Pym, Dick

Birth Date

2nd February 1893





Biographical Text

Richard 'Dick' Pym first played for Exeter City before the First World War and was a member of the party that toured Argentina and Brazil in 1914. After serving in the war Dick was a fixture during the Grecians’ first-ever season in the Football League before his transfer to Bolton Wanderers where he won three FA Cup winners medals and three caps for England. After the end of his professional career Dick moved back to Topsham, where he was born and grew up, and lived there until his death at the age of ninety-five. Remembered as the first of Exeter’s homegrown footballers to make it to the top of the game, Dick was one of the initial group of players to be inducted into the Exeter City Hall of Fame in 2014.    

Dick was born in Lock’s Court in Topsham, near to the ferry slipway, into a family of Exe Estuary salmon fishermen. Growing up on Fore Street, and following the family line of work, Dick started playing football as a youngster initially as a forward for Topsham St Margarets until the club’s goalkeeper was injured. Never looking back in his new position, Dick attracted the attention of Exeter City who were then in their fourth season as a professional outfit in the Southern League. Signing in December 1911, Dick made his first-team debut against Stoke on 23 March 1912.

Retaining his place for the rest of his debut season Dick soon added his 8 appearances in 1911/12 to an ever-present 38 in each of the subsequent seasons meaning that, by the outbreak of war, Dick had already made 84 consecutive appearances in the Southern League.   

With war only a distant possibility Dick embarked on Exeter City’s 1914 tour to South America although he was to be injured when he broke two ribs in the first game against Argentine North. As more of a river fisherman rather than a seafarer, Dick wasn’t immune from seasickness on the outward voyage and was later reputed to have returned from the trip with a number of souvenirs. The first was a parrot that apparently resided at St James’ Park and was eventually buried in one of the goalmouths. Legend says the deceased bird became a symbol of bad luck and was dug up once City suffered a particularly poor set of results.   

The second, and apparently third, souvenirs were a pair of footballs used on the tour. Still in existence over a hundred years later, the footballs are regularly displayed and presented at special occasions. 

With Southern League football continuing for another season Dick appeared in a further 38 league matches during the 1914/15 season until official league football was eventually suspended. Joining the Devonshire Regiment, and fighting on the Western Front, Dick was able to return to Topsham in 1916 for his marriage at the local methodist church to Elsie Murphy with the couple soon setting up home on nearby Monmouth Hill.    

Resuming ‘normal’ football against Southampton on 30 August 1919, Dick continued his run as an ever-present as he appeared in all 42 of City’s league games during 1919/20. Then, with Exeter City elected to the new third-tier of the Football League ahead of the 1920/21 campaign, Dick appeared in the first 22 fixtures before suffering an injury against Southend United on 1 January to bring to an end a run of 186 consecutive league appearances dating back to his debut in 1912. Returning after missing three games, Dick played through to the end of the season to bring his Exeter City career total to 203 league appearances. Such was the admiration for Dick’s 186-match run a presentation was made after the game against Queens Park Rangers at the end of February 1921 as reported in the local press:  

"A very pleasing ceremony took place at St James's Park at the conclusion of the Exeter City v Queens Park Rangers match this afternoon, Dick Pym, the popular City goalkeeper-captain, being presented by the Directors of the club with a costly 18-carat gold half-hunter watch, and a gold albert and medallion, in recognition of his splendid services. The medallion was inscribed: ‘Exeter City F.C.-To R.Pym, 26th February 1921’ and in the inner case of the watch there was an inscription as follows: ‘Presented by Exeter City F.C. to Mr R. Pym, to commemorate 186 consecutive League matches.’ The gift cost over £50, and came as a very pleasant surprise to the Topsham man. The presentation was made in the dressing room by Mr Michael J. McGahey, the Chairman of Directors, who was accompanied by several members of the Board. Mr MvGahey remarked that there might be another goalkeeper with a similar unbroken record of service, he did not know of one, but he was certain that there was no player of any team who tried to serve his club better. The Directors felt they could not let the occasion pass without making him that gift. Dick Pym, radiant from the bath, with his hair still wet, had paused in the act of adjusting certain garments, which shall be nameless, and obviously taken completely by surprise. He said as much when,in responding, he thanked Mr McGahey and the other Directors for their gift, which he said he should always prize very highly."

Dick was now twenty-eight and regarded as one of the top goalkeepers outside the highest echelons of the professional game. By the final game of the season, at home to Bristol Rovers on 7 May 1921, there was already fevered speculation about Dick’s future with one paper posing the question: 

“Has Pym played his last match for Exeter City? Representatives of three first-class professional clubs were present at St James's Park on the last day of the season watching the City and Bristol Rovers match. At the close officials of the Bolton Wanderers Club approached the Exeter City directors and sought Pym's transfer. The terms proposed were not acceptable to Exeter, and eventually, the Bolton deputation, having ascertained Exeter's conditions, left to place the matter before a meeting of their directors. Mr M.J McGahey, Chairman of the Exeter City club, has confirmed that they will not part with Pym unless he definitely wishes to go. It is known that whilst Pym is filled with regret at the thought of leaving Exeter and Devonshire, which is his home, and where he has made a multitude of friends and admirers, he feels it his duty to look at the matter from the business standpoint. His share in a transfer fee would probably be very much larger than any amount he could expect to receive by way of benefit, and in view that a footballer's career is uncertain, he wishes to make good financially now, whilst in his prime."

Dick duly signed for Bolton Wanderers on 27 June 1921 for a fee that was variously reported to be as high as £5,000 coming at precisely the time Exeter City were completing the purchase of St James’ Park. Settling in quickly at Burnden Park, Dick was part of the team which finished 6th in the top-flight in 1921/22 with another three top-six finishes following over the next five seasons. 

Yet it was in the FA Cup that Dick and Bolton Wanderers made headlines with a run to the final during his second season in Lancashire. With the final to be the first to be held at the Empire Final, Wembley - and not all-ticket - hundreds of thousands descended for what was to become known as the ‘White Horse Final’. Dick for his part kept a clean sheet against West Ham United as Bolton won that first Wembley final on 28 April 1923.

Having made his England debut against Wales on 28 February 1925 aged thirty-two, Dick had completed his three-match England career when he returned to Wembley with Bolton for the 1926 FA Cup final against Manchester City. With the Trotters winning 1-0, Dick completed his hat-trick of FA Cup wins (and clean sheets) when Bolton defeated Portsmouth 2-0 in the 1929 final. On this occasion Bolton’s second goal was scored by Harold Blackmore, once of Exeter City who hailed from Silverton further up the Exe from Topsham.            

After 301 league appearances for Bolton (and 35 in the FA Cup), and now thirty-seven, Dick left the club in 1930 to play a season for Yeovil Town. Settling back into life in Topsham, Dick continued to fish for a living and later ran an outfitter’s shop on Fore Street. Now living on Monmouth Road, in a house purchased from the proceeds of his benefit matches at Bolton, Dick was to have a spell in the late 1930s as assistant-trainer at Exeter City and later served as president of Topsham Town. 

Moving eventually to Retreat Road in Topsham, Dick died aged ninety-five on 16 September 1988. Together with Cliff Bastin, and several other one-time Grecians, Dick had a road named after him - Dick Pym Close - as part of a new development along what was to become Grecian Way. Then in 2014, as Exeter City’s original homegrown top-flight player, Dick was one of the first eight players to be inducted into the Exeter City Hall of Fame.     

To commemorate the centenary of the 1923 FA Cup final an exhibition - Dick Pym: the Fisherman Footballer - was held at Topsham Museum in 2023. A leaflet was also produced showing where Dick lived, worked, went to school and played football as a teenager.  


203 (Southern League 164; Football League 39)



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