Dicks sets out to challenge the cliches

FOOTBALL: There is more to West Ham's hard man than short hair and long suspensions. Glenn Moore meets an East End icon
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The Independent Online
Julian Dicks? He's that horrible one. Why are you interviewing him?" Reputations, once gained, are hard to shake off and my girlfriend's reaction is fairly typical where the West Ham defender is concerned.

Skinhead, scourge of referees and fancy wingers, keeper of rottweilers and shotguns, lover of heavy metal, fast cars, Harley Davidsons and Arnie Swarzenegger. The Hammers full-back, it would appear, is a walking cliche.

It is an image which is dispelled as soon as you get within stud range. Dicks is amiable and soft-spoken, with a enough of a West Country burr to recall his Bristol roots. He has done a few things he is not proud of but, at 28, he has matured and mellowed. Still ferocious on the pitch, but more in control.

"I've been booked four times this season," he says, with a certain pride, when we met at West Ham's snow-covered training ground this week. "A few years ago I'd be on my second suspension by now. The penny's dropped, hopefully. But I know the reputation will always be there.

"I used to come off the pitch and argue with the manager. It never got me anywhere, just put me in his bad books. Now I wait to Monday and if I've still got something to say I do it privately."

A few more contradictions. Dicks, a devoted family man to his eight-year- old twin daughters, is also a regular at local children's hospitals. He is a keen student of native American Indian history, is a regular golfer and, with his wife Kay, grooms his dogs for show (though the rottweiler did have a run-in with the press when his daughters were being harassed in the wake of one on-field indiscretion). He is also capable of playing cultured football, especially with his left foot.

Dicks is now promoting one of the best football biographies of recent years. Unusually for an authorised biography, it is a warts-and-all portrayal. He emerges as a flawed but fundamentally decent human being. Just like most people, perhaps?

It is obvious that he is his own man. While more and more players go in for long stretches and light pasta meals before playing, Dicks' warm- up consists of two cans of Coke. Asked if he would agree to the Ruud Gullit regime if he was at Chelsea, he answers a straight "no".

More contentiously, he would give Glenn Hoddle the same answer. With Dicks' form rather better than West Ham's, Andy Hinchcliffe and Phil Neville injured, Stuart Pearce immersed in managing Nottingham Forest and Graeme Le Saux recently returned from a year's injury, he is in contention for a first England call-up.

Dicks is quite firm on this subject. "I don't want to play for England. It doesn't interest me anymore. If they rang me up, I wouldn't play."

Dicks' determination to speak his mind has not always been welcomed. His disagreements with Billy Bonds hastened his move from West Ham to Liverpool and a falling-out with Roy Evans led to his return.

Dicks is back at Anfield today. Liverpool are top, West Ham fighting relegation, but he says: "I don't regret leaving, though if Graeme Souness was still there I would be. I don't regret moving there either. I enjoyed my time there.

"I had got on all right with Roy when he was assistant [to Souness]. I played the last 16 games the season he took over. Then we got beat 4- 1 by Bolton pre-season and me and Mark Wright were blamed. He had a go at Wrighty in the dressing- room but not me. Yet the next day the papers were saying I was unfit and overweight. If people have something to say they should say it to me, not the papers. I had a row with him and that was it, he did not speak to me for 10 weeks apart from saying hello.

"He's a friendly guy and I like him. I've respect for him, but that's the way it was. He made me train with the kids. That was no good to me. So I'd go in and, after 10 minutes, I'd had enough. We'd start at half- ten, I'd be home at quarter past eleven - and I lived in Chester, half an hour away."

Short-lived it may have been, but the move to Liverpool appears to have been one of the two turning points in Dicks' life. Reading through the book, it seems he had reached a stage at West Ham where he had begun to consider himself bigger than the club.

"I was a bit of a bastard," Dicks admits. "Billy Bonds says in the book he wanted to chin me at times." Even worse, his wife indicates she was thinking of leaving him.

"He was absolutely full of himself. I think he thought he was the best thing that ever happened," Kay says. "We had to sort ourselves out or I was going back to Birmingham to make a new life for myself."

Salvation came with the move to Liverpool. "When I was first here [at West Ham] I could be suspended for four games but the fifth game I knew I'd be back in the side. But at Liverpool there are so many good players. I never got dropped but, when I was out of favour with Roy Evans, things changed. It made me realise I was not indispensable. That's when I realised football wasn't everything."

The change was noted with relief by Kay and West Ham. "Some people did not want me back because of how I'd been," Dicks admits. "I didn't give a toss about anyone. I used to row with Billy, Harry, the players, directors. If I think something is right, and the manager thinks it's wrong, I'd tell him."

One of those on the receiving end was Lou Macari, Bonds' predecessor. In his case the disagreements became physical. "We used to go in the gym and kick hell out of each other," Dicks says. "One day I went straight through and I thought I'd broken his leg. But he always used to come back for more.

"He wanted us to play the long ball. This was West Ham; we're supposed to play football. He stopped us eating chips on Friday and having dessert. He didn't like me drinking Coke. I just used to do it behind his back."

The other formative move was Dicks' first, as a 14-year-old, from his Bristol home to Birmingham. He grew up living in the Knowle West council estate. It was a tough area, getting tougher.

"It's not the best of places and it was one of the reasons I did leave," Dicks agrees. When Birmingham came in, his parents, like Alan Shearer's, left the decision to go to him. "If I hadn't got on in football I'd have ended up in trouble. I was put in a police cell when I was about 10 for about five hours. I used to nick stuff like most kids, but I got caught. It was frightening.

"They even took my belt and shoes off, anything I could hang myself with. It starts with nicking things but you don't know where it ends up. I was mixing with the wrong people, maybe I would've ended up in prison."

He mixed with some interesting people at Birmingham, too. The squad reads like a rogues' gallery: Martin Kuhl, Robert Hopkins, Andy Kennedy, Tony Coton, Mick Harford, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Mick Dennis, Noel Blake. Many of these were only a few years older than Dicks and he spent a lot of time with them.

"I was going round with the apprentices," he recalls. "I was 14, they were 16, 17, 18. They looked after me when I was there. If I got any trouble, they sorted it out for me.

"At Birmingham, I grew up very quickly. When I was at home my mum done my bedroom, my ironing, my washing, but I had to do all that myself."

He was also taken under the wing of Ron Saunders and stayed out of trouble off the pitch, though he was sent off for the first time while still in the youth side.

Seven other dismissals are listed in one of the more unusual book appendices (one page lists his games and goals, three pages his 101 bookings - just one for Liverpool - and dismissals). The worst red card was for elbowing Franz Carr in 1992. "I just knew I was going to elbow him. And that was it - off. To this day I don't know why I did it.

"I've made loads of mistakes. As long as you learn from them, it's not so bad. It just took me 10 years to learn from them. I'm not ashamed of anything but, if there is one thing, that would be it."

Long-term, Dicks is looking to expand his interest in dogs, having recently gained planning permission for boarding kennels on his Essex country estate (currently knee-deep in snow, he is grateful for a four-wheel drive). He also fancies a move to Canada: "It would be great to live out in the middle of nowhere with no one around, no one to bother you."

First there is rescuing the Hammers, again. "We've been playing well but not scored enough goals - and, to be fair, we've let a few silly ones in."

And a closing thought: "It would have been nice to have played 20 or 30 years ago. You could get away with murder then, elbow people, everything. The game's changing for the worse."

Nice bloke to talk to, but I still wouldn't like to play against him.

l Terminator: The Julian Dicks Story by Kirk Blows (Polar Publishing, pounds 9.99.)