It is sad to report the passing of one of Saints’ most popular players of the 1950s at the age of 87.
Saints Player Heritage Number: #698
Born: St Helens 10th April 1934
Died: St Helens 7th August 2021
John Dickinson, universally known to everyone as ‘Todder’ [a nickname apparently handed down from his elder brother Tom] signed for the Saints at 16 after captaining the successful Parr High School team and representing Lancashire Schoolboys.
Spending his early days in Recreation Street, off Park Road, Todder attended Merton Bank Juniors before moving on to secondary school. On leaving full-time education, he spent a season with the Warrington ‘B’ team but thankfully joined his hometown team when they established their own third tier squad. He put pen to paper on 13th April 1950 and made his A team debut for Saints shortly after, against Whitehaven.
Before he was 18, Todder had played in virtually all the back divisions for the First Team, but he was probably most at home in the halves. Indeed his coach, Jim Sullivan, was quoted as saying that scrum-half was his best position. Todder served in the RAF during his National Service and a fair assessment of his all-round ability at such a young age could be found in the St. Helens Newspaper in September 1951, after he had impressed against Barrow and their star stand-off Willie Horne in particular: “Against a man who has captained England in Test Match football, Dickinson showed coolness, courage and resource, playing well to his centres, tackling well in defence and above all backing up at every opportunity for the odd chance.”
Todder had made his senior debut in a 9-14 loss to Huddersfield at Knowsley Road on 18th April 1951, when he partnered Jimmy Honey in the halves. His greatest moment in the red and white jersey came on 7th May 1953, when the 19 year old was scrum half during Saints’ Championship final victory over Halifax at a packed Maine Road ground in Manchester. Peter Metcalfe, his stand-off, scored a try and kicked 3 goals in the 24-14 triumph. He also enjoyed success against visiting international touring teams. Todder scored a try in the 26-8 victory over the Australians on 27th September 1952, when he was on the right wing and was on the scoresheet once again during their next visit to Knowsley Road, on 24th November 1956, when the Saints thrashed the Kangaroos 44-2. He was also at scrum half when the Saints beat the visiting Kiwis 16-8 on 26th October 1955 and was a beaten finalist in the Lancashire Cup after Oldham triumphed 3-10 in 1956.
Todder made a total of 160 appearances for his home-town team, scoring 42 tries and 2 goals. He was selected for England with his Saints’ team-mate [and former Parr High School pupil – another international debutant] Frank Carlton for the game against France at the Stade de Gerland, Lyon on 10th May 1956, where he played scrum-half, with Featherstone’s Don Fox at stand-off. England were overpowered in the second half, eventually losing 9-23, but Todder was proud to represent his country and he has the England Heritage Number #401. The team was captained by legendary front-rower Alan Prescott, his club skipper at St Helens.
Yet 1956 was to be a year of mixed fortunes for Todder Dickinson. He had been a major part in getting his team to the Challenge Cup final after two monumental matches against Barrow in a re-played semi-final. Yet somewhat tragically, a knee injury ruled him out of contention for the big match, picked up seven days before at Thrum Hall, ironically against Saints’ future opponents, Halifax, in the Championship semi-final. Bill Finnan stepped into the stand-off role at Wembley. Although desperately disappointed to miss out on Saints’ first Challenge Cup win, Todder was only too aware that if he broke down during the 80 minutes, there were no substitutes and the prospect of letting his team mates down would have been too much to bear.
His final game as a Saint was in a 16-14 victory at Swinton in the league on 21st September 1957. Todder was centre to Steve Llewellyn, which emphasised his utility value to the team overall. In his pomp, he was a fine footballer, with an astute rugby brain. He was durable, a solid tackler and an elusive customer with ball in hand, especially over the first ten yards.
Todder moved on to Leigh, initially, [Heritage Number 674] before joining his former Saints coach Jim Sullivan at Rochdale Hornets, his last port of call in his professional rugby league career.
He worked in the local glass industry [Pilkington’s ‘Top Works’] and later became a successful coach with the Pilkington Recreation amateur team. He succeeded his former Saints team-mate, Peter Metcalfe, to the position and was instrumental in triggering off a boom era for the famous old club at City Road. A devoted family man and a member of the Saints Players Association, he remained an affable and knowledgeable figure around his home town, especially amongst Saints and Recs fans and was delighted to pick up his Saints’ Player Heritage Certificate with his proud family by his side during an Open Day at the Saints’ stadium in 2019!
Everyone at St Helens R.F.C. send their condolences to Angela, his wife of 62 years, and children Michele, Tracie, Wendy and Paul, together with five grandchildren.