He started with The Gas Board and had a long-running fight with the Newcastle United board, so a small distraction like retirement hasn’t kept Malcolm Dix quiet, says Alastair Gilmour.
A SHOP-WINDOW recruitment advert has one of the North East’s most prominent business figures doing his sums. A £30-a-week offer for delivering newspapers is almost tempting enough for Malcolm Dix to come out of retirement, he says.
Not that you’d notice the former Newcastle United rebel shareholder had actually hung up his boots, as he remains so heavily involved in the region’s sporting, cultural and charity infrastructure that the real surprise is it’s 11 years since pension plan replaced company chairman’s chair.
His near 20-year battle from the mid-1970s to win a seat on the United board to bring democracy into a business being run, it was said, like a 19th Century gentlemen’s club earned him the title of Supporters’ Champion.
Malcolm Dix’s name is synonymous with North East sport – he was chairman of the Newcastle Sports Council for 15 years then secretary of Sport Newcastle from its rebranding in 2000. He received a Wilkinson Sword of Honour as long ago as 1992 for “outstanding contribution to sport” and can take great credit for helping raise the game of some of the region’s finest talent.
He says: “Through the Sports Development Trust we are now running a scholarship scheme where we pay young athletes £1,250 a year out of sponsorship from local companies. We’ve got two of our athletes at the Beijing Olympics – the swimmer Chris Cook and Victoria Pendleton, the sprint cyclist. She always acknowledges what the scheme did for her, she’s a smashing lass. We have a lot of young ones coming through for London 2012. Our annual sports dinner, talk-ins and golf tournaments all help as well.”
His vast sporting knowledge, bulging contacts book and astonishing ability as a fundraiser were not lost on former world boxing champion Glenn McCrory, who invited him to Cuba two years ago to head talks that would bring two boxing coaches, Alberto Perez and Alberto Gonzalez, to work with Newcastle youngsters and the aim of winning medals at the 2012 London Olympics. Locating the Cuban team for 2012 training was also on the agenda.
Dix says: “The official was dealing with it all very slowly until Glenn showed him his Che Guevara tattoo. Then when I presented him with a Newcastle United shirt, he said, ‘Oh, Alan Shearer’. After that we got the paperwork done very quickly.”
Also dubbed Two-Ball Dix for his equal passion for rugby, he was a founder member of the Magpie Group which succeeded Newcastle Supporters’ Association (NSA) and eventually swept John Hall into the St James’s Park boardroom in 1990. The ever-grateful entrepreneur made him honorary vice-president (life) of United.
His file of cuttings from The Journal is peppered with pithy headlines: Dix Joins Boycott, Angry Dix In Protest Storm, Dix Hits Out At Failure To Buy, Seconds Out In Board Fight – references to the long-running hostility he and fellow dissidents had towards the Newcastle board and its perceived stifling of free discussion of club matters, the undermining of morale, influencing the transfer of shares, and not keeping fair and true records.
“I called two extraordinary meetings and a High Court action against certain directors,” says Malcolm, now older and wiser but with none of the mischief-making dampened by three decades, a heart attack and a 1992 quintuple heart bypass. “My grandfather was one of the first shareholders in Newcastle United – he invested when it was Newcastle East End – and when my father died in 1973 the club wouldn’t split the shares between my brother and myself, so by not splitting them I was able to challenge for a seat on the board.”
Resignation demands were aimed at board members and a succession of chairmen such as Stan Seymour, Lord Westwood and Gordon McKeag, plus a succession of directors he described as “negative, mediocre people involved with part of our lives”. But, when a 1979 High Court action against the club had eventually to be withdrawn, the judge ruled that Malcolm and Wallsend teacher Colin Boyle– both representing the NSA – must meet United’s costs.
“It totalled £13,000 which was then a lot of money,” he says. “I took a loan out on the house, which was not well received at number 10. It was a feeling of them and us.”
Malcolm’s ire is aimed these days at players’ agents and excessive wage demands, but he believes the club is in better shape now than ever. “It’s a shame Chris Mort has gone, though, he was very important,” he says. “The management structure has been shaken up and they’ve got some good people in, such as David Williamson, who was chief executive of Newcastle Racecourse.”
To have found the time to be a fly in the Gallowgate ointment and run Walter Dix & Co with his brother is extraordinary. The company specialising in sale of Aga cookers and other appliances was set up by their grandfather in 1888 as a heating firm and remains very much family-run. Malcolm had left school aged 16 to work in the company’s drawing office, but in the 1960s he set up Dix Enterprises, a theatrical agency managing and acting as agent for more than 25 North East pop groups. He managed The Gas Board which had pre-Roxy Music Bryan Ferry and future film director Mike Figgis in its line-up.
After periods as a technical sales representative and sales manager of British Rototherm, which took him to London and South Wales, he rejoined Walter Dix & Company in 1971 to guide its expansion until he retired as joint managing director and chairman on health grounds in December 1997.
As a young man he played rugby for Gosforth and Novos. “I was hooker at Novos and current Newcastle Falcons chief executive Dave Thompson was my prop”, he says (at the mention of the Falcons he shakes his head at the thought of the combined talents of head coach Steve Black, director of rugby John Fletcher and Peter Walton, the forwards’ coach, being allowed to leave the club earlier this year).
Wearing his rugby hat he held executive posts in the transition in 1990 that transformed plain Gosforth into Newcastle Gosforth and a move to Kingston Park. He became the first chairman of its board and was senior vice-president of the club when it was taken over as Newcastle Falcons RFC in 1996 by Sir John Hall, whose dream was to create a Newcastle sporting club embracing the Falcons, Newcastle United, Newcastle Eagles basketball team and Newcastle Wasps ice hockey team.
There comes a point where sport and culture merge and Malcolm is also chairman of Tyne Theatre and Opera House Preservation Trust and joined the Beamish Museum Development Trust as a trustee in 1992. He was its chairman from 1995 to 1999 and is now a director of The Friends of Beamish.
“I love the involvement, it’s very, very rewarding,” he says. “Similarly with the Tyne Theatre. We have had great help from Newcastle City Council on the planning side. We’ve taken ownership now and have a great man in Brian Debnam co-ordinating it all. He was the man who got all the finance together for the Sage Gateshead. He’s spent a lot of time in South Africa working in theatres and in sport getting things ready for the 2010 World Cup.
“We have a £7m plan to revive the place and put it back where it belongs. We’ve got money from the English Heritage Lottery scheme and have a good steering group; people like Erica Whyman who’s done it with Northern Stage – she’s very ‘with it’. We’ve also created posts of vice-presidents, the latest one being Roy Hudd to join the likes of Brendan Healy, Tim Healy, Ant and Dec, Mike Neville, Denise Welch and Ross Noble and we’re hoping to stage a benefit concert next year to raise money.
“The theatre is wonderful, it’s a jewel and we’re helping break down barriers. The Chinese community is putting an IT centre there; it’s very important to have people working in the place and the trust office will be based there, too. Incredibly it’s not on any of the tourist maps, so we’re getting that put right.”
But, as always with Malcolm Dix, the conversation soon finds its way back to sport. “I’d love to see Newcastle United win some silverware before I die,” he says. “I was 12 when I went to the 1955 Cup Final, but I was working in London when we won the Fairs Cup.”
The honours will surely come, but it’s obvious he regards a 44-year marriage to Norwegian-born Mary, with their four daughters, one son and six grandchildren, as a personal lifetime achievement, rating family stability the most worthwhile prize of all.
I’d love to see Newcastle United win some silverware before I die.
Malcolm Dix's CV
Chairman of Newcastle Sports Council 1977-1992.
Created the Sports Development Trust fund in 1978 and remains a trustee.
Awarded the Wilkinson Sword of Honour in 1992 for outstanding contribution to sport.
Secretary of Sport Newcastle from 2000, chairing the special events committee which organises the annual dinner and other fund-raising events.
Secretary of the Sports Development Trust and an executive member of North East Federation of Sport and Recreation and North East Sport.
Chairman, Tyne Theatre and Opera House Preservation Trust.
Consultant to Two Triangle Productions Limited, a film, television and theatre production company led by former world boxing champion Glenn McCrory.
Joined the Beamish Museum Development Trust as a trustee in 1992 and was its chairman from 1995 to 1999. Now a director of The Friends of Beamish.
Committee member, The Variety Club of Great Britain (special events).
President of The St Beghian Society – his brief is to attract youth and sport involvement.
Council member of The Order of St John in Northumbria (St John Ambulance).
Trustee, Newcastle Eagles Community Foundation (fundraising).
Trustee, The McCrory Foundation (administration and fundraising).
What car do you drive?
What’s your favourite restaurant?
:: Scalini’s in Gosforth.
Who or what makes you laugh?
:: Ross Noble.
What’s your favourite book?
:: The latest Wilbur Smith – wonderful writer.
What’s your favourite film?
:: The Blues Brothers.
What was the last album you bought?
:: The ELO Collection.
What’s your ideal job, other than the one you’ve got?
:: Chairman of Newcastle United!
If you had a talking parrot, what’s the first thing you would teach it to say?
:: We’ll win the Cup.
What’s your greatest fear?
:: Looking down from heights – vertigo.
What’s the best piece of business advice you have ever received?
:: Never admit you’re wrong, even if you are.
What’s the worst piece of business advice?
:: Buy Northern Rock shares/pension with Equitable.
What’s your poison?
:: Glenlivet single malt and Hardy’s ‘Stamp’ Australian red wine.
What newspapers do you read, other than The Journal?
:: The Times.
How much was your first pay packet and what was it for?
:: £3.10.0 as office junior.
How do you keep fit?
:: Bike and walking.
What’s your most irritating habit?
:: Interrupting conversations.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
:: King prawn in garlic sauce.
Which historical or fictional character do you identify with/admire?
:: Don Quixote!
Which four famous people would you most like to dine with?
:: Muhammad Ali, Bill Gates, Winston Churchill and Vladimir Putin.
How would you like to be remembered?
:: I never gave up!