For any fans that are too young to remember Ron Dixon, he was a Canadian millionaire who purchased Dundee Football Club back in 1992 and remained owner until the Marrs bought him out in 1997. He was a man who was full of ideas and big plans but rarely ever backed them up. His era started with hopes of making Dundee a force in Scottish football again but it would ultimately end with the club nearly going bust. Some would describe him as a charlatan, some would use much stronger words.
It was Ice Hockey that brought him to Dundee initially. A failed joint venture with former Perth Panthers player Fraser McCall had them looking at the Dundee Tigers but he would try to go it alone and purchase shares. After failing to attract local Government support and a previous deal with William Low for £1.9 million being agreed on the old Dundee Ice Rink, his plans and vision were dead in the water.
His attention soon turned to Dundee FC.
Nonetheless, Dixon was appointed to the board in December and soon found himself as owner of the club in January 1992 when he purchased 71per cent of the club’s stock. He claimed that the club was only a few hours from going bust and upon his arrival at Dens Park, was met by creditors from the Bank of Scotland who were ready to wind Dundee FC up.
“When I walked through the doors for the first time, I was met by three bankers,” explained Dixon.
“They said enough was enough and they were calling in the receiver. However, I talked to them and they agreed to accept a cheque for a five-figure sum and wait until it cleared before doing anything else.”
His mother was born to Scots-immigrant parents in Canada and he cities his Grandmother’s pride in her roots as the reason for buying the club.
“She's the one who got me into Dundee,'' he revealed in an interview with the Herald in 1995.
“She lived to be a ripe old age and by then I was a businessman of some repute and had some money. She asked me if I ever got the chance to do something for the old country. That's what got me started at Dundee.''
The following month after taking the reins, the new owner laid out his vision for the future in an Extraordinary Meeting. One of the main talking points was a new share issues and his plans to redevelop Dens Park – which will "tower over the playing surface like a colossus."
£8 million was to be spend on a new stand to replace the Derry/South Enclosure and in it would see an ice-rink and conference centre along with the greyhound racing making a comeback. The new stand would seat 8,500 spectators and once complete, both area behind the goal would also be redeveloped to bring the capacity to 25,000 with it being lowered later to 20,500 after seating was added. Considering the clubs average attendance was just under 4,000, it was very optimistic.
In his first few years, Dundee splashed the cash as they signed Jim Leighton (£200,000), Dusan Vrto (£200,000), Morten Wieghorst (£225,000 which was Dixon’s own money and a then club record fee) and Piotr Czachowski and Dariusz Adamczuck (for a fee which was reported to be £500,000 each but was later said to be less than half that). The First Division title was won along with a place in the top league and the Main Stand was given a makeover as the foundations for the greyhound track were set up.
Unfortunately, Dundee would suffer two relegations in four seasons and any plans for future stadium development were cancelled. The stand with a built-in ice-rink was no more. The share issue he had hoped to raise serious money from failed to grab the supporters’ attention. A debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland would be paid from Dixon’s personal fund but the debt amount of £570,000 would now be repayable to himself - albeit it was interest-free.
With it now becoming quite apparent that there was not a lot of money to be made in Dundee and indeed Scottish football, Dixon’s attention waned.
Prior to Dundee’s Coca Cola League Cup Semi Final in 1995 against Airdrie, Dixon had not been seen on this side of the Atlantic for over a year and had left the club in the hands of the unpaid board, which consisted of local businessmen. Things had gotten so bad under his leadership that Jim Duffy, who was manager at the time, recalled the chairman telling him that, “the key was in the door” if they did not reach the final. The late Malcolm Reid also backed up those claims by saying, “If we lost, I was coming to Dens in the morning, locking all the doors and putting the keys through the letter box.”
Dundee did of course win the match and make the final which the absent chairman made the trip over to see. But his visit in November 1995, according to The Scotsman, had the chairman demanding the sale of Morten Wieghorst to pay off some of his debt he had acquired elsewhere. The sale of the Danish international wasn’t the only time directors saw little money end up at the club from the sale of players. Neil McCann and Jim Hamilton headed to the exit door, no doubt at the demand of Dixon, with little of the money going back into the playing resources while the sale of Lee Power and Paul Tosh to Hibs had Jim Duffy directly negotiating with Dixon, with the current board in Dundee unaware of the events.
In an farewell letter to Dundee fans in one the matchday programme on the 9th December, Dixon wrote about his decision to sell the club and how not only had he gotten the club on a sound financial footing, he was also not a believer in buying your way to the top. He set up a timescale and that was now up so it was time for him to move on.
The funny thing about this letter is when he first addressed the fans in Edinburgh back in 1992, he said, “We aren’t interested in 8th or 2nd place in the Premier League, we want to be challenging for top spot." He left with Dundee languishing in the old First Division.
Interestingly, he also mentioned in his letter that he felt that Dundee and our rivals Dundee United should have merged and he had spent three years trying to make this happen. How much truth there is to this is another matter.
He would drop the asking price of the club to £1.7 million at the tail end of 1996 with the club owing money to him to the tune of just over a million. Dixon’s time at Dens and indeed in Scotland was drawing to a close. He set foot on Scottish soil for the first and last time since the League Cup Final when he flew back in March 1997. On his arrival, Dixon said ''I will be in Scotland until almost the end of the season. During that time, I expect my term as chairman to come to an end.” For once he stayed true to his word and he had resigned his directorship leaving Malcolm Reid as acting chairman just over a month later.
There had been interest in the club from two local sources. Property tycoon Michael Johnston had tabled a £1.2 million bid to buy the club but withdrew the offer after the sale of Power and Tosh, declaring himself angry at the situation. This left Peter and Jimmy Marr, who Dixon described as having all the personal qualities he felt were important to take over Dundee as he didn’t want to return a year later and discover houses where Dens used to be. This was no doubt a dig at Johnston, who he never regarded as a serious contender.
The Marrs never publicly acknowledged their desire to buy the club until 25th March 1997 with the comment, “Things have certainly gone on between us, but that is all I am prepared to say at the moment”. But they had already made a formal written offer of £1.3 million to buy the club and repay Dixon’s debt a month earlier. They would then have to wait until 17th June before they could end Dixon’s mostly absent reign by buying the club for £1.3 million. The Marr's also noted after they had takeover the club that almost £1 million had been miss-directed on the greyhound facilities.
Ex owner Angus Cook said after the sale, "Mr Dixon was promised a ticker tape welcome and he was given that. All he has delivered is sheriff officers, writs and debts."
Dixon seemed to think his time at Dens was a success when we all knew too well it was an absolute disaster. It could have, and nearly did on a few occasions, kill the club.
Jim Duffy used to pay for washing powder to clean the players’ gear out of his own pocket. If that was the sound financial footing that Dixon claimed to have left the club in then I shudder to think of the state of any of his other businesses. The club lived hand to mouth for many a year.
Ron Dixon died in March 2000 but that still didn't stop his name causing controversy. Some suggest that he faked his own death. His nickname "Vancouver Warlord" implied connections with the Mafia.
Even while he was alive and at Dens, his opponents argued that Ron Dixon wasn’t his real name and he was in fact called Barry Nowakowski. He labelled these accusations as “pure bullshit” and that if “You promise to buy me six Glenfiddichs and a nice steak, I'll show you my birth certificate. It shows Ronald Barry Noble Dixon.”
So for the people that didn't know who Ron Dixon was, you do now….if that was even his real name.