Career : 1972 – 1976
Debut : Round 3, 1972 vs South Melbourne, aged 19 years, 338 days
Carlton Player No. 834
Games : 66
Goals : 23
Last Game : Round 22, 1976 vs Footscray, aged 24 years, 108 days
Guernsey No. 27
Height : 182 cm (5 ft. 11 in.)
Weight : 72 kg (11 stone, 5 lbs.)
DOB : May 12, 1951
Premiership Player 1972
In another vivid example of triumph over adversity, David Dickson overcame a disadvantaged upbringing - and the tragic early death of both of his parents - to play an important role in Carlton’s 1972 Premiership. Four years later his on-field career was curtailed by a knee injury, so he moved on to coaching, and became an outstanding mentor to a generation of Victoria’s best young players.
Dickson grew up in suburban Coburg, and first attracted the attention of VFA club Preston when he began dominating inter-school matches for Newlands State High School. By 1971 he was a star in the red and white colours of Preston, and it wasn’t long before a number of VFL clubs – in particular Carlton - were taking a keen interest in the fiercely-determined centreman with pace, good foot skills and a happy knack of drawing the football. However, the 19 year-old was a reluctant recruit at first. “I never really wanted to go to Carlton, because I never thought I was good enough,” Dickson said, many years later, “but Bert Deacon and John Nicholls talked me into it, and they became like surrogate fathers to me, because I lost both of my parents at a young age."
Following an impressive pre-season and a couple of Reserves matches, Dickson was selected for his first senior game against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval in round 3, 1972. Wearing guernsey number 27, and sharing the roving duties with Adrian Gallagher, he started with the joy of a six-goal victory. In rounds 4 and 5 he was relegated to the bench, before his breakout match came in a home game for the Blues against Geelong at Princes Park in round 6. Playing on a wing, alongside champion Alex Jesaulenko, Dickson controlled his side of the ground that afternoon and confidently pushed forward to kick three goals, as the Navy Blues destroyed the Cats by 49 points. From then on, and throughout the following two seasons, he was a first-choice senior player.
In October of his debut year, Dickson was one of 20 Bluebagger heroes who wrote their names into football history with a magnificent upset Grand Final victory over Richmond in the highest-scoring VFL/AFL Premiership decider ever played. Despite a gruelling finals campaign that included a draw, and a heavy defeat by the Tigers only a fortnight beforehand, John Nicholls made eight positional changes to his team on Grand Final day and promptly smashed the yellow and black by 37 points. Carlton’s centre line of Dickson, Barry Armstrong and Ian Robertson was supreme for three quarters on that fabulous afternoon, and only eased up in the last term when the game was well and truly won.
Twelve months later, the Blues and the Tigers met again for the ’73 flag, only this time the result was reversed. Hell-bent on revenge, Richmond went hard at the man first and the ball second, and Carlton had no answer. Dickson’s second and last Grand Final as a player ended with the sour taste of a five-goal defeat.
By that stage of his career, ‘Dicko’ had missed only one game in two seasons. However that all went pear-shaped early in 1974 when he strained a knee ligament, was restricted to 16 games for the year, and promptly twisted the other knee. The damage was severe, forcing him into a full reconstruction that wasn’t a complete success. It took almost two years – until round 11, 1976 – for him to fight his way back into Carlton’s senior team, but his knees still weren't right, and his career at Princes Park ended with a hard-fought draw against Footscray in the last home and away round of the year.
In 1977, Dickson was traded by Carlton to Collingwood in exchange for the Magpies’ veteran full-forward Peter McKenna – a surprise move that David found difficult to accept for some time. In a short stay at Victoria Park he didn’t play a senior match, and like McKenna, had retired from the VFL by year’s end. But he still had a passion for the game, and in 1978 he was appointed coach of the Bayswater Football Club – beginning a new phase of his life that would occupy the next 30 years.
After later coaching Preston (1993), Noble Park, then Balwyn in the Eastern Football League (and taking Balwyn to their first Premiership in 56 years) it was the advent of the elite TAC Cup Under 18 competition in 1992 that brought Dickson’s abilities to fruition. “The TAC Cup was a new concept, and the way to go with modern football development, " he later explained. “I spoke to Kevin Sheehan (AFL National Talent Identification Manager) about getting involved, and he said ‘you’re too much about winning ‘Dicko’- we’re about developing players’. A few years later, I was with the Oakleigh Chargers and Kevin rang me and said; `we want you to coach the Victorian Under-18 Metropolitan'. I was really surprised. I didn’t think a young bloke coming out of the commission area of Coburg was able to coach at that level.”
But coach he could, as he ably demonstrated over the next decade, as his representative teams dominated the AFL under-18 National Championships while a long list of players that he had helped develop were drafted by AFL clubs. Between 1997 and 2008, Dickson coached Vic Metro to a staggering 34 wins from 38 matches – and when he retired in July 2008, his team had just won their eighth National Under-18 Championship from the twelve contested since 1997. “I think my time's up – it's a younger man's game,” he said on the day he called time on his coaching career. “To be quite truthful, you've got to know when your time's up. I've been doing it for 12 years, and I'm really proud of what I've achieved. When I was first appointed, I walked into (former VFL chief executive) Ken Gannon's office and the first words he said were: 'If you don't win the national championships this year, I'll sack you!'”
"Well, we've won eight national championships out of twelve, and that's a great achievement, but we've also averaged 17 (drafted) players a year, and in 11 years we've had 180 players enter the AFL ranks. No-one else has ever got near that."
Milestones50 Games : Round 7, 1974 vs Hawthorn
Career Highlights1972 - Premiership Player
1976 - 3rd Reserves Best & Fairest