 today.