Obituary: Charlie Dickson, footballer and champion pigeon fancier

Charlie Dickson, centre, was Dunfermline Athletic's top scorer
Charlie Dickson, centre, was Dunfermline Athletic's top scorer
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Born: 7 July, 1934, in Edinburgh. Died: 18 October, 2013, in Whitburn, West Lothian, aged 79

In this momentous period in the life of Dunfermline Athletic FC, the passing of a former player might not have been noted amongst the extraordinary goings-on at East End Park. Except that the player in question was Charlie Dickson, the club’s top scorer of all time who played a leading role during the Fife outfit’s golden era in the 1960s.

The rejoicing at the weekend among the Dunfermline support that their club had been saved by fans’ group Pars United and would exit administration was tempered by the news that a truly legendary club figure had passed away just two days after the historic change of ownership.

A goalscorer par excellence, Dickson was no silky soccer practitioner, but a more honest and committed footballer would be hard to find, and his genuine humility and regard for the fans was returned with respect and affection all his life.

Born the son of Charles and Jean Dickson in Portobello in Edinburgh, Charles junior was always known as Charlie, and even from a young age he was noted for his ability to score goals. He was, in short, a born “poacher” and a future as a footballer was spoken of, though Dickson himself decided to train as an apprentice electrician.

After national service, Dickson returned to his electrician’s trade and to junior football with Penicuik Athletic. The 20-year-old’s feats with them were such that Dunfermline manager Bobby Ancell almost immediately signed him for the Fife club in January, 1955.

In an era when players often spent long spells in the reserves before stepping up to the first XI, Dickson went straight into the top side, making his debut on 29 January against Stenhousemuir, scoring twice in an away victory at Ochilview.

Dunfermline went on to win Division Two and stepped up to the top flight in Scottish football under new manager Andy Dickson. They were promptly relegated in season 1956-57, but Dickson was to play a massive part in the club’s return to Division One after only one year, scoring 40 goals including four hat tricks in season 1957-58. His league tally of 25 was a new record for the Second Division.

The following season, Dunfermline only survived relegation by dishing out a 10-1 hammering to Partick Thistle in the last match of the season.

The arrival of former Celtic captain Jock Stein as manager in March 1960, began the glory era of Dunfermline, his first miracle being to save the club from almost certain relegation.

Dickson immediately endeared himself to the man who would become manager of the Lisbon Lions by scoring after just ten seconds in Stein’s first match in charge, a win against Celtic, of all teams.

It was also against Celtic the following season, on 26 April, 1961, that Dickson and Dunfermline jointly experienced their finest hours. In the replayed Scottish Cup Final, Dickson scored the second and clinching goal in Dunfermline’s 2-0 victory that brought the Scottish Cup to the club for the first time. Like the supreme poacher he always was, Dickson pounced on a mistake by Celtic goalkeeper Frank Haffey to tuck away the all-important goal.

Later that year, Dickson scored six in one match against St Mirren to equal the club record for goals in a game. He also scored five goals in European competition as Dunfermline showed they could match English and continental sides.

Repeated groin injuries began to affect Dickson, and latterly he could only play with pain-killing injections.

After Stein departed to manage Hibs, Dickson suspected his time at East End Park was up and he was transferred to Queen of the South in November 1964 before ending his playing career in Australian football with South Coast United.

It was his time with Dunfermline that made his name, however. Counting friendlies and minor tournaments, such as the Fife Cup which Dunfermline dominated during his stay at East End Park, Dickson scored some 240 goals in around 500 appearances for the club, with 215 of those goals – 154 of them in the league – scored in 340 senior competitive matches.

That is a truly phenomenal scoring rate for a club which, despite their progress under Stein, was still seen as provincial – the main reason why Dickson was never given international honours.

Although he was once named as a reserve for the Scottish League side, Dickson was never capped for his country, but in the mid-1960s Scotland did have the likes of Denis Law, Ian St John, Alan Gilzean, and Stevie Chalmers competing for the strikers’ positions.

Lack of honours did not stop fans of other clubs admiring him, but it was Dunfermline’s supporters who took him to their hearts.

He received the ultimate accolade of having a song written about him – Charlie Dickson, penned by another local legend, the Bard of Fife, John Watt.

In the 1985 official centenary history of Dunfermline Athletic, club historian John Hunter called Dickson “Mr Inspiration” and added: “Dickson must rank as one of the all-time greats at East End Park.

“He was enthusiastic, had the heart of a lion, was fast on his feet and was deadly with his long legs in goalmouth skirmishes.”

That sums up his qualities as a footballer, but those who knew Dickson personally speak of a humble, gentle, well-mannered man who was devoted to his family and liked nothing better than to spend time with his children and grandchildren.

In later life he was a publican in Midlothian and hotelier in Dunbar before returning to his original trade as an electrician with Blue Circle.

He also doted on his racing pigeons. For in a second sporting career, Dickson became one of Scotland’s top pigeon fanciers, and he and his son Charlie held Scottish titles and bred and raced some of the fastest birds in the sport, including champions of long-distance races from France.

Charlie Dickson is survived by his wife Frances, twin daughters Arlene and Karen, son Charles and his other daughter Yvonne and their children.

His funeral will take place at West Lothian Crematorium on Friday, 25 October at 2pm.