Deadly Dickson was a true Coleraine legend

DESSIE Dickson often has a plunder through his memorabilia cupboard.

Even though it is bulging with medals, representative caps and other cherished souvenirs, Dessie just can’t help clinging to one particular item – a Northern Ireland jersey worn by the genius himself, George Best.

The irrepressible Bestie threw his shirt at Dessie at the conclusion of the 1970 Home International Championships – it’s still in pristine condition!

“What a player he was,” recalls Dessie. “Northern Ireland hadn’t a very good series, beaten by Scotland (1-0) in the opening game at Windsor Park. We then lost 3-1 to England at Wembley in midweek. Bestie scored on that occasion.

“Wales then beat us (1-0) in the final game at Vetch Field, Swansea. But I was over the moon when George gave me his jersey.”

The word legend is often bandied about, perhaps overused at times – Dessie Dickson, however, fits the bill perfectly.

He joined Coleraine as a raw 17 year old, having previously played for the YMCA in Ballymoney. Dessie remained at the Showgrounds until he walked away from the game in 1982, following the Bannsiders’ 2-1 Irish Cup final defeat by Linfield.

“By that time I was managing the club, assisted by Tony Curley, succeeding Victor Hunter,” adds Dessie. “Felix Healy scored for us just after half time – a great solo effort. But Linfield came back with late goals from Lindsay McKeown and a Billy Murray penalty.”

The modest Dickson can reflect on a fantastic career after the late Bertie Peacock brought him to the Showgrounds. He developed into a goal scorer supreme!

Dessie was the most prolific striker in the Irish League for well over a decade, bagging almost 500 goals for the Bannsiders.

“We had a great bunch of lads, mostly all from the Ballymoney area,” added Dessie, who played over 600 games for the Bannsiders. “Bertie assembled a smashing side . . . Ivan Murray, Johnny McCurdy, Davy Jackson, Tony Curley and Brian Jennings. We are all still great friends and meet up regularly.

“I recall one of my first games for the club – against Crusaders at Seaview. Someone said to me ‘don’t dwell on the ball too long son’.

Once the game started I realised why. I was up against Albert Campbell and Norman Pavis. Believe me, I got rid of it (the ball) as soon as I could because those boys took no prisoners.”

But Dickson soon established his own reputation in the other half of the pitch, finishing the Irish League’s top goal scorer for five seasons. In that time he bagged a staggering 23 hat-tricks and smashed in four goals on seven occasions.

The rampant Bannsiders won every domestic trophy, the coup de grace arriving in 1974 when they lifted the Gibson Cup for the one and only time in the club’s history.

“We also won the Blaxnit Cup (All-Ireland) twice,” adds Dessie. “It was a wonderful period. We were just a crowd of boys brought together by Bertie. We grew up together, we socialised together – we were friends on and off the pitch. And, we developed into a great team.”

But it wasn’t only on the local circuit that Dickson performed with distinction. He produced one of the Irish League’s best ever displays in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup against Scottish side Kilmarnock.

“We drew the first leg 1-1 at the Showgrounds,” says Dessie. “We were given little hope for the return match, but we turned the tie on its head by winning 3-2 – I managed to score a hat-trick.”

Dickson adds: “We enjoyed some great European games, having come up against crack teams like Feyenoord, Eintracht Frankfurt and Lokomotive Leipzig.

“Another great occasion was the visit of Tottenham Hotspur, who had Ardilles, Villa, Perryman, Archibald and Crooks in the team for a Cup Winners’ Cup game. We lost 3-0 at home and 4-0 at White Hart Lane.

“We qualified on the back of the Irish Cup defeat by Linfield, who also won the league title. I finished my spell as manager soon after that.”

Dickson’s reputation not surprisingly propelled him into the international spotlight and he made his debut in that 1970 Home International Series.

“I was capped at every level, from junior, amateur, Under-23 and senior” adds Dessie. “I also represented the Irish League on a number of occasions.

“My senior debut was Scotland as a substitute. I then played against Wales, Cyprus and Portugal, who included the great Eusabio in their team.

“My Coleraine team mate Tony O’Doherty was also a member of the Northern Ireland side at that time.

“Although I have many mementoes and great memories – I’ll never part with Bestie’s jersey. I count myself fortune to have played along side a true genius.”