COLIN DIXON was one of the best of the rugby players from South Wales who found a congenial home in rugby league. He went to the same school in Tiger Bay as Billy Boston and Johnny Freeman; now he has died before his time, still active and still deeply involved in his adopted game.
Like Boston, Dixon switched from rugby union to rugby league early in his career, at the age of 17, and partly because of failing to win a Welsh Youth cap. The offer of pounds 250, plus pounds 250 for each of the next three seasons, from Halifax also had something to do with it, but Dixon never regretted his decision to 'go North' and never moved back to Wales.
He was originally signed in 1961 as a scrum-half, but Halifax soon converted him into a centre, playing inside Freeman and helping him to many of his tries. As he continued to become more and more physically powerful, however, Halifax spotted his potential as a fearsome running second-row forward and it was there that he played the bulk of his 20-year rugby league career.
In 1968, and amid heated controversy in Halifax, he was sold to the ambitious Salford club for a then world-record fee of pounds 12,000, plus a player valued at pounds 3,000 in part exchange. He thrived in an expensive and expansive side that included his fellow Welshmen David Watkins and Maurice Richards and was a key figure in the teams that won the Championship in 1974 and 1976.
'He was an awesome sight when he used to come running through with his knees pumping,' says his coach in that side, Les Bettinson. 'You couldn't say it about every forward of that era, but Colin would have been just as good in the game today; he was so athletic.'
Dixon had one season with Hull Kingston Rovers before retiring as a player in 1981. Only three players have appeared in more professional rugby league games than his 738. On the international scene as well Dixon was a leading figure. Apart from playing 15 times for Wales, he won 14 caps for Great Britain, playing in the World Cup-winning squad in 1972 and touring Australasia in 1974.
He had already had a brief taste of coaching during his playing days, combining the two jobs at Salford in 1977, before deciding that it was not for him. In 1982, he was appointed coach at his old club, Halifax, a position he held for two years, until he once more left his old club in dramatic circumstances.
Halifax had signed 10 Australian players and decided they needed an Australian coach - Chris Anderson - to bring the best out of them. Dixon was hurt and others were bitter and angry on his behalf, but, after a period as coach and later director at Keighley, he returned to Halifax for a third time.
Dixon went back to Thrum Hall to coach the teenage players in the Academy team and was working with them on Saturday morning before suffering a stroke - whilst playing dominoes, of all games - later in the day. His death deprives the game of one of its best-liked characters; in the best tradition of the code, he was, as Bettinson says: 'Always friendly, easy-going and gregarious off the field, but absolutely ferocious on it.'
His death does not end the Dixon sporting dynasty, however. His family in Tiger Bay were all athletes; his son, Paul, has played in the reserve teams at both Halifax and Wakefield Trinity, and his daughter, Michelle, who is married to the West Ham footballer Peter Butler, had just introduced him to his first grandchild.
Earlier this month, Dixon was one of 24 players inducted into the Halifax Hall of Fame. It was fitting for a man whose departures had already shocked the club and the town twice.