Alec Dick – a pioneer of Merseyside football

The headline probably does not reveal too much to most followers of either Everton or Liverpool. Alec Dick, who? His name was remembered on Merseyside up until the late 1930s, before it was hushed away and forgotten.

Fast forward to Monday, September 14, 2015 and my visit to Liverpool, (and my second home) -> the Liverpool Central Library. I usually come to the library with a plan for which months I should view on microfilm and to gather facts from. Not that Monday. I just grabbed a microfilm of the “Liverpool Echo” for May, 1968.

And on a page for May 24 I stopped. Something tickled my curiosity big time. The headline among many letters to the editor read: “Dirty Dick of Everton.”

It was a letter sent in by Alec Dick’s son – also named Alex Dick. He lived at 10 b, Stone Close in Croxteth, and he was searching for a photograph of his father ‘Dirty Dick’. Alex’s background in May, 1968 was that the only picture of his father was lent to a friend, who lent it to another friend – who died – and the picture disappeared.

Alex begged Echo’s readers for help to locate his father’s photograph.

Alex wrote: “The photograph I had of him showed him in the old-style kit, with long trousers. He was wearing his international cap for Scotland and the Everton colours which were then blue and white halves.” (article)

Alec Dick.
Alex Dick

This story stuck with me for the rest of the day. I search my own archives and asked sitecomber to crawl through Billy Smith’s website for information about ‘Dirty’ Dick. A few articles appeared.

One of these was his obituary from June 4, 1925; in the Echo. It read:
“Alec Dick is dead. This news will set the old-time football follower talking for hours. Alec Dick was a really great back, whose style of play was not always of the gentlest. He was only a wee follow, but in very truth was a terror for his side, and many an opponent had stories to till about his mannerisms.

“Alec Dick.
“The name rings off every follower’s tongue. He was the hero of the story of Caesar Jenkyns as a whopping fellow, who was then with Small Heath. He was told to “mark Dick.” He had not seen him before, and when he was told which was his man Caesar bumped him and bored him to the point of exasperation at that the un-offending man asked “What’s this about?”
“Well” said Caesar, ” you’re “Dirty Dick” ant’ you?”
“Not likely that’s him over there” He and Dennis Hodgetts used to have many a tilt, but Alec always had a good friend alongside him in George Dobson, who retired but a year ago from business life.

“He was always a local –he played for Stanley before joining Everton in the early eighties, and his fame spread all over the land. In a game with Queen’s Park he got across Dr. Smith, and it was said that he was dared to go to Scotland of the Midlands, and he would then see what the “home folk” would do to him, but he was conventionally out of the team for these occasions. There must have been a spirit of devilry in Dick, for he was without a shadow of denial a great little full back. He had a long and painful illness and his death yesterday was in the nature of a merciful release. The funeral takes place at Anfield Cemetery tomorrow at 11-30.”

Through archives and other sources I know that Alec was born ca. 1865 in Scotland. He played for Kilmarnock Athletic before he crossed the border to Liverpool in the mid-1880s. He did not come to Liverpool to play for Everton – but for a club known as “Liverpool Stanley”.

After the end of the 1885/86 season Dick was keen on joining Bootle, but he never heard anything from them and went back to Scotland.

Everton now became aware of Dick and they convinced to return to Liverpool for a payment of £3 and a pair of new football boots. He played his first match for Everton in mid-September 1886.

Now, why was he called ‘Dirty Dick’?
This little snippet from the Lancashire Evening Post, from December 3, 1887 reveals a few things about his style.

Dirty Dick 1 1889

Alec Dick was a Scottish hard-man. He took no prisoners, but his style of play also meant his own body took a lot of beating. By the end of the 1880s he had to retire because of injuries.

Dick then disappeared from the football scene for a few years. He appeared again in the summer of 1892 when the newly formed Liverpool Football Club revealed that he was appointed the trainer of the new founded club at Anfield Road.

Alec played a friendly match for Liverpool’s senior team and might have had a few appearances for the reserves during the 1892/93 season. From 1893 he again disappeared from the football scene. His name re-appeared in the news in May 1920 when the Echo wrote:

“The Alec Dick Fund continues to grow steadily, and to the list already named in this column must be added £1 10s from George Dobson and two friends of Alec.”

Mr. Dobson the old-time full back, in chatting, bore everybody’s wish that Alex would be eased in his pain. Alec and Dobson used to pair together, and the curiosity of their pairing was the fact that when they were not in the same team Alec Dick, in collision with Dobson had a nasty break, and as soon as Dick got better he transferred over to Dobson’s club, and the pair “lived together” as backs for many a day.

We also know from his obituary that he had a severe illness leading up to his death in June, 1925.

So back to the future and Tuesday, September 15, 2015.

Again I did a stop by the library without any big plans. I wanted to know if they could help locating Dick’s grave at Anfield cemetery, but I was not very hopeful. But – it was my lucky day.

A lady at the reception desk on the third floor greeted me and helped me locate all the details. I had the dates from when he passed away, when and where he was buried – see last sentence in his obituary.

The puzzle now was to find out which church he belonged to. The lady wrote down “Church of England” at the top of her paper. “Hmmm, he was born in Scotland,” I said.
“Well, if he died in Liverpool the biggest chance is he belonged to the Church of England.” And, I know not to argue with reception ladies.

Burials at Anfield for June 5, 1925. Alexander Dick at the bottom. His plot number 1270 marked by finger.
Dick 1

And, she was correct. Almost immediately she located him. “He’s in plot 1270 at Section 12 at Anfield cemetery,” she said.
Her help did not stop there. Now she was helpful finding maps for me, both of the cemetery and of the section. On the section map all graves are numbered, and after a little while we found “plot 1270”.

May of Anfield cemetery. Note all the different sections. Finger shows where Dick’s grave was located.
Dick 2

From the whole cemetery to just Section 12 of Church of England. Again finger points to the grave. Note all the graves on the map.
Dick 3

I could have bought her flowers there and then to show her my gratitude, but decided to stay clam when she said her husband was a football fan, not herself though.

The money saved on flowers was used in contacting Billy Smith and a taxi ride to Anfield cemetery.
“Hi Billy. It’s Kjell – do you have time to go grave hunting for a pioneer at Anfield?” An offer Billy could not refuse.

We spent close to 90 minutes trying to locate Alec Dick’s last resting place. We went in circles like gringos in the dessert. “His grave must be gone.” But we football historians are a stubborn breed. After checking our compasses – comparing the compasses with the north/south directions on the maps we started again.

Some of the grave stones have number on the back side. Finally we found a number at the cemetery that also could be identified on the map we got from the library. “He’s here somewhere,” said Billy. “He must be.” But we still could not locate him.

“He should be here,” Billy said “mapping out in arms form where the grave stone should have stood.” There were no grave stone.

“Waaaaait,” Billy shouted. He had noticed a small stone beneath the top turf. We carefully cleared the small stone, approximately ten inches in length. On it said – guess what? … “1270”.

Plot 1270 – ‘Dirty Dick’ – we found you!
Dick 4

Dick 5 Dick 6

So there he lays – ‘Dirty Dicks’ – in an unmarked grave at Anfield cemetery. It would be good to see a grave stone there in the future. He was one of the first links between the Everton and Liverpool clubs besides John Houlding and William Barclay. It is kind of good to know that he is buried midway between the homes of his two clubs from almost 125 years ago.

Another piece of the early puzzle solved.

Kjell standing where Dick’s grave stone should have stood. Maybe it will one day?
Dick 7

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