In electing to join Everton at the age of 33, Richard ‘Dickie’ Downs fulfilled an ambition that had eluded him through a long and distinguished career with Barnsley. Twice – in 1910 and 1912 – he had appeared in FA Cup Finals for the Yorkshire club, winning it at the second time of asking, but First Division recognition always proved elusive. So committed was he to his goal of seeing Barnsley in the top flight that he repeatedly ignored the covetous attentions of bigger clubs.
The First World War cut out the prime of his career and he may, on returning to league football as a 33-year-old, have feared that the chance of playing at the highest level had passed him by. But following Barnsley’s FA Cup exit in 1920 he requested a transfer and Everton gladly paid £2400 to bring him to Goodison Park.
The Liverpool Post and Mercury reported that he was ‘one of the soundest backs in the League’, adding, ‘he is a sturdy player, with ideals of his own, and in recent games with Barnsley, when his side were doing badly, went from full back to centre forward – once in the cup-tie at Plymouth – and scored goals. Several clubs were after his signature.’ Downs came straight into what was a highly transitional Everton team and immediately impressed. On his home debut, a 0-0 draw with Manchester United, he struck the post and was described as the best player on the pitch. ‘The ex-Barnsley player made a wonderful difference to the Everton defence, which was certainly the best part of the side,’ recorded the Liverpool Courier.
Downs was elected captain for the 1920/21 season and missed just two matches. His fineform saw him selected, at the age of 34, for England in October 1920 for a Home Championship game against Ireland at Roker Park. Everton finished the league campaign in seventh position, but were unable to build on this progress. The 1921/22 season was the worst in the club’s history at that stage and they finished just a place off relegation. Changes were sought and the following campaign Downs lost his place to David Raitt. At the end of the 1923/24 season, in which Downs made just 3 appearances, he was placed on the transfer list. In August 1924 Brighton and Hove Albion bid £96 for his services a week after the player’s 38th birthday, and the board accepted, giving Downs the fee as his accrued share of the benefit.