Around the Grounds: Julian Dicks’ success story at Heybridge Swifts
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Football writer Carl Marston dons his anorak to visit clubs in the region (and beyond) in his quest for good football and a good cup ot tea. Here he heads to Heybridge Swifts
I usually rock up to Scraley Road, the home of Heybridge Swifts, on a blistering hot summer’s afternoon in July, to cover the regular pre-season friendly against Colchester United.
It’s nearly always a goal-feast, albeit a low-key affair, the full-time professional visitors having been put through their paces in pre-season training for a week or two, with a smattering of new players and triallists in their ranks, in contrast to the Swifts, who often looked predictably rusty after their summer break.
But there was no need to put suntan cream on the nose, roll up the shirt-sleeves or pack a couple of bottles of water, for my latest visit to the large village/small town of Heybridge, nestling in the Maldon district of Essex, close to the River Blackwater.
It was a cold January afternoon, and points were at stake.
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I had come to watch potential Bostik North play-off rivals cross swords, the Swifts versus a youthful AFC Sudbury.
And I had also come to interview Swifts boss, Julian Dicks, the 50-year-old who used to ply his trade as a no-nonsense, tough-tackling, take-no-prisoners full-back for the likes of Birmingham, West Ham and Liverpool.
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He did not scare me.
Club: Heybridge Swifts
Ground: Scraley Road
Manager: Julian Dicks
Chairman: Gary White
The club started out under the name of Heybridge FC, beginning life in the Mid-Essex League as well as having spells in the Essex & Suffolk Border League.
They were one of the founder members of the Essex Senior League, which came into being in 1971, before moving up to the Isthmian (current Bostik) League in the mid-1980s.
FA Cup wise, the Swifts have an impressive pedigree for a smaller non-league club.
They have reached the first round proper on four separate occasions – in 1994 (lost 1-0 to Gillingham, in a home tie switched to Colchester United’s Layer Road), 1997 (lost 3-0 at Bournemouth), 2002 (7-0 loss at Bristol City) and 2017 (beaten 3-1 at Exeter City)
Last season, I had the pleasure of reporting on countless Heybridge away games – they had a huge backlog of fixtures due to long cup runs – during the second half of the season.
They eventually finished fifth and lost out in the play-off semi-finals at Haringey Borough.
Julian Dicks was known as one of the traditional ‘hard men’ of football, a tough tackler who liked to stop wingers in their tracks, while also giving referees a hard-time.
But that was a long time ago.
Now, the Swifts’ high-profile manager, appointed last October, is a joy to interview. He is also enjoying a good deal of success, having masterminded 13 wins from his first 17 league matches to propel the Swifts up to fourth in the table, level on points with second and just six points behind leaders Bowers & Pitsea.
“As a new manager coming into a side down in 15th or 16th in the table, you just want a reaction from the players,” explained Dicks.
“And they have certainly given me that. I have no worries about them or their work-rate.
“We let ourselves down at Soham (3-1 defeat) the previous weekend, but that’s going to happen occasionally, whatever level you play at.
“Most of the players from (former manager) Jody Brown’s era have gone. I think I just have four or five players left. The boys that have come in have been superb, as have those who have stayed here.
“I’m enjoying it at Heybridge, though football is a frustrating sport at times. As a player, you can do something about it, but as a manager – yes, you can put subs on – but it can be frustrating. You’re on the touch-line and it’s a bit difficult.
“I don’t shut up, as a manager. I shout at the players for 90 minutes, but they are great lads.
“When I came in, I just said that football is about progression.
“If we are in the play-offs, all well and good. As a person and for my players, we want to push on and get promotion, but Bowers & Pitsea are a very good side.
“It will be tough to knock them off the top, but I’m sure we will be there or thereabouts,” said Dicks.
Sat, Jan 26: v AFC Sudbury (Bostik North, 2-0 home win)