A remarkable man lost in the history of football times. Rod Gillett profiles the nomination of Frank Dixon to the inaugural AFL – NSW Hall of Fame:
South Sydney Rabbitoh, South Sydney premiership captain-coach, NSW player, captain and coach, Rat of Tobruk, Senior-Vice President NSW ANFL, Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney
Frank Dixon did it all in a remarkable career in sporting and civic life stretching from the late 1920s until he stepped down as Deputy Lord Mayor in 1961, declining the opportunity to succeed Harry Jensen as Lord Mayor of Sydney.
“He was a charismatic leader. A great motivator. We respected him enormously” Jack Dean told me in an interview in 2008. “We trained for weeks in advance of the game with the aim of beating Victoria”.
NSW lost that game after a tight first half with the Vics only seventeen points up at half-time. However, with VFL stars Bob Davis, Bobby Rose, Les Foote and Brownlow medalist Don Cordner firing, the Vics ran away to record a resounding win.
At the reunion of the 1949 team at the 1990 NSW v Victoria game Frank Dixon walked into the SCG Trust Suite to meet his charges after being feted by the AFL at the pre-match official dinner and declared, “I’m like Mark Antony walking into Cleopatra’s tent, I haven’t come here to talk!”
Frank Dixon was born in Waterloo and grew up in the South Sydney district which was to remain central to his life in football and politics. He initially played footy for the Daceyville Junior Waratahs club and won the competition best and fairest in 1926.
However, like so many young men in the South’s district, Frank Dixon wanted to play rugby league for the Rabbitohs, and he did in 1928 and 1929.
In 1930 he returned to football and thus began his long and fruitful association with the South Sydney Australian National Football Club as a player, captain, and coach in the club’s most successful era.
Frank took on the role of captain-coach in 1934 and led Souths to its first premiership since 1914. The pen pic of Frank Dixon in the Football Record for the 1935 grand final read:
“Frank Dixon is an inspiring captain and has the whole-hearted confidence of his team-mates. He has outstanding knowledge of the game and should be able to keep command of the game in the position of follower and half forward”.
He was to lead Souths to another premiership in 1935 and to runner-up in 1936 and 1937.
Frank Dixon captained NSW for the first time in 1935 when he led the Sky Blues against the Victorian Amateur representative team at the SCG. As skipper led NSW to home-and-away victories over fierce rivals Queensland.
He became captain-coach of the State team the following season and led NSW at the national amateur carnival in Adelaide where the Sky Blues beat South Australia and Tasmania.
The profile in the match day program for the carnival said of the NSW captain-coach:
“….possesses football personality on and off the field, and has the ability to bring the best from his men.”
Frank enlisted in the AIF in May 1940. He served in the 9th Division of the AIF in the western desert and New Guinea until 1945. After surviving the Siege at Tobruk, he was badly wounded at El Alamein and was evacuated to Australia but recovered to serve in the Pacific theatre.
After the war Frank settled back into civilian life and resumed work for the Sydney City Council. But the call to re-join football was strong and he was invited to join the state ruling body, the NSW ANFL, as senior vice president in 1947 as well as coach and selector of the NSW State team.
He took charge of the State team for the 1947 ANFC Carnival in Hobart. Under his tutelage, NSW beat Canberra and Queensland, lost by ten points to hosts Tasmania and were well beaten by the SANFL.
The 1947 Carnival team included players from Broken Hill and the Riverina as well as players from Sydney such as cricket star Keith Miller (Sydney Naval), Roy Hayes (Eastern Suburbs, Ossie Grose (Newtown) and former Henty player Neil Stevens (Eastern Suburbs).
Frank was again coach of the State team at the 1950 ANFC Carnival in Brisbane. NSW were placed in Division II beat Tasmania and Queensland but lost to Tasmania and the Australian Amateurs.
He finished his tenure as coach at the end of the 1952 season. Altogether as a player and coach he was involved in twenty-seven representative fixtures for NSW.
As a senior vice president of the NSW ANFL, Frank Dixon went to Melbourne by train to attend a meeting of the ANFC in 1947 to secure a grant to fund a licenced club in Sydney to promote the game. However, upon his return with a cheque of £5000, the league delegates resolved not to proceed. Frank always regarded this as “golden opportunity missed”.
After finishing with football politics, Frank Dixon turned his attention to local government. A long time ALP member and party official he was elected to the Sydney City Council as an alderman in 1956 and served as Deputy Lord Mayor in 1960-61.
The Sydney City Council named the grandstand at Trumper Park in his honour.
Frank said, outside of football, his crowning glory to the community was the construction of the El Alamein Fountain in Fitzroy Gardens, Kings Cross in Sydney. “That project was mine, I did that” Frank told us.
Source:: Frank Dixon six-part podcast
– interview with Ian Granland (a good listen)