Untold Arsenal on Facebook here
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.