I want you to imagine something for me.
I want you to imagine Lincoln are a Championship side, fighting at the bottom of the table. We’re desperately short on players, and the board suddenly drop a club-record amount on a striker. This isn’t just any striker; it’s a player with nine goals in eight matches for his country, a player coming from top-flight side Everton, described by the media as one of the top five strikers in England. He’s chosen the Imps over more lucrative deals at two other big clubs, and he arrives on the train to be greeted by a local media outlet photographer and the club manager.
He goes on to score 38 goals in 60 matches, but after just 18 months, he’s banned by the FA for acting as an agent whilst playing. His career is over, but his story has only just begun. He’s linked to a betting scam before coming to Lincoln, serves time for food hygiene issues after, owns bookmakers, and is a seaside town pioneer, perhaps even a trendsetter for the entire entertainment industry as we know it today. That would be a story worth telling, would it not? Well, here is that story involving Lincoln City and a player mentioned in a recent article of mine, Ephraim “Jock” Dodds.
I’ll be honest – I’d heard of Dodds and knew he was a coup at the time we signed him, but in an idle moment, I decided to find out a bit more about him, and the more I dug, the more I found. He was a character, to say the least, a man who sadly passed in 2007 aged 91, but who deserves a lengthy analysis here to be introduced to a new generation of Imps fans.
Before the Imps came a stellar career, not untainted by controversy. He grew up in County Durham, where the imaginative locals gave him his nickname based on his Scottish roots. In 1931, aged 16, he began as an apprentice at Huddersfield, where he reportedly walked four miles to training, returning home for his lunch, and then heading back to the ground to help the groundsman after he’d eaten. Huddersfield were a huge club at the time, having finished in the top two of the First Division five years in a row, with three titles. In Jock’s final season, 1933/34, they finished second – it was a hard team to get into.
He didn’t break through with the Terriers, and following his release, Sheffield United came in for him, where he was briefly a teammate of Bill Anderson. It took him time to get up to speed, but he was a phenomenon when he broke through with the Blades. They were relegated to the Second Division ahead of his signing, and despite making a debut for them in September, he wasn’t fancied. It’s reported they eyed another striker, Jimmy Dunne, who turned them down. Forced to field Jock in the next game, he bagged a hat trick, and the rest is history. In each of his five seasons with the Blades, he was the leading scorer, totalling 130 goals.
He appeared in the 1936 FA Cup Final, hitting the bar with a header just moments after Ted Drake had scored what turned out to be the winning goal. He believed he should have scored, saying – “I was just about to direct the ball down into the net when a wee fellow called Wilf Copping went up behind me and, in striving to get to the ball, punched me in the back. This had the unfortunate effect of knocking my head backwards so the ball thudded against the crossbar instead of nestling itself in the back of the net. But for that, who knows, things might have turned out different.” In 1938/39, his endeavour fired them back to the First Division, and Blackpool came calling.
His time at Sheffield United was not without incident. Dodds was already into greyhound racing; reports suggest some Sheffield United players were forced to wait for a massage or treatment while one of Jock’s dogs were treated. Controversially, he had a white dog with a black eye that was a poor runner. Knowing the odds would be long, he painted a faster dog with the same markings and backed it heavily. It won, but the striker was rumbled when an inopportune shower of rain washed the paint off, exposing his fraud. He was banned from the tracks.
Dodds was known to be a flashy and flamboyant character around Sheffield. He was dressed by the finest tailor and was often seen driving around the city in an open-topped Cadillac. When the singer Gracie Fields visited, she requested a meet with him; such was his reputation. He was national news, a player on the up, but the war robbed him of his finest years. Just before the onset of war, Blackpool paid £10,500 for his services, the equivalent of £500,000 today. He was passionate about the move, saying, “It was a lovely sunny day and after the sooty streets of Sheffield, I remember thinking it was like coming to paradise.” He was 24 when hostilities broke out, approaching his prime – he hit 13 goals in 15 ‘official’ outings for the Tangerines to keep them in Division One.
During the conflict, he was stationed at a Pontins Holiday Camp, where he represented the RAF football team, vying with his FA Cup nemesis Drake for a starting place. He won wartime titles with Blackpool and also appeared in fixtures for West Ham United and Manchester United during that time. Playing for Blackpool in 1942, he smashed seven goals against Tranmere Rovers, including a hat-trick in just two-and-a-half-minutes, which was a Football League record for over 60 years.
He didn’t win a senior Scotland cap during peacetime, but he was picked eight times during the war, scoring nine goals, including a hat trick at Wembley against England to give Scotland a 5-4 win. It is widely believed that had the war not broken out, Dodds would have been rated as one of the best strikers ever to grace English football at the time. He smashed 230 goals in 157 appearances through the war years, but trouble brewed.
After the war, Blackpool offered him reduced terms to return. The minimum wage was £9 per week; they offered him £7. He refused and left the club to negotiate his own deal. He signed for Shamrock Rovers who gave him £20 per week but broke contract rules. Players could not leave of their own free will, and he was banned by the FA and ordered to return to Blackpool after only a handful of outings. He did, but steadfastly refused to play for them. Sheffield Wednesday wanted him, as did Everton, and in November 1946 he penned a deal at Goodison. He was the leading scorer twice for them in his two years on Merseyside, with 36 goals in 55 appearances. Then, out of nowhere, he signed for the Imps.