When we are growing up most of us have heroes. As a young boy, once I had outgrown the nursery rhyme wallpaper, my walls were adorned with pictures of my first heroes. Photographs of West Ham footballers and pop stars filled my bedroom walls from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s. Pride of place was an action photograph of my first West Ham hero, John Dick, in a mid-air tussle for the ball in a game at Upton Park. It was taken by a press photographer who my uncle knew.
West Ham were promoted to the top flight at the end of the 1957-58 season. John Dick, who always wore the number 10 shirt (no names on them in those days), netted 26 times in that season, and scored 29 goals in Division One the following term. It was around this time that I began to take an interest in football and West Ham. I was only four at the time but I have memories, albeit hazy ones, of this period.
I remember my first visit to Upton Park to see the Malcolm Allison testimonial game in November 1958, the delight when opening my Christmas present of a claret and blue short-sleeved V-neck West Ham shirt with a hand-sewn number 10 on the back on Christmas Day 1958, the excitement of seeing my first league game the same morning (yes Christmas Day 11am kick off!), and the first John Dick goal I recall when he netted a rebound off the Spurs keeper in front of the North Bank that day. We won the game 2-1 as well!
In a West Ham career that started before I was born and ended when I was eight, John Dick was leading scorer most seasons he was with us, scoring 177 goals at a rate of almost exactly one in every other game. His partnership with Vic Keeble for three years at the end of the 1950’s produced abundant goals (Keeble himself scored 51 goals in 84 games before injury curtailed his career).
Ted Fenton, our manager, spotted 22 year-old Dick when he was doing his National Service in Colchester, after watching him play for Crittall Athletic, now known as Braintree Town. He had a lethal left foot and was almost unplayable in the air. He was similar in a way to Andy Carroll, but with the added bonus of being more mobile, a prolific goal scorer, and a player who rarely missed a game through injury. In 1959, John, who was born in Glasgow, also won his first and only cap for Scotland against England.
My favourite game was in November 1959 when he scored a hat trick in a 3-2 win over champions Wolves. I remember the time well – we were top of the league and I went into hospital the following week for removal of my adenoids. The following weekend when I was still in hospital, despite leading Division One, we managed to lose 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday! That’s West Ham for you.
I cried when we sold him to Brentford at the start of the 1962-63 season. I just couldn’t understand it. He was only 32 and had scored 23 goals the previous season. He was even more prolific at Brentford scoring 45 times in just 72 games.
His autograph took pride of place at the top of my West Ham 1959 team signatures. So many West Ham legends signed that page for me and I added some miniature pictures cut out of programmes alongside some of them. In addition to John Dick my book was signed by Noel Dwyer, Harry Obeney, Malcolm Musgrove, Andy Malcolm, Phil Woosnam, Ken Brown, Mike Grice, Vic Keeble, John Bond, and Noel Cantwell.
John Dick died in 2000 aged 70. A seat in his memory stands in Hainault Forest near to where he lived and his ashes were scattered nearby. I will always remember my first footballing hero.