Back in the early 1980s, unknown to the majority of football community outside of England, very unlike the existing state of affairs, Chelsea were a struggling side in the second division of English football. The early part of that decade was one of the most critical phases in club’s history. The finances were not in the best of shape and performances on the pitch were not very inspiring either. Chelsea were frequently fighting off relegation to the Third division, and possibly obscurity since recovery from that kind of downfall might not have been possible. It is therefore that a dramatic victory against Bolton Wanderers in the penultimate game of 1982-83 season, courtesy a goal from Clive walker, which secured survival is usually regarded as a seminal moment moment in the club’s history.
Even so, the morale was not too high and Chelsea were desperately looking for someone to carry the mantle of steering the club through trying times. That man responsible for carrying Chelsea through most of those dire, uncertain days was one Kerry Dixon. He arrived in the summer of 1983 and transformed the fortunes of the club. However, to majority of the current crop of Chelsea supporters, not just outside of England but within as well, he remains largely unknown, a mere spectacle in some far away land. Not a very fair indictment on a man who is the third highest goal-scorer in the history of the club.
As it often comes about with success, the shining light at the end of the tunnel masks the murky road travelled to reach that destination. Not by any means a conscious decision, but it happens nevertheless. It is therefore only apt and fair, that while reveling in the most successful era for a club, those who toiled through the not so glorious days are given the recognition they deserve and are not forgotten in the face of unprecedented glory.
Chelsea means everything to me and my family. My family are from Luton and we like Luton Town, but we are all Chelsea fans and Chelsea have become my life. The club has done so much for me and I would like to think I have more than paid them back. The fans still sing my name. Even today. – Kerry Dixon
Good Ol’ Early Days
As it so often happens with these stories, Kerry Dixon, a Chelsea legend, started out his career as a footballer at bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur. But before he could ever put on the Lilywhite in a professional capacity, he was released by the club. After having short spells with Non-league Chesham United and Dunstable F.C., Dixon signed up for Reading F.C. in 1980 for £20,000. Back then, Reading were plying their trade in the Third Division of English football and for the young Englishman, only 18 then, this was to be the first step in League football. In his three years with The Royals, Kerry was a considerable success; scoring 51 goals in 116 appearances and thereby sparking interest among the likes of Coventry, Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich and ofcourse, Chelsea.
Unlike today, the decision to sign for Chelsea was far from a no-brainer. However, manager John Neal was signing quite a few players in an attempt to rejuvenate the squad. Nigel Spackman from Bournemouth, Pat Nevin from Clyde, Joe McLaughlin from Morton, and Eddie Niedzwiecki from Wrexham were among those who came aboard. Likewise with Dixon, Chelsea had their eye set on the young Luton-born striker and Chairman Ken Bates moved in first and secured his services for £175000. Bates might not have made many better deals during his time at Chelsea.
The Chelsea Years
Only 21 years of age, Kerry Dixon arrived at the shores of Stamford Bridge in the mould of the classic English centre-forward; pacey and athletic, strong in the air and equally adept with both feet. His positional play was excellent too and could have easily walked into the current Chelsea squad. But that is a story for another day. In those days, no one surpassed the aura of the legendary Peter Osgood. And Kerry Dixon was handed none other than Ossie’s number 9 jersey. In hindsight, a better choice could not have been made.
And so, Dixon set about matching the former Chelsea hero’s legacy. In his maiden fixture for the Londoners, also the first game of the 1983-84 season, Dixon scored a brace as Chelsea thrashed one of the promotion favourites Derby County 5-0 at Stamford Bridge. It was a perfect start to what was to become an endearing relationship between him and the fans. Carrying on with his form in the first game, Kerry Dixon went on to score 34 goals in the Second Division. The man scored goals almost at will, and when he did usually scored not one but two. The crowning moment of the season, and one of his most memorable moments with the club and the fans, came toward the end of season; a hat-trick against Leeds United.
The rivalry between Chelsea and Leeds was a big affair in those days. To be fair, the two sets of fans of still hate passionately each other, as was well apparent during last season’s League cup clash between the two clubs at Elland Road. It was only fierier back then, and Chelsea, boosted by three goals from Dixon ensured promotion to the First division by boisterously brushing aside their hated Northerner counterparts 5-0. Chelsea fans celebrated with a massive pitch invasion while the Leeds fans took out their frustration on Stamford Bridge’s scoreboard. Poor thing.
But while the good old scoreboard did not quite have a great day, a new Chelsea hero was born that day. Dixon also scored on the final day of the season against Grimsby Town, which won Chelsea the Second Division, and capped off what had been a remarkable year. Dixon partnered brilliantly with the duo of David Speedie and Pat Nevin and the trio became the new face of the club, unstoppable on their day.
On return to the First Division in 1984-85, Chelsea and Dixon’s impact became immediately palpable. Kerry Dixon scored his first goal for Chelsea in the First Division on the opening day itself; a memorable volley against Arsenal at Highbury. The goal was followed by scenes of utter pandemonium and set the tone for the rest of the season. The Blues managed to hold out quite impressively and Dixon was the joint top-scorer alongside Gary Lineker with 24 goals to his name, and a further eight in the League Cup. This was quite an achievement for someone who was working his way through Non-League football a couple of seasons ago! And the inevitable call-up to England happened on the way, although he only ever played 8 games for his national team. A brace against West Germany in 1985 was the highlight of his England career.
The squad had several fantastic players but the reliance on Kerry Dixon was more than significant, and it became apparent as the things unraveled in days to come. Next season Chelsea by virtue of their splendid performances in 1984- 85 were title challengers, but for Dixon it just wasn’t meant to be. A torn stomach muscle suffered during an FA Cup tie against Liverpool in January 1986 forced him off from the starting XI. The team suffered in the absence of their messiah and even when Dixon did return, he wasn’t his usual self. The pace had deserted him; the carefree attitude on the pitch, so emblematic of Chelsea down the years, was gone. Prior to his injury he had scored an impressive 22 goals, after the injury he could only manage two. From top of the table in February, Chelsea slipped to sixth by the end of the season.
That injury against Liverpool marked a gradual decline in Dixon’s Chelsea career. After John Neal’s departure at the end of in the summer of 1985, John Hollins, a former Chelsea player, was appointed as the manager. But his time at Chelsea did not go that well. Things ceased to be smooth once the going went tough in the First Division, a period which coincided with Dixon’s injury lay-off. Chelsea slipped from top of the table in February 86 to sixth by the time season ended. Dressing room unrest and fall-outs with the management followed and marred the subsequent years as a very successful squad was broken up.
During these turbulent times, Kerry Dixon was often linked with the likes of Manchester United, or worse from Chelsea’s perspective, with bitter rivals West Ham and Arsenal. Performances on the pitch naturally suffered, as John Neal’s successful side gradually went haywire. Eventually, with Chairman Ken Bates’ intervention and arrival of Bobby Campbell as the managerial replacement to Johnny Hollins, Dixon stayed back. But the gradual slide that had begun a season ago, eventually caught up with Chelsea. They were relegated to Second Division in 1988, again.
Ironically, relegation to the Second Division proved to be a Second Coming for Dixon. He stacked up an impressive 28 goals, leading Chelsea back to the First division as Champions in the very first attempt. As they had done so often before, and they continue to do it even now, Chelsea surprised everyone with their intermittent fluctuations between gritty resolve and absolute apathy. From second division in 1988-89, they secured 5th position in the First Division in 1989-90, their highest league position in 20 years. The fact that the gap between the ‘top’ sides and those supposedly scraping the bottom of the barrel was not that significant in those days perhaps helped.
Even so, the turnaround in fortunes was remarkable and leading the line with example was Chelsea’s number 9, Kerry Dixon. He scored 26 goals that season, and on the final day delivered another memorable hat-trick against Chelsea’s bitter rivals Millwall at The Den, the latter’s home-ground. It is still remembered by some Chelsea fans as ‘The perfect hat-trick’. Dixon’s popularity with the fans was as much due to his consistent performances as was due to his habit of scoring memorable goals against the bitterest of rivals; Leeds, Arsenal, Manchester United, Millwall.
Dixon stayed at Chelsea for a couple more years, adding 21 more goals to his tally before finally departing the Bridge’s shores for Southampton in a deal worth £575,000. His last goal for the club was against Norwich City in March 1992. During his nine years with the club, he made 440 appearances and scored a remarkable 193 goals, then the second highest tally by a Chelsea player, after Sir Bobby Tambling’s 202. A certain Frank Lampard would break both these records, but only 21 years later.
The Twilight Years and Legacy
After leaving Chelsea at the end of 1991-92 season, Kerry Dixon enjoyed spells at Southampton, where he linked up with former Chelsea team-mate David Speedie, a two-year stint with his home-town club Luton Town F.C., with Watford and a season with Millwall as well with varied degrees of success. Doncaster Rovers was the last ‘league’ side he played for, scoring three goals and operating in the capacity of player-manager, although for a short period of time he played for Basildon United in the Essex Senior League as well, before calling time on his Playing career. He enjoyed managerial and coaching stints with a few non-league sides thereafter. He now runs a football school at Dunstable, the town where he had his first experience as a league footballer.
A legendary and much-loved figure in the annals of the Bridge, Dixon remains one of the greatest players to have ever played for Chelsea. However, for all the memories that he left behind in his nine year spell with Chelsea, the one moment that demonstrated the admiration and affection of the fans for their tall blond centre-forward came after he left the club. In 1994, Chelsea lined-up against Luton Town in the semi-final of the FA Cup. The forward leading the line for Luton that day was a certain Kerry Dixon. Chelsea eventually won the game 2-0, courtesy a brace from Gavin Peacock, paving way for an FA Cup final appearance for the first time since 1970. Imagine the delirious joy of an entire generation that had waited for this moment for over two decades, and that yet the only song they could come up with was a rousing rendition of
One Kerry Dixon, there’s only one Kerry Dixon…
The singing continued for over 10 minutes, while Kerry did a a lap of honour and applauded the fans whose admiration for him was second to nothing. Few players have ever been accorded such a reception in Chelsea’s history. It is true that Kerry Dixon wasn’t the best striker in the world, he did not set the world alight with his seamless dribbles or the subtle drop of shoulders, neither did he win any fancy awards nor was did he win any trophy at Chelsea, unless of course the Second division titles and the 1985-86 Full Members’ cup count. But he was an inspiration to a generation of fans who followed their club through its tumultuous and uncertain journey across Football divisions with the utmost fanaticism. He was the one player the Chelsea faithful could always look forward to inspire them, and he never failed to deliver. Even though he did not win any significant silverware, his goals were far more important than a trophy in those ‘yo-yo’ years.
Since he left the club, several great players have made Stamford Bridge their home and will continue to do so. But few have ever come close to attracting the kind of following that he generated, and even fewer have managed to contribute as much for Chelsea. And for those who boisterously followed Chelsea in those days when surviving the drop to third division was the biggest achievement, when being louder than the home fans on an away day was more important than the three points itself and when Arsenal still won trophies, there will always be only one Kerry Dixon.