Dickson, Thomas Arnell ('Tommy') (1929–2007), footballer, was born 16 July 1929 in the Sandy Row area of Belfast. As a teenager he played with the local Roosevelt Street Boys' Club and, while working as an apprentice fitter at the Brookfield Linen Company, was signed by Brantwood as an amateur in 1947. A left-footed player, who normally played at inside-left, he helped them win the Irish Intermediate League in 1948. His goal-scoring ability attracted the attention of Elisha Scott (qv), then manager of Belfast Celtic, who offered him £600 to sign as a professional, but, as a lifelong Linfield supporter, Dickson turned him down to join Linfield. He began his professional career in 1948 with Linfield's reserve side, Linfield Swifts, winning the Irish Intermediate Cup and the Steel Cup with them in 1949. Graduating quickly to the Linfield first team, he made his senior debut against Ballymena United in a City Cup game on 28 August 1948, and by the following season had established himself as the club's regular inside-left.
Dickson was the complete attacking player: lethal inside the penalty area, and creative and hard-working outside it. He read the game superbly and set up many scoring opportunities for the team as well as for himself, especially for the great English international, Jackie Milburn, who played centre-forward with Linfield (1957–60). Milburn had a very high opinion of Dickson's abilities and believed he would have been a great success had he played in the English first division. Cross-channel clubs such as Glasgow Rangers, Preston North End, Everton, Manchester City and Hull City all expressed interest in signing him, but the transfer fees they offered never matched Linfield's valuation and he remained at Windsor Park.
After Milburn's departure, Dickson was Linfield's best player, and was never shy about letting his teammates know. Although small in stature (he was 5 ft 7 in tall and weighed 10 st. 7 lb.), his strength and stamina belied his frail-looking appearance. He was never put off by hard tackling, and was well capable of looking after himself on the pitch. His tussles with Wilbur Cush (1928–91) of Glenavon and later Portadown, an equally combative player, were often a highlight of Irish League and Cup fixtures.
In sixteen seasons with Linfield (1948–65), Dickson scored 451 goals in 653 league appearances, which placed him in the top five all-time Irish League goal-scorers. He also scored 32 goals in the Irish Cup, a total that put him one ahead of the great Joe Bambrick (qv) in that competition and second only to Jimmy Jones (qv), who scored 37. Altogether, Dickson won eight Irish League titles with Linfield (1950, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1959–62) and five Irish Cups (1950, 1953, 1960, 1962, 1963). He also won eight Gold Cups, three Ulster Cups, six City Cups, seven Co. Antrim Shields and one North–South Cup. On 1 September 1959 he appeared in Linfield's European Cup debut at Windsor Park, helping them to beat Kamreterna of Gothenburg 2–1 in the first leg. He went on to make seven appearances in European competitions and scored three goals. In the 1961/2 season, he captained Linfield to an unprecedented clean sweep of seven trophy wins (including the 1960/61 North–South Cup, the final of which was played over two legs in January–February 1962), scored 42 goals in all competitions, and was voted Ulster footballer of the year (for 1961/2). This was the greatest triumph in Linfield's history and the highlight of Dickson's career. He described his teammates as 'the team of the century, an all local combination [that] … enshrined Linfield's tradition. All you needed to do was put a blue shirt on them and they played their hearts out. I was proud to be captain' (Brodie, 38).
Dickson played only once for Northern Ireland, in a 1–0 defeat to Scotland on 7 November 1956, a game in which he played poorly. (There were also some suggestions that his international prospects were damaged after he made his annoyance clear to the Northern Ireland team captain Danny Blanchflower (qv) when the latter addressed the 27-year-old Dickson as 'lad'.) From 1950 to 1963 he did, however, represent the Irish League in 21 inter-league fixtures (scoring 8 goals), most notably when he captained them to a 5–2 victory over a star-studded (English) Football League at Windsor Park in April 1956, a game in which he scored twice.
From the beginning of the 1962/3 season, he operated as a player-coach for Linfield, but his form suffered in this dual role. He was never given the title of manager and had no part in signing new players. Unhappy with his lack of authority, in November 1962 he took a break from playing and seriously considered retiring. However, he missed the game too much, and after some months made himself available for selection again. Although by this time he had lost some pace, his football brain was as keen as ever and he remained a key figure in the Linfield team, helping them to another Irish Cup in 1963. There was, therefore, considerable shock when in April 1965 Linfield announced that he would not be retained for the next season. There was an even greater shock when he signed in August 1965 for Glentoran, Linfield's biggest rivals, for whom he played nine games (including one against Linfield) and scored three goals. Away from Linfield, he had little appetite for the game and retired from playing in 1966. For all his achievements, he looked back on his career with some regret, recalling: 'I never enjoyed football as I should have. I was always worried about the next game because in those days the standard was high. You couldn't afford to relax … It was much too competitive' (Brodie, 176).
After retirement in 1966, he was reconciled with his old club when Linfield presented him with life membership; he was grateful for the gesture and announced that it was like coming home. Dickson was worshipped by Linfield supporters, who dubbed him 'The Duke of Windsor', and was widely regarded as one of the best players ever to play his entire career in the Irish League. In 2011, on the 125th anniversary of the founding of Linfield FC, the Belfast Telegraph named him as the greatest Linfield player of all time. After his playing career ended, he served on the Linfield management committee and scouted for the club, and was a regular visitor to Windsor Park for many years until prevented by ill health. He also had many other jobs: he was sports officer with an industrial company, and ran a fish-and-chip shop, a taxi business and a newsagent's shop, until he found his niche working in charity and cross-community work. He died in Belfast 31 December 2007 after a long illness, and was buried at Roselawn cemetery. He was survived by his wife Peggy and sons Tommy and Gary; his son Allan, who died aged 41 in 1991, also played for Linfield. Dickson was described by the former club chairman Dr George Scarlett as 'a legend, an idol and a loyal clubman' (Brodie, 175). In 2008 a large mural was painted in his honour in Taughmonagh in south Belfast.