John Dick, our first 250 game player who helped develop Sparta Prague

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The story of John Dick, by Tony Attwood

John Dick, born in Eaglesham in Renfewshire in 1876 played 284 games for Woolwich Arsenal, and scored 13 goals (262 in league with 12 goals).   He joined in 1898 and left in 1912.  In every possible way he was our first “stalwart”, “regular”, “one club man” (almost!), and everything else you want to say about a man who is a solid, long term servant of the club.  His record of 284 appearances is extraordinary in an era when players moved year on year collecting clubs like little boys collect stamps.

Just consider it this way: Woolwich Arsenal started in 1893.  In that season an ever-present player could have played 33 games.  By 1910 this number was up to 40.  So allowing for injury and illness and the occasional loss of form, a solid regular player might be playing 25 games a season.   That would mean the first time anyone could have reached 100 games was 1897.

Yet by 1903 (ten years into the club’s history) we had only four players getting up to the 100.  78 players had played at least one league game for the club in the five years before Dick joined in 1898, only three had got to 100 games.   (I must work out how this compares with the current day – maybe it is similar, but if it is there is certainly no comparison with the number of men who played just a handful of games).

John Dick played for Airdrieonians first: Woolwich Arsenal was his second and last club.   Airdrie were formed in 1878 as Excelsior before changing their name.  The club had very modest success and ultimately folded in 2002 due to financial problems.  When a local accountant failed to get a renamed club into the league as a replacement (Gretna were admitted instead, and they have subsequently folded) the accountant bought Clydebank FC instead and changed the name to Airdrie United, and moved the club to Airdrie, and took on their old colours.  Clydebank effectively morphed into Airdrie: a strange episode even by Scottish football standards.

John Dick initially played in central midfield (a role often employing a large stopper more akin to 21st century central defenders) and immediately fitting into the side, playing 30 games that year.  Later in his career he moved to number 4 (right half).

The various reports of his style say that he was strong and athletic (he was also a cross country runner of some note) and played in every game in the promotion winning 1903/4 season by which time he was the club captain.

He dropped back down the pecking order in 1905/06 and although in 1906/07 he only played one game he came back and recorded 17, 5 and 7 league games in his last three seasons.  As such however he missed out on the two biggest matches in Woolwich Arsenal’s history – the two FA Cup semi-finals.

So here we have a fit player who had played for two clubs, and as his stamina went, he found himself surplus to requirements.   What then?

The typical answer would be “go back to Airdrie and open a pub”, with “stay in south London and take on a pub” being a second choice.   But not a bit of it.

In the summer of 1912 he left Arsenal to coach AC Sparta Prague and became known for being one of the early pioneers of football in the Czech part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (not Czechoslovakia as Wikipedia amusingly says – that country didn’t exist at the time).

I have not found any reports of how and why this happened, but Wiki, in a separate (and perhaps more accurate article than the one that has Dick going to Czechoslovakia), says that in 1906, the AC Sparta Prague president “Dr. Petřík was in England where he saw the famous Arsenal play with their red jerseys and decided to bring one set to Praha. At that time, he did not realise he was setting up one of the club’s greatest traditions. Together with the red jerseys, Sparta players wear white shorts and black socks. Shortly after World War I, a team was put together that triggered off the famous period of the twenties and thirties referred to as ‘Iron Sparta’.”

The problem is that the Wiki article contains no references to explain the source of his information, so we are reliant on a single unknown source for this story.  But, on the other hand, that has never stopped us before.

And there is the use of the word “famous”.  That might just be the writer, mistakenly thinking that by this time Woolwich Arsenal were a trophy winning club, but it might reflect something else that we have seen before: by bringing pro football to London Woolwich Arsenal FC had a reputation way beyond their achievements.

It would be wonderful to know if this connection in 1906 (when John Dick was starting on the last few years of his playing career) led to the move to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   And even more wonderful to know what happened after.  Did he leave on the outbreak of war in 1914?  Was he interned?  Or did he carry on perhaps as a trainer?  He would have been 38 at the outbreak of war.

I recognise that the chances of their being a reader here who knows about Sparta Prague and its history are slim, but, well, we have just had contact from Brazil, so you never know.

Untold Indexes largely incomprehensible, but interesting none the less

Arsenal history takes the official version, tears it up and starts again.

Making the Arsenal is, well, just so different from everything else in the history of history that really words fail most people who have ever read it.

12 Replies to “John Dick, our first 250 game player who helped develop Sparta Prague”

  1. Although Dick finished his first team career in 1910, he continued to play in the reserves until the end of the 1911-12 season. He was reserve team manager for 1910-11 and 1911-12. He also ran a tobacco and confectionery business in Plumstead during his latter years with Arsenal. He was a stonemason by trade.

    During May 1907, he played a number of games on Arsenal’s first ever overseas tour. Arsenal played two games against SK Slavia IPS in Czechoslovakia on the tour.

    In May 1912, the club played its second overseas tour. One game was played in Prague against Deutscher FC. This was the team that he became coach of in June 1912.

    He spent the duration of World War 1 in Czechoslovakia.

    During the summer of 1922 he became coach of Sparta Prague.

    According to Tony Matthews’ Who’s Who he died in Plumstead around 1948. I’ve not been able to verify this so I would take it with a pinch of salt.

  2. Thanks Andy – although I’ll still say Czecho didn’t exist until after the dividing up of the map after 1918. Which meant he spent time in the homeland of the enemy (the A-H Empire). I wonder what his status was during those years.

    Did you see we have a little extra on Frank Heppinstall – another “meet the ancestors” comment.


  3. Hi Tony, to be honest my history of Europe, especially pre-WW1, isn’t that great. I had a feeling that Czechoslovakia probably didn’t exist but couldn’t be bothered to czech (sorry, couldn’t resist it!).

    The boom in genealogy has resulted in the likes of Sue Bennett making herself known. I’ve also contacted people on and asked them if they realised that their ancestors had played for Arsenal in its early days. Most have been pleasantly surprised.

    The funniest one was a few years back who had Ted Drake as a bit of a cricketer – and didn’t have a clue that he also played football!

  4. Andy – you must be one of those people who used to call Robert Maxwell a bouncing czech.

  5. John Dick is related to my scottish cousin (he is her 2nd cousin). John died in 1961 in Surrey. I am currently awaiting a copy of his death certificate.

  6. John Dick was considered by my father, Albert Edward GEE, as his uncle. My father was always proud of this connection with the Arsenal and as a lifetime “Gooner”, so am I. My grandfather GEE was one of ten siblings of whom two were girls. My understanding is that John Dick married one of these girls. There was always a very strong GEE presence in and around Woolwich at this time due to the fact that there was a tradition of GEE’s in The Royal Artillery and the RHA school in Woolwich. My father was sent to Woolwich as an artificer in the Royal Artillery at the age of 13 and I recall him speaking of his many invitations to Sunday tea at the homes of his Aunties and Uncles who lived in or near Woolwich. My understanding is that Czechoslovakia as an independent country didn’t exist until after WW1 when it was created by the Versaille Treaty.

  7. Further to the debate as to Woolwich Arsenal being world famous,I remember as a kid watching a programme which I believe was based on a true story,starring Dennis Waterman about the first ever world cup(unofficial).In the film, I seem to remember that there was a large group of dignitaries awaiting the arrival of the famous Woolwich Arsenal team,only to be dissappointed when West Auckland turned up! There had been an assumption that WAFC were Woolwich Arsenal!
    It is here on youtube:A Captains tale…

  8. John Dick was the grandfather I never knew as he died in 1923 or 1924 at the age of 55 and some years before my birth in 1942. He had four sons and two daughters my mother Marjorie being the eldest daughter. The family has some details of his life post Woolwich Arsenal and we would be happy to furnish these if wanted.

  9. Hi there, have officially established when John Dick died and/or where as I see there are two conflicting posts here?

    Thanks for all the hard work.

  10. @ Michael REDDISH

    John Dick couldnt die in 1923 or 1924, as he coached Sparta Praha yet in 1931, even winning inaugural Mitropa Cup in 1927. If your grandfather passed away before your birth 1942, it had to be between 1931-1942


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