As a young West Ham supporter throughout the 2000s, I was always hearing tales of the club’s heroes of yesteryear. Whether it was my dad or the old-timers with whom I sat in Upton Park’s Bobby Moore Upper, my eyes would always light up as stories were told. Our World Cup winners, Sir Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds, dominated this specific conversation, but Julian Dicks was another name which frequently seemed to pop up.
The defender signed for the Hammers from Birmingham in 1988 for a fee of around £300,000, a move which came about because he desperately wanted to play Division One football. As much as the 90s would see Dicks to legendary status at West Ham, his early time in east London didn’t go to plan: he’d suffered two relegations with the club, all by 1992. He’d also picked up a major injury in that time.
During a game against Bristol City in October 1990, Dicks hit a divot in the turf, an incident which left him without any feeling in his left leg. He managed to play the rest of the game, and even played twice after sustaining the injury, though he had to be substituted in both matches. He ended up having an operation on his knee and was ruled out of action for a total of 14 months.
Despite it commonly being thought that Dicks’ nickname of ‘The Terminator’ came about because of his no-nonsense playing style, it actually turns out this injury played a part, too. He was initially told he may never be able to play football again, to which he is said to have replied: “I’ll be back.”
He did, of course, return, though not soon enough for West Ham. He wasn’t able to prevent the second relegation of his time in claret and blue; the relegation that meant Dicks and his teammates would miss out on the inaugural Premier League season.
The following campaign saw Dicks in the spotlight for both the right and wrong reasons. He was sent off a total of three times that season. His first was for elbowing Newcastle’s Franz Carr. The second came just four games after his return, Dicks clashing with Wolves duo Paul Birch and Steve Bull, having to be pulled back by manager Billy Bonds. Three months later, he had to be taken off the pitch by a teammate as he saw red for committing two poor fouls against Derby.
But, while he may have had to leave the pitch a few times, he still managed to make his mark whenever on it. He finished as the Hammers’ third top scorer that season, with 11 goals, as they finished second, earning promotion at the first attempt.
Dicks was integral in getting West Ham back to English football’s top table, but he wasn’t around for long to enjoy the time there. He’d broken new signing Simon Webster’s leg in a training accident and other newcomer Dale Green had been underwhelming. Seven games in and the Hammers were struggling, so Harry Redknapp – Bonds’ assistant at the time – recommended Dicks to Liverpool manager Graeme Souness, so that funds from the sale could be used to bring in much-needed new recruits.
Souness liked what he saw and jumped at the chance to make the signing. The Hammers received two players and cash in return, while Liverpool were gifted a player seemingly perfect for partnering Neil Ruddock in a team Souness felt needed to “toughen up.”
Dicks’ debut came in one of Liverpool’s biggest games of the season: the Merseyside derby. It didn’t go how he would have hoped, though, as Liverpool lost 2-0. It was former Hammers Mark Ward and Tony Cottee hitting the back of the net, with a mistake from Dicks leading to Cottee’s goal.
Soon enough, fortunes turned around for Dicks, and he scored his first goal for the club with a screamer in a 3-0 win against Oldham, becoming a regular in the team. However, things took a turn for the worse again when Souness, who’d been unpopular among Liverpool fans for a while, left the club. Roy Evans, who had previously been part of Souness’ coaching team, took over the position.
Evans had never been convinced by Dicks as he considered the left-back overweight, and the pair disagreed on training methods. To be fair, Dicks didn’t help himself with his choice of pre-match meal – allegedly just two cans of coke. His stay in Liverpool ended after just 13 months and he returned to Upton Park beyond the culmination of the 1993/94 season.
Redknapp, who was by now West Ham manager, acknowledged that Dicks returned to east London considerably heavier than he’d been when he left. Unlike Evans, though, he put his faith in the Terminator regardless, a decision which paid dividends for the Hammers. The left-back scored five goals in the 1994/95 campaign, which proved integral to keeping West Ham in the Premier League.
In the next season, he finished as the club’s joint top goalscorer alongside Cottee, with a total of ten strikes. This was the second time he’d achieved this feat, having notched 13 times while the club were in Division Two. Dicks’ goalscoring exploits are one of his enduring legacy’s main attributes. His thunderous left foot scored some incredible goals and tucked away plenty of penalties.
One game which highlighted just how important he was, at least in an attacking sense, came in the Hammers’ 4-3 victory over Tottenham at Upton Park in 1997. With West Ham 1-0 down, Dicks rose to meet a corner and send a pinpoint header into Ian Walker’s goal. Having got on the end of a set-piece, he then assisted from one with a perfectly delivered free-kick that was headed in by John Hartson put the Hammers 3-2 up.
Then, with the score tied at 3-3, West Ham were awarded a penalty. Dicks stepped up and emphatically smashed the ball into the top left corner. The goalkeeper dived the wrong way but, even if he’d guessed correctly, there was no chance that effort would be saved. The win didn’t just give West Ham bragging rights over their rivals – it also steered them away from the relegation zone.
This was one of his last great West Ham performances as he missed the entire 1997/98 campaign with another knee injury, essentially marking the beginning of the end for Dicks. He returned the following season as the Hammers finished fifth, but continued to be plagued by injuries, which limited his game time to just nine matches.
His contract was terminated and he opted for retirement, drawing to an end his 14-year career, 11 years of which had been spent at the Boleyn. He may have been born in Bristol and began his career in Birmingham, but Dicks had become West Ham’s adopted son. He was deservedly given a testimonial in 2000, in which West Ham faced Athletic Club. It’s a match that will forever be remembered for a 17-man brawl.
That day was quite the fitting representation of Dicks’ career, actually. Many will remember the violence and lack of discipline, but there was much more behind it. Dicks was undoubtedly a player who was hard as nails and fought for everything on a football pitch, but he was also talented and blessed with the sweetest left foot you could wish for.
By Danny Lewis @DannyLewis_95