The Long Read: Tony Diaz

February 21, 2021

The rarest and most sought after commodity in football is surely the elusive “20 goals-a-season striker.” The player who can turn play-off contenders into champions; can come in and almost single handedly lift a club out of the relegation zone.  Defences might ensure you don’t lose a game, but goals win games – and there are few, if any, more iconic game-winners to have donned the black and white shirt over the years than Tony Diaz.

Perhaps it was the fact that he was Durnovarian – one of us. Perhaps it was his relentless work rate, or perhaps it was simply his career record of 180 goals in 404 appearances that made him such an Avenue favourite.

Tony's time at Dorchester would span almost eight years but it wasn't at the Avenue where it would all begin. Although born in the county town, it was on the other side of the Ridgeway where Tony's first break in football would come.

"I was at Weymouth from around the age of 12. All of my mates played for Castle Park and the Dorchester sides, I played for Weymouth Wizards. Around the age of 15 or 16 I started playing for their reserves and training with the first team; and I played for England schoolboys under 18's in 1985. The reserves were playing sides like Bristol City and teams like that away and I'd been involved in a few first team games. I remember going on the coach to Scarborough away and places like that."

Tony's Weymouth record was a respectable four goals in eight starts, along with seven substitute appearances, but in the days of only one sub, he often found himself played out-wide, or wherever was needed. Then, at 19-years old, Phil Simkin would try and get him to move back over the ridge and join Keith Miller's Magpies in December 1986.

"It was Phil that got me over. I didn't know the manager at all and had only come across Pete Morrell and Gary Borthwick at Weymouth when I was only 16 or 17.  I played a couple of reserve games initially and came on a bit as a sub to start with, but I scored away at Poole on December 27th and went from there."

Tony had joined a Dorchester side in decent form who were in the mix at the top of the table. After a disastrous 1985-86 season where the club had been plagued by off-field financial issues and were reprieved from relegation, the board had stuck by manager Miller – known as “Dusty” in the changing room

"Dusty was a very laid-back man and had a good side. Gary Borthwick had come in, made a big impact and added to the spine. He was a hard man in midfield who could play. Brain Chambers who was ex-Arsenal was in there and was a very good player, and Mark Baber was the playmaker who it all evolved around. Probably three quarters of my goals were down to Mark.

“We had a very good footballing side and a very strong and experienced defence with Trevor Townsend and Peter Loveridge at centre backs; attacking full backs in Peter Morrell and Tony White; Gary and Mark in the centre alongside Steve Crabb and Brian Chambers out wide; and myself and Craig Morrison or Robbie Russell before he was injured up top. We were a very exciting team to watch and play for.

“There were no superstars and no real leaders in the group. We all enjoyed playing together and enjoyed one another's company. Everyone was equal right from the manager to the kitman, and people were treated how their performances warranted."

Tony's contribution to the side had a huge impact. His 16 goals in 17 appearances that season fired the team to the league title, secured in the most dramatic of fashions, with a ‘winner takes all’ final game of the season away at Ashford.

“It was a fantastic five months after moving from Weymouth at Christmas, playing for my home town club and being able to celebrate a league title at the age of 19. On a personal level, being able to contribute to the cause by scoring some goals was very special for me and made me feel that I played my part in the club securing the title. It was a really special moment for me."

That league title would see the club promoted into the Beazer Homes League - what is now, in ‘new money’ the National League South. The side quickly found themselves at home in the pyramid’s second tier, establishing themselves firmly in mid-table. That wasn’t to be the only new place they’d have to make themselves at home in, as the club made the move from the old Avenue Ground to the Avenue Stadium in 1990. It was a big change.

"The old place was a typical non-league ground. You had the Magpies social club at the top end and the rugby club at the very bottom. It was very traditional ground and a very homely club, although facility wise, it had seen better times. But it was ours.

“The slope was always a factor and psychologically we'd always kick uphill first half and with the slope second. If you stand by the car dealership near The Rec and look down towards the Tesco roundabout, that's what the slope was like. As a pitch, it always drained well and never really cut up. So, second half you'd be kicking downhill towards the covered end with our fans behind the goal. What an atmosphere!

“Attacking that goal at the bottom was exciting.  In the last ten minutes, going downhill, close game, fans roaring you on, representing your hometown club, everyone there for the same reason… I loved it!

“The club was part of the community with all the skittles sides, darts leagues, bars and events there, but it was exciting moving grounds."

Opened in time for the start of the 1990-91 season, the new Avenue Stadium would enable to club to progress both on and off the field and the new home was impressive, even if it did have drawbacks.

"It was one of the newest grounds in the area with palace-like surrounds. It was very grand. It had bigger changing rooms, the pitch was like a carpet, and it made it easier to attract new players to the club. But it did mean that opposition teams always raised their game as it was such a nice place to play. They used to look forward to coming here. But I look back very fondly on it all."

The first season in the new ground would see another mid-table finish, but the first ever local derby in the new ground would be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

"We lost 1-3 at home to Weymouth on Boxing Day. They only won four games all season and finished bottom with 24 points - four of those came against us as we only drew there at Easter. Keith Miller who had been at the club for about 10 years got the sack after the Boxing Day loss."

Miller had overseen the Magpies recovery from relegation fodder to champions and seen the club stabilise in their new, higher league. Even though his time in charge of the club had ended on a sour note, Tony only had good words to say about his former manager and the influence he had on the early stages of his career.

"I didn't know Dusty at all when I signed but as it turned out I was very fortunate to have the right manager at the right time. There was no pressure on me, he just told me to do what you do, and as a young lad that's what you need."

After a short spell by Paul Rodgers as manager, it would be another Paul in Paul Arnold, who would take over the managerial reigns in 1991. Tony would have his highest scoring season of his career in that first season, netting 43 goals in 54 games in all competitions. (He has scored 54 goals in his career up until that point)

"Paul Arnold was ideal for developing me. He enabled me to combine my experience with enjoyment and I scored a lot of goals that season. The club had allowed Paul to bring in Gary Manson from Poole and that relieved the pressure on me. Miguel de Souza had come in from Yeovil, but that didn't really work out and Gary and I ended up getting almost 60 goals between us that season. There is no greater feeling than scoring a goal and I got that feeling a lot that season. They were some really good times."

Gary Manson was an excellent partner for Tony up front, but there was another Gary who was vitally important to the side in Gary Borthwick. Tony rates him as one of the most vital players to the club during his time as a Magpie.

"Gary Borthwick was the name you wanted on the team sheet. Without him you'd get overrun in the midfield and you'd really notice him when he wasn't there. Gary was key to breaking up opposition attacks and helping start ours. He had made a really big impact on the side. He stretched the letter of the law sometimes, and if we didn't feel we were getting a fair deal from the referee, he'd sometimes bend over and tie his laces up just as the ref was running backwards and trip him up! He'd of course apologise; "oh sorry ref, didn't see you there, I was just tying my laces!" He was a very good player."

One other player who made quite the impression was midfielder Alan Maclaren, who joined the club on loan from Burton Albion for a brief spell.

"He'd scored against us in a win at their place and he was the sort of player you come across and think “bloody hell”. He was a number ten, the sort of player who'd I'd have loved to have played with for longer. We beat Crawley 4-1 that season away from home and he scored one and I'd got two as well as a cut to my head. The Echo described his as a Mario Kempes lookalike and he played in a very pleasing manner to watch. I don't think football was his be all and end all though. He was very laid back and enjoyed playing the game. He was here one minute and gone the next but anyone who saw him play will remember him."

Tony's time at the club would come to an end in the 1993-94 season, but one of his favourite games would come in a hard fought 1-0 win away at table topping Cheltenham Town in his penultimate season.

"They were near the top, we were down near the bottom and we weren’t expected to get anything there that New Year’s Day. It was a cold and wet and a tough game on a difficult pitch. It was 0-0 going into injury time and we managed to go on the attack one final time. Tony White got the ball out wide and crossed the ball into the near post and I got on the end of it with a diving header. As it went in, I slid on my front from the dive for ages as it was so wet. Scoring a winner so late in that sort of game was a great feeling. No one thought we’d get a result going into the game so for the team to play as we did and get the win in that manner makes that one stick out. “

And good memories aren't in short supply from his time at the club:

"The league winning season and the goal scoring season were brilliant. Joining the club as an unknown and helping the side to win the league is special. And being top scorer across all three leagues in that (1991-92) season gave a sense of real pride both individually and as a team. I've got nothing but great memories of good times with some great friends."

And aside from his brother, Jorge and Dave, Tony wasn't the last Diaz to wear a Dorchester shirt as Tony's son, Antonio, would join the club initially on loan in the 2017-18 season.

"I was very proud. It was a strange feeling seeing him making his debut and playing at the new ground. It was nice going back and seeing people who make the club run, like Keith Kellaway, Dave Martin, Kate and Derek Taylor. It brought back a lot of good memories."

A sense of pride is something Tony also feels about is being recognised by the fans and having a seat in his honour in the main stand.

"I'm very proud, honoured and humbled by it. The fact people enjoyed watching something that I enjoyed doing is something very special."

Speaking with Tony, you sense that this is a man who deeply loves the club still and loved his time as a player. You can still hear the frustration in his voice as he recalls dropped points, but the pride as he describes his favourite wins. A local lad with one of the best goalscoring records since Dinky Curtis, who’s goals fired us to, and then established us in, the second tier. There’s no secret to what makes him one of the Avenue’s favourite sons.

Words: Stuart Voss

Image: Idris Martin

Tony has kindly been sponsored by Scott Symes. You can sponsor a legend as part of our Sponsor a Seat campaign by clicking here.

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