“Honoured” was what Jimmy Dickinson felt to be Pompey manager. He said he was on being appointed and there was no doubting the club’s most famous servant spoke with sincerity after 828 appearances in three divisions over nearly two decades.
But let’s be clear. It was a job Dickinson never craved for or wanted. He did it out of duty after a club in financial disarray (sounds familiar) sacked Ian St John. After his illustrious playing career, in which he was never booked or spoken to by a referee, the shy retiring figure was more than happy to move out of the limelight and continue to serve the club he loved and lived for as Public Relations Officer and Secretary.
Yet Jimmy was so honoured that even towards the end of his managerial reign he stood outside Bradford City one evening waiting for the supporters’ coach to arrive so he could hand out the entire allocation of club complimentary tickets to Pompey fans. Visibly upset after running out just before one young supporter eagerly waiting reached the front of the queue Jimmy rummaged in his pocket, took out a note from his wallet and handed the lad admission money entreating him to keep the change.
Two evenings later in a Friday night fixture at Barnsley the reluctant manager would suffer a heart attack in the dressing room following a credible and pulsating 1-1 draw. That was March 1979, two months short of his two year managerial anniversary. A period in which he had never truly been at ease. Helpless as anyone else to prevent the club plummeting downwards.
Those close to him described an anxious man, particularly in the hour leading up to a game, who when most managers were giving their team talk could often be found in a lounge supping a scotch and water whilst puffing away on his pipe. There is little doubt he took the job because his honour told him: ‘It’s not what the club can do for me but what I can do for the club.’
Now that’s honour.
Eventual almost inevitable relegation to the basement for the first time in the club’s history would have hurt him awfully. He would have felt everyone’s collective burden on his shoulders.
As it was that following season’s draw at Barnsley kept Pompey in the fourth division promotion hunt at the first time of asking. However two games in Yorkshire within 48 hours might just have taken their toll. His own burden alone perhaps too great.
Dickinson would never again be able to serve the club as he had in some capacity for thirty three years. And when he succumbed three years later in 1982 it might be said that he died with honour.
At the time his managerial call came in May 1977 and Dickinson took over for a visit to Preston a 23-year old defender named Sam Allardyce was already an established defender just down the road at Bolton.
Thirty-nine years later the self-same Allardyce on his appointment as football leader of the international side said: “I am extremely honoured to be appointed England manager.”
There is no need to go over the well documented details of last week. Suffice it to say we now all know what ‘honour’ meant to Allardyce’ even before managing a single England match. The events that have unfolded are a true reflection of just how honoured he was to have the job. Honour is not compatible with greed. It’s two ends of a scale.
Should we be surprised however? Football is awash with greed at the highest level. Steeped in opulence and wealth that is obscene to the person in the street. Sam Allardyce in many ways is almost a circumstance of that.
He and Dickinson were both central defenders but that is the only comparison you can make about two people who played a vastly different game in vastly different ages.
My job at Fratton Park, one I have always declared as honoured to do, entails being aware of many things not in the public domain. Impending transfers both in and out, statements about to be made, managerial sackings, internal issues and so on. Over the years I have been privy to many a private discussion between high ranking figures and been confided in by others seeking advice of one sort or another.
And I can honestly say with hand on heart that I have never divulged anything, nor would I, of knowledge I was privy to that had yet to hit the public domain.
Sure I have regaled a few tales from years ago that are now fully redundant or harmless and therefore fit and neutral for public consumption. But that is it.
Those I am close to could ply me with ten, twenty pints of strong lager and they would not prise anything from my lips. So how much more would I reveal anything to those I had never clapped eyes on before? I treated the private affairs whatever they were, and some have been explosive in the past, with the loyalty and honour I felt for my position. Even had there been any on offer I needed no top up, inducement or bonus on top of the privilege I felt of being in the job. Even when those in charge were people I had and retain an intense dislike and disrespect for to this day. It is called honour.
Then at the other end of the scale there was Sam on his £3m plus expenses annual salary who put himself in a position to disclose privileged information to strangers for even more financial inducement on the side. Call it naïve, greedy, or any other of the numerous adjectives that have been used in the past week. But don’t equate it with honour. I still shudder at my weekly trips to the Eastleigh Training Ground in the Premier League days. Those close couldn’t believe it was anything other than a dream to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Campbell, Defoe, James et al. But it simply epitomised what greed does to others.
Some looked at me as if I was mad at learning that I despised every minute. Supposed superstars no better than you and I, from identical or inferior social backgrounds, looking down their noses, either refusing or making it hard to coax three minutes from them in front of a camera before they drove or were chauffeured away in their top of the range motors.
Watching others more senior and from affluent backgrounds tugging their forelocks at people they would have looked the other way from in the street were they anything other than top footballers. Seeing regular expensive jewellery delivered to the training ground so players could ogle over and buy for outrageous sums that most wouldn’t earn in a year. One of the high earners, a hero to this day in the eyes of many Pompey supporters, never deigned to do a voluntary interview for those fans, but was once off like a shot when Sky wanted him as a pundit for a fee and then contributed to a national newspaper column for doubtless another financial inducement.
And there we have the game at the highest echelons. A pathway to and thereafter breeder of greed. One that doesn’t flinch at Sam’s £1m pay-off before his retreating to an overseas villa. And one that will tug its own forelocks and welcome him back to the game’s fold sooner or later.
It is too sentimentalist to carry the notion of a return to times when top footballers came in on the bus boots in hand and stood side by side with fans. It is as feasible as trains returning to steam. We have moved on.
But is it too much to expect that the game at the top of the tree one day returns to some normality and decency where players and managers see representing their club and country with loyalty as an honour and privilege rather than a shortcut to further financial inducement? It’s not happening any time soon that’s for sure.
Just one more thought. Jimmy Dickinson was nicknamed ‘Gentleman Jim’ because he was. Sam goes by the nickname ‘Big Sam’ because he is.
I would suggest that being remembered as a gentleman carries the far greater honour.