Dixon satisfies his competitive nature

LIFE AT THE BOTTOM: The player-manager of the club 92nd out of England's 92 explains to Guy Hodgson the attractions of his new role
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Even Ray Wilkins seemed slightly perplexed why, having just turned 40, he was playing in a man's game when he is, in football terms, an OAP. "It's something I have to get out of my system," he told an interviewer, explaining his decision to turn out for Hibernian. After all, the fact he was preparing to meet Rangers hardly implied he had fallen far from the grace of his best years.

But how do you explain someone like Kerry Dixon? Chelsea's golden boy, who seemed to personify the flash of King's Road as well as the bang of two productive feet, most certainly has football in his system, but he has gone down much further than the Scottish Premier Division to satisfy his craving. Being player-manager of England's bottom club, Doncaster Rovers, suggests more than a love affair with the game, it implies a worrying addiction.

In the past, old England players would fade away in the lower divisions but hardly ever now. Most prefer the big wages and low responsibility on the fringe of Premiership teams to pitting their slowing reflexes against clumsy and jealous centre-halves all too ready to kick lumps out of someone who knew better things. Dixon is an exception.

"I'm sure you're wrong," the 35-year-old striker said when it was put to him that England players do not do farewell tours in football's provinces any more. "There's..." His voice tailed off as he racked his brain and then changed his mind. "I suppose you could be right."

He was sitting in an office that is about as far as you can get from the plushness of Chelsea where, for nine seasons, he was the closest thing to the new Peter Osgood until Gianluca Vialli arrived at Stamford Bridge. Belle Vue might have a French name but no one would describe it as fancy and Dixon, indeed the whole club, operates from Portakabins parked on the forecourt. You would call it bargain basement except the "pile it high, sell it cheap" brigade might sue.

"I just love football, scoring goals in particular," Dixon said by way of mitigation. "It's something I've done since I was seven and I'm reluctant to let it go. I know I'd miss the banter of the dressing-room. People say you can't beat the spirit of camaraderie in the Armed Forces but this must push it close.

"I couldn't hang around the reserves having an easy life and picking up good money. I could have stayed at Watford and tried to play my way back into the first team but the job satisfaction would not match what I could get here."

It is probably his upbringing that makes the bottom of the pile an attractive option. Dixon may still have the knack of ghosting into penalty areas but his early years were laced by being marked for rejection. At Luton he was one of only two schoolboys cast out from a crop of 13 while he was let go by Tottenham despite scoring 30 goals in a season for the youth team. Only after he had completed an apprenticeship as a toolmaker did this square peg find the right shaped hole: Reading.

From there he moved to Chelsea, the club having a place in his feelings that has survived even a tempestuous relationship with the chairman, Ken Bates, and a seemingly unending supply of strikers bought to replace him. "You don't spend the best years of your life at a place without feeling a great deal of affection for it," he said. "My one regret in my career is that I didn't become Chelsea's record scorer. I finished with 193 goals, nine short."

Figures are important to Dixon, like the four goals he got in eight games for his country. He rattles off statistics with authority and the big number in his mind at the moment is his 300th strike. "I'm close," he said. "I've lost track of exactly how many I've scored in the cups, but I know I'm near. I expect a journalist will come up to me in the near future and tell me I've got there. It's one of the things that keeps me going."

So far he has scored twice for Doncaster and the enduring nature of his single-minded pursuit of goals surprises, just as the choice of entry into management does. It is not hard to imagine Yorkshire folk looking at Dixon's blond good looks with the words "southern softie" at the ready. Yet Doncaster has taken to him, applauding his decision to work at the tough end of the trade.

"The people here are different class," he said. "They have their way of saying and doing things but I've been made to feel very welcome. I think they appreciate I've not come here to use Doncaster as a quick stepping stone to somewhere else. I'm ambitious but I have plans for the club as well as myself."

The craving appears to be a long way from being sated. "The Premiership is the place to be," he said, "but at the moment I'm happy with life where I am."