In the austere years following the Great War many found it difficult to make ends meet. Even those who did make ends meet could find themselves in trouble. This is the fate that befell cartographer Hector Bartholomew who made Lands End and Southend meet and was promptly dismissed from his job. Bristol Rovers were no exception and therefore found it necessary in the 1920s to pilot several money-saving and making schemes. These included:
- Reducing the size of the pitch to allow greyhound meetings to take place.
- Enlarging the size of the pitch to allow St.Bernard meetings to take place.
- Digging up the pitch to allow funeral directors meetings to take place.
- Stealing the pitch to allow a criminal investigation to take place.
- Flooding the pitch to allow fishermen to take plaice.
Rovers also installed a basement beneath the pitch so they could profit from the lucrative venture of hiring it out for grazing sheep during matches. Thus Rovers became the first club in the Football League to install undersoil bleating.
In 1923 the Eastville club hit upon the novel idea of fielding ten men and a boy. The child selected for this initiative being 10-year-old Ronnie Dix. The benefits of playing him were considered thus:
- At most he would be paid maximum pocket-money which was considerably lower than the maximum wage.
- His kit would be cheaper to buy as traditionally the junior version is £10 less than the adult version. In 1923 the adult kit cost £3; so the Rovers were quids in.
- Whenever Rovers played away they could send a consent form to Mrs Dix for her to sign and pay a contribution towards the cost of the trip.
- There would be little chance of Dix ever being sent-off, as like most boys he would do anything to avoid a bath, let alone an early one.
- He would qualify for Free Pre-Match Meals.
- Even if he failed to score for years nobody at Eastville would be able to hurl any verbal criticism his way for fear of being accused of child abuse.
The disadvantages of playing the boy Dix were considered to be:
- The Rovers management wouldn’t be able to drop him (see 6 above).
- It was inevitable that one day he would get too big for his boots.
- Rovers would get into trouble with the F.A. for under-the-counter payments; simply because Dix couldn’t reach over-the-counter to collect his weekly money.
- Dix might cover the club badge with a Blue Peter one.
- The club would have to go to the expense of buying a large quantity of ‘Lucky Bags’ because each time the ref gave the opposition a free-kick, Dix would want something too.
- Fans would have to be banned from taking rattles into the ground otherwise Dix could become easily distracted.
- Dix would only be useful in a defensive wall if the free-kick was from 57 yards plus.
Despite some reservations in the boardroom – although once the diners had finished their meals and left the directors were able to conduct their business – it was decided to press ahead with the experiment.
The plan was a resounding success with the exception that in his first five seasons Dix failed to find the net once; the fact modems hadn’t been invented didn’t help. Contrary to the belief Dix would never get sent-off that was precisely what happened in a match against Watford in 1924; when he got into a fight with the Hornets’ centre-half Charlie McGivern over whose father had the best coal-scuttle. It was such an unedifying spectacle that both players were hauled before the F.A. Disciplinary Committee and charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Dix, who turned up with snakes & ladders under his arm, was further charged with bringing the game into the F.A. Disciplinary Committee. Both players were severely punished. McGivern was fined two weeks wages and banned for five matches; while Dix was told that Santa didn’t exist.
Eventually, in March, 1928 when Dix was 15 years and 5 months old and the Eastville faithful were counting down the remaining 7 months until they could vent their pent-up frustration, he finally scored with a header against Norwich City. This provided him with the record – which still stands today – for being the youngest goalscorer in Football League history. Upon hearing that he’d scored, Mrs Dix alerted the police as he was still underage.
Just three days later Dix scored with two more headers in a midweek fixture at Gillingham, and then rounded off a marvelous seven-day period with a hat-trick of headers at home to Plymouth. Dix revealed after that game that the reason for his sudden scoring prowess was that he’d just joined the Scouts and it was ‘nod-a-lob week’.
Thereafter Dix made quite a habit of scoring and was eventually transferred to top-flight Blackburn Rovers for £3,000. He went on to play for a host of top clubs as well as for England.
The illustration is a cartoon from August 1925 by F.G. Lewin which depicts the Rovers strike-force for the imminent 1925-26 season with Dix on the left.