An interview with Bluebirds shot stopper Joel Dixon!
Interview by Ryan Sutherland
Joel Dixon is proud of his status as the longest serving current Barrow player, but it hasn’t always been easy for the keeper, whose fine form saw him earn an extended deal with the Bluebirds ahead of next season.
Born in Middlesbrough, Dixon joined Sunderland at the age of 14 and was highly rated at the Stadium of Light where he grew up alongside current England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Whilst on Wearside he went out on loan to various clubs, including today’s opponents Hartlepool United, before eventually making his way to Holker Street, signing a permanent deal with us in the summer of 2015.
Dixon joined the club ahead of our first season back in the National League, with the aim of playing competitive games at a senior level.
“I went out on loan quite a few times whilst I was at Sunderland and that helped me massively. I had been playing senior football at a competitive level and the aim was to come to Barrow and carry on what I had done elsewhere.
At the time Aaran Taylor was here and the club had been promoted from the Conference North the season before. I knew it would be a challenge to become the first choice keeper and keep that place, but I worked hard in pre-season and it was a proud moment to start the first game of the season with the number one shirt.”
The shot-stopper featured 46 times for the Bluebirds in the 2015/16 campaign, recording 12 clean sheets as the Bluebirds secured an impressive 11th place finish. It’s fair to say Dixon enjoyed his first full season with the Bluebirds.
“That first season was really important for me and I really enjoyed the experience. There were ups and downs as there always is, and we had a change of manager with Paul Cox taking over in November, but all of the lads performed well over the year and it was considered a good achievement to finish 11th.”
During his time at Sunderland Dixon found himself at a host of world class stadiums, from Wembley to Anfield to Old Trafford, but the keeper insists he enjoyed the likes of Kidderminster and Eastleigh just as much, an attitude which typifies his approach to the game.
“It was always about playing games for me, that’s what we do this for. Of course it was nice to play at Anfield and you always have to aim bigger and better, but I know I’m very fortunate to be able to make a living playing football and you can never take that for granted.”
After the strong league finish in 2015/16, confidence was high for both Dixon and everyone at the club, and the Bluebirds made an impressive start to the 2016/17 season with Joel continuing to be the first name on the team sheet.
However, disaster struck in November 2016 when he picked up a serious injury in the latter stages of a 3-0 home win against Guiseley. The injury ruled him out for the rest of the season and he pulls no punches when describing that time of his career.
“It was a very, very tough time. When it happened we were 4th in the league and flying high, I think we were 19 games unbeaten at the time and things were looking good.
It was just an awkward fall quite late on as we saw the game out, which made it even more frustrating. Those are the darkest of times as a footballer and you just have to stay positive no matter how hard that is.
Everyone at the club was so supportive and the messages I saw from supporters all helped, I think that is part of the reason I feel a connection to Barrow and the fans. They were there for me at a difficult time, and I hope to continue to repay them for that support for the rest of this season and into next.”
Dixon underwent cruciate ligament surgery and spent months undergoing intensive rehab work, but in another cruel blow, his injured knee kept swelling with a build-up of fluid every time he did anything of a physical nature.
A trip to St Georges Park for an injection and meetings with specialists followed, with the keeper told he would be facing another 10 to 12 weeks on the side-lines, ruling him out of the start of the 2017/18 season.
“It was a sickener to be honest. When you work hard on anything you expect results, and when that wasn’t happening it was extremely frustrating. There was a lot of travelling for injections and consultations, time spent in the gym and lots of rehab work.
Ultimately you can never give up, you have to keep going and look forward to returning at some point. You miss the match day atmosphere and the feeling around the dressing room, and you have to find a way to turn the frustration of missing all of that into the determination to come back stronger than ever.”
After lots of further rehab, Dixon was fit enough to be named on the bench for our home win over Boreham Wood at the start of September, just after Mickey Moore had taken over as manager. In a season of many managerial changes it was Moore who gave him his chance back between the sticks as we faced Sutton United at Gander Green Lane, several weeks after he returned to the bench. This led to Joel signing a contract extension, signing up for the rest of the 2017/18 season before our home game with Leyton Orient.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Dixon had suffered his fair share of bad luck with injuries, but further bad news was to follow in December 2018. The keeper picked up another knee injury after our clash with Solihull just after Christmas which ruled him out for some time, his only appearance in a match day squad coming on the final day when he was on the bench against Chester as the Bluebirds stayed in the National League by a point.
The shot-stopper then needed an operation on his injured knee last summer, with the rehab keeping him out for pre-season and the start of this season. After another frustrating few months, Dixon eventually got his chance, and it’s fair to say he has grabbed it with both hands.
Manager Ian Evatt handed him the starting jersey at Ebbsfleet in early November and he has gone from strength to strength, with a superb 12 clean sheets in 25 games since. That includes an impressive run of 5 consecutive clean sheets late last year, and the Bluebirds keeper is back enjoying his football again.
“I’m loving it. The Gaffer has come in this season and everyone is enjoying what we are doing. The training, the matches and just the way things are done generally are all very intense and professional. We all feel we should be in a better position than we are, we’ve dropped points here and there that we shouldn’t have, but I think what we have built this season can act as a foundation going forward.
I’m really excited about next season and I don’t think there is any limit on where we can go. Things seem to be going well off the pitch and there is a buzz around the stadium on match days that’s different to anything I have felt since I first signed here.
Obviously we still have work to do this season, but there is definitely a sense of excitement building for the future, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
The Bluebirds longest serving player, back where he belongs!