What do Duncan Ferguson and Martin Dickinson have in common apart from both being footballing hard men of their time?
Answer: Both have switched their sporting passions to pigeon racing, with Dickinson – now settled near Worksop – a member of Midlands National Flying Club, an association that hard-as-nails ex-Everton and Scotland striker Ferguson was a card-carrying member of before settling in Spain.
Dickinson, now 48, is remembered by Leeds United fans as a tough-tackling, no-nonsense defender, also able to play the enforcer’s role in midfield and a true 100 per center of his time.
The ex-Foxwood School pupil was the envy of his classmates after following in the footsteps of fellow attendee David Harvey to realise his boyhood dream of playing for his hometown club, while earlier representing both Leeds City Boys and West Yorkshire Boys.
While his sporting kicks now concern our feathered friends, his memories of his time at Leeds in the first half of eighties remain cherished ones to savour as opposed to the second half of that decade which ended in him being forced to retire at the age of just 27, the legacy of suffering serious whiplash injuries in a car accident.
It may have been a difficult time for the Whites for most of the 80s, but personally gratifying for Dickinson - who made 119 appearances in all competitions for the club before switching to West Bromwich Albion in February 1996.
His only regret being that the promising young side being nurtured by Eddie Gray weren’t allowed to fully blossom, with perhaps the saddest sacking in the club’s history occurring in September 1985 when the Whites legend was dismissed following a 3-0 League Cup win at Walsall.
It was a decision which seems as crazy now and it did then for many Whites supporters - especially after a run of one defeat in eight matches - with Dickinson firmly among that number.
On his time at Leeds, Dickinson, who came through the junior set-up along with Terry Connor, with both making their debuts at 17, said: “Eventually it all went downhill, but me for being a Leeds lad, it was great to be able to play for hometown club; I absolutely loved it. I used to go in the Lowfields end and I used to be a ball boy as well.
“I remember the likes of Trevor Cherry, Brian Flynn and Brian Greenhoff in the team and there were some great players in the side. On my debut, we beat Middlesbrough 2-0 (in March 1980) and they were a good team with the likes of David Hodgson up front and Craig Johnston. I think Trevor might have scored and I played in midfield with Flynny.
“I had lots of highs. My dad’s a Geordie and I enjoyed particularly playing against Newcastle and it was nice to play against Keegan and Beardsley, especially as a young lad.
“Most of my time was under Eddie and he was superb, a superb man and manager and they didn’t give him long enough as manager. He went at a time when the young lads were just starting to get it together and they got rid of him, which disappointed me.
“Especially when you remember seeing the good players who came through such as Andy Linighan, Terry Phelan, Denis Irwin and John Sheridan. I could just see a good young side come together and then the idiots got rid of him! I couldn’t believe why they did it; I think with a couple of strikers, we’d have been flying.”
Dickinson eventually headed to the Midlands when top-flight strugglers West Brom snapped him up for £40,000 – on the same day that then United boss Billy Bremner signed Brendan Ormsby from neighbouring Aston Villa.
He made over fifty appearances for the Baggies in a productive two-and-a-half year spell before heading back to Yorkshire when former Sheffield United chief Dave Bassett signed him in July 1988 - and not too long after, his career unravelled after a serious car crash.
On his spells with the Baggies and the Blades, Dickinson added: “I had two good years at West Brom and I really enjoyed it under Ron Saunders. At the time, I had to get away from Leeds, the club were bringing in players on much better money than me who weren’t really bothered. I would have played for Leeds for nothing.
“Dave Seaman had been an apprentice with me at Leeds and he went to Birmingham under Ron and they got on together and he was a good manager for me. He was a top bloke and he loved me to bits, to be honest. When he signed me, he actually said he’d been chasing me for a few years and how delighted he was to sign me. He liked strong, hard-tackling players who got stuck in. He had one of those players at Dennis Mortimer, who won the European Cup and Division One title.
“To be honest, I couldn’t fault any manager I played under - Jimmy Adamson, Allan Clarke, Eddie Gray, Billy Bremner, Ron Saunders, Ron Atkinson and Dave Bassett. Everyone picked me and played me and thought highly of me. It was just injuries that did for me at odds; just when I’d get a bit of form, I’d get a niggly groin or hamstring.....
“On leaving West Brom, I went for talks at Bradford when they were pushing for the old first division and things didn’t work out, they had just changed the chairman and it didn’t go through. I ended up signing for Sheffield United and then had a crash on Sheffield Parkway, which I thought was a motorway.... A truck hit me from behind and I had whiplash. After it, I couldn’t really head the ball, I could head it forward, but couldn’t turn my neck.”
That incident was the beginning of the end, football-wise, for Dickinson, who arrived at a crossroads in his life while still a relatively young man and a time when most footballers are nearing their peak.
It was a cruel blow for the Loiner, who managed to pick himself up after some truly dark moments, going onto eventually start a window-cleaning business, which he still operates with his son, while now watching the footballing world from the periphery.
Dickinson said: “I was only 27 when I finished....I remember Bobby Williamson, who was manager at Kilmarnock, who I knew from West Brom, asked me to go up and train the kids. But it was a big upheaval - at the time, I was depressed and I’m not a depressive person.
I just thought: ‘Why has it happened to me with three young kids?’. I just that I have to just get on with my life now, it’s happened and I can’t do anything about it.
“I started selling sportswear. I actually got in touch with Aidan Butterworth who worked for Adidas. That kept me going for a couple of years, but that eventually went under because the trade in Nottingham and Leicester (where I covered) just went with all the factories.
“I then ended up cleaning windows, but I fell off the ladder straightaway and thought I’d broken my ankle as I couldn’t walk for about ten weeks. Ronnie Moore, manager at Rotherham United, then called me up and got me fit and I did a lot of work in the treatment room.
“I’m still doing the windows now and putting fascias on houses up with my son. It’s steady-away....
“I’ve not really bothered coming back to watch Leeds. They signed a player I didn’t like at the time anyway and I just thought: ‘I’m not going if he’s playing!’ I had a few run-ins with this particular player and in football, there’s little cliques with some players.
“Looking at football, with all the interest in Sky and the money players are getting these days, a lot of players are say picking up six or seven grand a week and they are mediocre players. They wouldn’t have got so much years ago. And some are on absurd amounts of money.”
Dickinson’s competitive juices are kept going with pigeon racing and breeding a few prized winners, having been involved for a fair few years in a sport which has thousands upon thousands of enthusiasts across the country.
Dickinson added: “I’ve got my pigeons still, as my dad has in Leeds and they are still flying quite well actually. It’s going well overall this year and I’ve got an allotment where I let them out and it’s something I really enjoy and it’s a bit of a passion.”