Peter Mellor: The awful night Portsmouth manager Jimmy Dickinson suffered a heart attack in a Barnsley dressing room

Peter Mellor has reflected on the awful evening when Pompey legend Jimmy Dickinson suffered a post-match heart attack in front of shocked players.

Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:58 am
Peter Mellor made 146 appearances during his time at Fratton Park
Peter Mellor made 146 appearances during his time at Fratton Park

The Blues boss had overseen a 1-1 draw at Barnsley in March 1979, with Steve Davey scoring for the visitors.

However, the popular Dickinson afterwards collapsed in the dressing room.

Thankfully, he made a full recovery, yet it signalled the end of his management days, with assistant Frank Burrows stepping up.

‘Frank Burrows was Pompey’s assistant boss – I never actually spoke to the manager, Jimmy Dickinson, before joining the club. Frank, though, always made it clear he was representing Jimmy,’ he told Played Up Pompey Too.

‘So, in the twilight of my career, I had the fantastic opportunity to help this big club move forward and out of Division Four – ending up being somewhere I thoroughly enjoyed playing.

‘The Pompey game which sticks in my mind the most is not based upon playing particularly brilliantly, but for Jimmy having a heart attack in the dressing room at Barnsley.

Jimmy Dickinson was Pompey's boss when he suffered a heart attack after a game at Barnsley in March 1979. Picture: Lemmon/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

‘My room-mate was Steve Foster, who had very curly hair. Now footballers say and do stupid things and I had been insisting I was getting a perm to match, not that anyone believed me.

‘As it happened, there was a hairdresser in the Barnsley hotel we were staying in ahead of that Friday evening fixture, so that morning I decided to get it done.

‘I told Fozzie: “Don’t say anything to the boys,” which was completely the wrong thing to say!

‘So I’m in the middle of having this perm done, with curlers in my hair, when suddenly half the team came in, with Fozzie heading them, laughing and pointing.

‘I got over the initial shock of what it looked like and how I was going to tell my wife when we got home, then it was time to focus on the Oakwell game.

‘Now Jimmy was a very softly-spoken manager, obviously knew the game inside out but was not a yeller or a bawler. Instead his assistant, Frank Burrows, carried out the technical summary of what we were doing.

‘That night we drew 1-1, Steve Davey’s fierce 62nd minute strike was cancelled out five minutes later by Barnsley’s Tommy Graham.

‘In the dressing room afterwards, Jimmy walked in and sat right down next to me, while all our focus was on Frank, who was talking.

‘I then felt a weight hit me on the left shoulder. It was Jimmy’s head, he was having a heart attack.

‘He had keeled over and suddenly we all realised something was drastically wrong. The manager was unconscious. Our physio, Gordon Neave, acted quickly to take him into the trainer’s room.

‘It was awful to see. Thankfully, following a night in hospital, Jimmy recovered. Although, typical of the dressing room humour, the boys reckoned my hairstyle had sparked the heart attack.

‘Jimmy was a class act and had all of our respect, yet was very quiet, didn’t like confrontation, more of a man-manager than a tactician. He never put training sessions on, that was left to Frank.

‘He never swore, I cannot even recall him ever raising his voice. Before the match he would say a few words and then hand over to Frank to run through the tactics and who was going to take dead balls.

‘Following Barnsley, it was quite a while before we again saw Jimmy around the club and, by that stage, Frank had been appointed manager following a caretaker spell – and rightly so.

‘I equally loved playing for Frank, he called a spade a spade, was as honest as the day is long, knew the game inside out and was outstanding as far as coaching and managing the players.

‘He was a tough guy in terms of how he managed and wouldn’t take any nonsense, but if he ever made a mistake was the first to put his hand up and admit he should have done better, or it was his fault for delivering the wrong tactic.

‘Not that he was wrong that often. He was somebody I felt was honourable, that you wanted to play for.’

Peter Mellor made 146 Pompey appearances from July 1978 until December 1981.

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