Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Dixon worked his way to the top of football slowly - he played for Burnley (where he served his apprenticeship), Chester City, Bury and Stoke City before he was signed by Arsenal boss George Graham in January 1988.
Though Arsenal had seemingly found their replacement for England full back Viv Anderson, who had been sold to Manchester United, it took a while for Dixon to be given a first team role at Highbury. With the veteran international Kenny Sansom at left back, the equally left-sided Nigel Winterburn had been a guarded success in the unfamiliar right back role, though Dixon did make his debut against Luton Town in February 1988 and played six times in total before the season ended. In the summer, Sansom left Arsenal and Winterburn moved across, allowing Dixon to take over the No.2 shirt, which he duly did for well over ten years.
While defending is not as pleasing on the eye for football lovers, more seasoned connoisseurs of the game would refer to the way Arsenal's back four assembled itself throughout the 1990s. Dixon and Winterburn made the full back positions their own, while captain Tony Adams and the long-serving David O'Leary operated in the middle. In 1989 they were joined by Steve Bould who, like Dixon before him, had been spotted by Graham playing for Stoke City. These five defenders, often playing as a back five together (rather than the conventional back four) were the lynchpin of an Arsenal side who became serious challengers for the English First Division title in 1989, which would be their first since the "double" year of 1971, which featured Graham as a player.
Dixon was a marauding right back, ever willing to support his winger David Rocastle and his attacking skills were still noted even though his main job (and the main priority of the side as a whole) was to defend. He also had a short spell during this period as the club's penalty taker. Arsenal took the chase for the League championship to the last day of the season when they faced Liverpool at Anfield on a Friday night at the end of May.
The game had been re-arranged from earlier in the season but had taken on extra significance for Liverpool, who had gone through the emotional trauma of the Hillsborough disaster and then won the FA Cup, so only Arsenal stood between them and a second "double". For their part Arsenal, who had led for much of the campaign only to be clawed back by Liverpool, needed to win the game by two clear goals or more, such was the tight difference between the two teams. Anything less and the championship was Liverpool's.
The game stood at 1-0 as the clock showed the 90 minutes wee up. Dixon, for one, was not giving up the title as he received a ball in his own half and looked to mount a final attack. Spotting the clever run of centre forward Alan Smith towards the right channel, Dixon duly deliver a perfect long ball on to his chest. Smith's run had forced a Liverpool defender across with him and Arsenal midfielder Michael Thomas duly made a charge into the gap, took Smith's perfect sideways pass in his stride and casually flipped the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar. There was barely time for Liverpool to restart and Arsenal took the title, the first of many honours Dixon would win.
Arsenal struggled to hold on to the title the following year (and were unable to take part in the European Cup because the ban on English clubs after Heysel was still ongoing) but there was personal joy for Dixon as he made his England debut in April 1990 in a World Cup warm-up game against Czechoslovakia. He played well, but there was little hope of him being in the squad for the tournament as he was at least third in the pecking order behind Gary Stevens and Paul Parker. Only injury to one of these two would have opened a door for Dixon to go to Italy and that didn't happen.
After the World Cup, new manager Graham Taylor instantly replaced Stevens and Parker with Dixon, who scored a goal at Wembley in only his sixth international in an important Euro 92 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland. The game ended 1-1. In the same season, Arsenal's notoriously mean defence (now with David Seaman playing behind them in goal) grew even meaner, with just one defeat all season as they won the League championship again.
By the end of 1991, Dixon had played in eleven internationals, including all of the Euro 92 qualifiers, through which England qualified for the finals in Sweden. As the finals approached, Dixon suffered an injury, allowing Stevens a route back into the side as the deadline for squad announcement approached. Taylor duly named Dixon instead of Stevens in his provisional squad, but ultimately neither went to the tournament. Dixon pulled out through injury so Stevens was recalled, only for the Rangers full back also to withdraw through injury. England ended up with no recognised right back in their squad and didn't get past the group stages.
After the summer, a fit-again Dixon was back in the England team while also defending the League title within the familiar and feared Arsenal defence. With O'Leary's retirement imminent, Graham had provided extra cover in the centre of defence by signing Martin Keown from Everton - ironically the player who'd ended up playing at right back in Euro 92 after both Dixon and Stevens became unavailable.
O'Leary ended up in Dixon's place at right back for the 1993 League Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday because Dixon was unfit. Arsenal won 2-1. Dixon was back when the sides met again for the FA Cup final which Arsenal won by the same scoreline in a replay, after the initial game had ended in a 1-1 draw. Unfortunately, 1993 did not go well internationally, with England failing to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Dixon's 21st cap, in a 7-1 win over San Marino in the final qualifier (a result which was immaterial) seemed to be his last as Taylor quit as manager and Terry Venables took over, experimenting with other right backs until installing Gary Neville in the spot in 1995, a role he maintains to this day.
In 1994, Dixon won a European medal to complement his domestic collection as Arsenal's legendary defence showed off their considerable ability to repel creativity among natural footballers. Again, defensive play is rarely a spectacle but the way Dixon, Winterburn, Bould and Adams expertly suppressed the efforts of Tomas Brolin, Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla of Italian side Parma was as exciting to purist football observers as any attacking play. Arsenal scored an early goal in the European Cup Winners Cup final in Copenhagen and let their defence do the rest, winning 1-0.
Dixon was again in his No.2 shirt as Arsenal slumped domestically in 1995 but reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup again. Though the defence in Paris was breached by Real Zaragoza, Arsenal equalised and took the game to extra time. The defence did its job and it took a ludicrous freak shot from the halfway line in the final minute from Nayim (adding insult to injury, an ex-Spurs player) to prise the trophy from the Gunners.
At the end of 1996, Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury and started to introduce lifestyle policies to the Arsenal squad, changing their life's outlook, self-awareness and diet. This allowed Arsenal's ageing defence (referred to memorably and with some accuracy on a TV commentary by Ron Atkinson as Dad's Army) to prolong their time at the top, and Wenger later admitted that he expected to replace each defender he inherited fairly quickly, but just as quickly realised he didn't need to. Dixon and his defensive colleagues never ceased in paying tribute to Wenger for giving them extra years at the helm of the game.
Arsenal won the "double" again in 1998 and Dixon received a testimonial the following year as he entered his tenth full season at Arsenal. He also got a surprise recall to the England squad by caretaker boss Howard Wilkinson, who had temporarily taken over after the resignation of Glenn Hoddle. Dixon played in a 2-0 defeat by France at Wembley and then quietly disappeared away from the international scene again, never to return. He had won 22 caps but not played in a major tournament.
Dixon played in a UEFA Cup campaign in 2000 which saw Arsenal reach the final in the same Copenhagen stadium where they had won the Cup Winners Cup six years earlier. This time they were beaten on penalties by Galatasaray of Turkey. The following year Arsenal reached the FA Cup final but lost 2-1 to Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff - a 37 year old Dixon, about to retire, completely outpaced by a 21 year old Michael Owen for the winning goal.
Dixon duly did retire the following year as Arsenal clinched another "double". With Adams quitting at the same time, only Seaman and Keown then remained at the club from the halcyon days of the most respected club defence in English football. After O'Leary's retirement in 1993, Bould had been the next to go from the famous defence in 1999 and Winterburn followed him out of Highbury a year later.
Dixon's impressive statistics as an Arsenal player tallied up 458 appearances in the League with 25 goals, complete with a huge haul of medals. In retirement, he has concentrated on several business interests including a highly-regarded restaurant in Berkshire. He is also making his name as a pundit for the BBC, recently beginning to earn the odd appearance on flagship football show Match of the Day.
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