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The Lovable Captain from the Northeast

Aston Villa's 1957 FA Cup triumph is one of the most important in club history. In today's Holte History, we will look at the captain of that team.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos

The 1957 FA Cup Final is a match that, still today, has a large part in Villa lore. It's the last time Aston Villa has won the FA Cup, and they've only made it back to the final once since then. Their win prevented Manchester United from completing the double. At the time, Aston Villa's 1897 squad had been the last team to accomplish that feat.

This Holte History is about the man who set up both goals and lifted the cup as Aston Villa captain that day: Johnny Dixon.

Johnny Dixon was born December 10, 1923 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Dixon's footballing career began with a local non-league side, the wonderfully-named Spennymoor United. In 1944, Dixon joined Aston Villa Football Club after writing to them, asking for a trial. When asked why he wrote to them, considering he was from the Northeast of England, Dixon just said that he liked the name of the club.

He made his debut for the club in 1946, following the post-World War II resumption of the league. Dixon scored his first goal for the club in his third game. He broke his nose in the process but refused to come off, setting a precedent for the type of player Dixon was to become. He became a regular in the 1948-49 season, and went on to gather 430 appearances for Villa over 15 seasons. The inside forward led the club in goals in four different seasons, the best of those coming in 1951-52, when he scored 28 goals in 43 games.

Villa legend and previous Holte History profilee Eric Houghton took over as manager in the 1953-54 season. This was a period in which many other Villans were winding down their career, and Houghton saw this as a chance to bring through young talent, including Villa legend Peter McParland. In 1955, now a senior player in the squad, Dixon was named captain of Aston Villa. Dixon and the young squad narrowly avoided relegation the 55-56 season. They finished in 20th, on the same points as relegated Huddersfield Town, but stayed up thanks to their superior goal average. The youth movement paid off the following season as Villa safely finished in 10th place, but that's not what the 56-57 season was remembered for.

On January 5, 1957, Aston Villa began their FA Cup campaign with a away at Luton Town. Villa were not expected to challenge for the cup that season, as their attack, minus Dixon and McParland, was not very formidable. The first match finished in a draw, but Villa won the replay 2-0, thanks to two goals from Dixon. In the next round, Villa were losing 2-1 at halftime away in Middlesbrough. But Dixon scored as Villa turned it around for a 3-2 win. After a easy win over Bristol City, Villa drew Burnley in the quarterfinals. The first match finished in a 1-1 draw, and went back to Villa Park for a replay. Dixon scored the first and set up McParland for the second, as Villa won 2-0. West Bromwich Albion would be the semifinal opponents. Villa were losing 2-1 with five minutes remaining, when McParland scored a late equalized to force a replay. Villa won the replay 1-0 and were off to Wembley to face Manchester United in the final.

Johnny Dixon led Aston Villa out on the Wembley pitch on May 4, 1957. The game started off on a rocky note, when in the sixth minute, McParland collided with United keeper Ray Wood. Wood suffered a fractured cheekbone, but as substitutes were not allowed, Wood spent most of the rest of the match out on the wing not doing much.

The United fans, not unfairly, were angry with the challenge. McParland, unfairly, began receiving much abuse and vitriol. Dixon, acting as you would hope a captain would, threw his arm around McParland and calmed him down. Dixon's quick actions led to McParland keeping a cool head, which led those two combining later on. McParland went on to score goals in the 68th and 73rd minutes (both set up by Dixon) to put Villa in the driver's seat in the final.

Looking back on final years later, Dixon said this: "With about 10 minutes to go, I realised suddenly we were going to win. For 13 years I had been at Villa Park without winning a thing. Now the Queen was going to be handing me the FA Cup. I nearly burst into tears on the spot."

Of course, because this is Aston Villa, United's Tommy Taylor scored a goal in the 83rd minute to cut the Aston Villa lead in half. Villa held out for the remaining minutes, and Dixon lifted the FA Cup. It was Villa's first trophy since 1920, and remains the last time they've won the FA Cup.

The following season saw Dixon limited to just 14 appearances due to injury. In the 58-59 season, Dixon made just 28 appearances, as Villa were relegated. Villa won promotion the very next season, but Dixon was limited to just four appearances, making it clear his playing career was nearing it's end.

Managed Joe Mercer gave Dixon one last appearance, playing him on the final day of the 60-61 season against Sheffield Wednesday. Dixon went on to score a goal and set one up for Gerry Hitchens, as Villa won 4-1. Just as he had done all those years before, Dixon broke his nose in his final game. He again played on through the pain, also just as he had done years before.

Dixon unfortunately never made a appearance for England. Dixon never complained about his lack of a international career. Eric Houghton did though, saying this: "Of course Johnny Dixon should have played for England. Plenty of worse players did!"

After his retirement, Dixon became a coach in the Villa youth setup until 1967. He turned out for the Villa Old Stars team well into his 60s, and "[protested] vehemently whenever his manager summoned him from the action to take a breather on the bench."

In his later life Dixon suffered from Alzheimer's disease and tragically was unable to remember his triumph in the 1957 cup final. He died on January 20, 2009 at the age of 85.

One description of Dixon is "of the wry Geordie grin and engaging friendliness for everyone".

Johnny Dixon was one of the most popular Villans of his era and should be one of the most popular of all eras.

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