What position in a football team excites you? Is it the goalkeeper, the centre-half? The midfielder or winger? I think most people would answer "the centre-forward" – the man who scores you the goals that win in football.
As Evertonians, we once had in our team the greatest centre-forward the country will ever see. If you ask any Evertonian who is the player that makes you proud to be associated with our great club, there is only one name that will make your heart go wooooah! WILLIAM RALPH DEAN – affectionately known amongst the masses as 'DIXIE' – but just Bill to his close friends. Every parent who has brought up their child as an Evertonian feverishly and proudly tells of the great man's legendary exploits, he was that good.
Mr and Mrs Dean had been married for 15 years and lived in Birkenhead. They had four girls at the time, but on 22 January 1907 the boy they hoped for was born. Christened William Ralph – two names almost forgotten in later years – but not the surname, DEAN.
At the age of 11, young William went to Borstal! – voluntarily, since the school had better football facilities – the sport he loved. He got a job helping the local milkman whilst at school; this entailed him getting up at 4 am, seven days a week, lifting heavy milk churns, which helped build his magnificent physique.
William's dad took him to see his favourite team across the Mersey just before the outbreak of World War I. His dad was an Evertonian; the bond and love of our team was sealed forever. As a schoolkid, he was a sensation – so good, he was asked to play in adult teams; he was football mad. So obsessed, he once took his baby sister out for a walk in the pram by Bidston Hill, where he was invited to play in a game of football (the pram was a goalpost); they played till dusk. After the game he went home and but forgot the pram. He ran back to find his baby sister was safe and still asleep.
Young Dean left school at 14 to work as an apprentice boilermaker at his father's employers, Wirral Railway. He was spotted by Pensby and played for them until he was 16. Then Tranmere persuaded him to sign. Dean had one condition – that they supplied a new kit for Pensby, but they later reneged on that deal.
Later on, Dean thought the then-secretary of Tranmere had no interest in him as a person but simply meant to exploit him and make money out of a transfer deal. Dixie was a man of principles and did not have time for people who had none. Dean originally picked up the name "Digsie" because of the sharp dig he would give other players in the game of tag. The name 'Dixie' was given to Dean by the Tranmere fans because of his thick jet-black curly hair – not a racist name but a similarity to coloured people's hair, hence the name 'Dixie'. To be honest, Bill Dean did not like the nickname.
Dean was paid £4 5/- a week – the normal pay for a Third Division professional player. But still a lot of money compared to normal workers' pay at that time. Dixie could play with both feet and had a remarkable heading ability rarely matched to this day. A third of all his goals were scored with his head.
Dixie could head a ball harder than most footballers could kick it. He had a neck on him like Mike Tyson and the strength. He was a good all-rounder in sports; golf and cricket he excelled in particularly. At a later date, he even played baseball during the close season in America. His speed was phenomenal and his reading of the game second to none. He could dribble like a winger, he was a complete footballer.
Dixie played with only one ball – quite literally. During his Tranmere days, a Rochdale centre-half kicked him in the crown jewels and subsequently he was rushed to hospital for a delicate operation. Whilst at Tranmere, young Dean's reputation grew; he was a real star drawing crowds wherever he played. Fifteen thousand people would go to Prenton Park to watch his goal-scoring exploits; in the 1924-25 season with Tranmere he scored 27 goals out of their total of 44. Many big First Division teams came in to try and sign Dixie but there was only ever one club he wanted to play for: Everton FC.
In 1925, Dixie's dream came true. Tom McIntosh, the then Everton Secretary, came to Dean's house to ask him to sign for his boyhood club. But Dixie was not in at the time. When he found out from his mum, who had called, he ran to meet Mr McIntosh at the Woodside Hotel to discuss terms. Dixie did not hesitate – he signed there and then for a King's Ransom at the time – £3,000. The Tranmere Secretary had promised Dean 10% of any signing fee, but he got just £30. The £30 were given to his mum who in turn donated it to the local hospital – that was the type of people they were. But at least Dixie had his heartfelt boyhood wish – he was going to play for Everton.
At the time, Everton had gained a reputation of applying grace and artistry to the game; a capacity to produce play of a very high standard. No matter where they played, and no matter how badly placed in the league table, they always managed to serve up football of the highest scientific order. Everton always worshiped at the shrine of craft and science and never forgot the standard of play they set out to achieve. (How things have changed...)
When the young Dean first came to Everton, despite his massive fee, he was not a first-choice player until he scored 7 goals in one reserve game and could not be overlooked any longer. Dixie made his debut for Everton against Arsenal in March 1925. In his first full season, he scored 32 goals in 38 games. He was the first name on the team sheet after that!
Then we nearly lost our legend. In June 1926, Dixie took his girlfriend out to North Wales on his motorcycle. Whilst driving along St Asaph Road, they were involved in an accident with a motor cycle combination with two men in. All but the girl was seriously injured. Dixie was told he would never play football again...
Just 15 weeks later, he proved the doctors wrong and was back playing football for his beloved Everton. Dean had a broken jaw and a fractured skull. Metal plates were inserted to help mend the skull. But they were removed later, destroying the myth of them still being in his head when he rose to power fierce headers into the back of the net.
Whilst recuperating in hospital, he helped out transporting corpses to and from the mortuary. One day, young Dean was found swinging from branch to branch in an apple tree, collecting fresh ripe fruit for the hospital patients and staff. The passing doctor looked up at Dean and said, "If you can do that, you can go back to training for the Blues."
Dixie donned the Royal Blue jersey again and played for the remainder of the season, scoring 21 times in 27 games. Then came that very special season: 1927-28 – the highlight of Dixie Dean's whole career. In all the history of football, there can no story to match Dixie's feats in that magical season.
It all started rather slowly; in the first three games, Dixie scored one goal in each. The second game was against newly promoted Middlesbrough who had George Camsell – another great centre-forward who had just scored 59 goals in their promotion campaign, and was the league goal-scoring record holder. In the next six games, Dixie scored 14 goals – including five against Manchester United.
After 13 games, Everton had scored 44 goals with Dixie netting 23 of them. It was the depth of The Great Depression, but Dixie's exploits captivated the sporting country. Everywhere Everton went, gates would go up to see this genius of a man – who was just 20 at the time.
During the 1927 Christmas period, Everton travelled over 1,000 miles by train, playing four matches in a week. By 2 January 1928, Dixie had scored 37 goals – just one short of equaling Bertie Freeman's club record of 38 goals for Everton in a single season.
By 7 January 1928, Dixie had broken Freeman's club record with two goals in the 3-1 defeat of 'Boro (with two men sent off – unheard of in those days!). Now it was on to the next record: The Division One goal-scoring record of 43, set by Blackburn's Harper in the 1925- 26 season. Bill Dean went the short distance across Stanley Park to Anfield to equal that record, scoring a hat-trick against Liverpool.
In those days, Dixie used to send the Reds' goalkeeper, Elisha Scott, a package the night before a derby game, containing a bottle of aspirin and a note: "Get a good night's sleep – I'll be there tomorrow," signed, Bill Dean. When Dixie scored at Anfield, he would turn to the Kop and bow gracefully in the posture of a matador.
Dixie now had 43 goals, with 13 games left to play and 17 more goals needed to smash Camsell's record – it wasn't going to be easy. Defences concentrated solely on Dixie, sometimes unfairly; he was the centre of attention all over the country.
At the time, Huddersfield Town were going for the double – they boasted nine Internationals in their team. By mid-March, Everton trailed them by four points (just two points for a win then, remember!) and Dixie hadn't scored for four games! Nine more league games to play, and Dixie could only play in seven of them due to International call-ups... could he still do the impossible? He needed 17 goals in 7 games... No way!
On March 24th, Dixie broke the Division One record, scoring two goals in a 2-2 draw with Derby, giving a total of 45 goals. Easter was kind to Everton – they trailed Huddersfield by one point in the Championship, and nearly 50,000 appeared at Goodison on Good Friday to see Everton beat Blackburn 4-2, with two more Dean goals.
Everton drew with Bury on the Saturday, with Dean scoring the only goal – his total was 48 with just five games to play. But Everton were on top of the league on goal average. The visit to Sheffield United a week later saw Everton win 3-1 with two goals from Dean making it 50 from just 35 games. Surely even the great Dixie Dean could not get ten goals in the last four matches?
The pressure was getting intense but not to Dixie who had ice-cold blood – or sherry in it, his favourite tipple. Everything was taken in his stride, it was only a little over 12 months earlier that he was not expected to live – never mind achieving immortality.
The next game was midweek against Newcastle; Everton won 3-0 and Dean only scored a paltry single goal! How was he going to score nine goals in three games? Impossible, surely... Next, it was Aston Villa at home, with the great centre-forward 'Pongo' Waring – also a product of the Tranmere scouting system. Dixie won the battle of the centre-forwards 2-1, with Everton overcoming Villa 4-2.
But how on earth was Dixie going to score seven goals in two games to become a living legend? Burnley away and Arsenal at home, with the Championship still in contention. Everton went to Turf Moor stuffing Burnley 5-3 – and guess who scored four bloody goals? Yes, it was Dixie again. Amazingly, he was also injured in the game, pulling a thigh muscle and becoming almost a passenger in the second half. There was no substitutes then – only magic sponges.
Harry Cooke, the then Everton trainer, was much loved and respected by his players and he spent the whole week nursing Dixie at his home to help him through his injury. And on the last day of the season, another big crowd of expectant Evertonians turned out to support Dixie's Herculean quest, happy in the knowledge that Everton were already Champions. Huddersfield were beaten mid-week and the trophy was winging it's way to Goodison Park to be presented to Everton captain, Warney Cresswell, after the game.
It was to be the biggest game of Dixie's life and would become a real pinnacle Evertonians would remember fondly for many, many years. Talk all week was of the event to come, and the anticipation was palpable. Three goals against Arsenal would be no pushover; would this be real history in the making? Imagine the electric atmosphere generated by the great man running down the tunnel like some bygone Gladiator to put Arsenal to the sword in the arena called Goodison Park....
The game kicked off but Arsenal never read the script: they scored first. The matador of Anfield saw the red strip of Arsenal now as would a raging bull. Dixie, from the restar,t ran towards the Arsenal goal and struck a blow to the insolent bullish Arsenal, a thunderous 20-yarder was unleashed and the 58th goal of this fantastic season was registered – it was also Everton's 100th goal of this title-winning campaign.
The crowd was now convinced that they would not be denied the right of saying "I was there." Midway through the first half, Dixie was brought down in the box – penalty! The crowd bayed "Give it to Dixie!" – this was the cry everywhere he played – even in Internationals. Dixie placed the ball on the penalty spot, a graveyard hush descended. How many people turned and looked away or covered their eyes, we'll never know, but they were hugged by strangers as a long-lost relatives when Dixie delivered the record-equalling 59th goal.
The miracle was on... but Arsenal still showed the resilience to stop Dixie. An own-goal made the scores level at half-time. In the second half, Arsenal played the off-side trap to try and strangle Dixie's efforts.... The minutes ticked away... "Come on, Dixie!"
All thoughts focussed on the greatest centre-forward ever seen – could he do the impossible? Just five minutes were left on the referee's watch when Everton took a corner... an Alec Troupe special! Time stood still, then moved into freeze-frame as Dixie leapt up like a salmon above the surrounding packed penalty area and headed the ball into the Arsenal net.
The ticking bomb inside Goodison exploded. People in Liverpool city centre knew Dixie had accomplished the impossible – the noise was that great. Oh what joy! An explosion of gratitude of being there and seeing the miracle happen, the game was held up for several minutes as Dixie was exalted on high. Mission accomplished: immortality.
The game finished 3-3 as Arsenal sneaked a late goal whilst everyone was shaking hands with Dixie. The Championship trophy was presented to this very special Everton team. Never forget the fact that this side provided the ammunition for Dixie – without his teammates, the incredible achievement of scoring SIXTY league goals in a season might never have been attained.
Dixie's name was now on everyone's lips; he was a celebrity. An agent from America came over to get Dixie to play over there. A fantastic offer of $150 and $20 a week was baited to the great man. But Dixie said it was not about money "I don't want to leave Everton at any price".
At end of this historic season, Everton did a tour of Switzerland, playing Basle, Berne, Zurich and Geneva – winning all four games to packed stadiums. Dixie scored five more goals bringing his tally to 100 for the season (when added to FA Cup and International games).
At the end of the season, supporters presented him with a silver plate inscribed with all the teams he scored his goals against (29 teams in all) – it was Dixie's most cherished possession. Dixie's scoring record was as follows for that scintillating season, never to be repeated unless (they change the rules):
The following season, Dixie carried on where he left off, scoring goals as if by order. In the fist two games, he scored hat-tricks but was plagued by injury due to the over-zealous attention of defenders. He was truly a marked man, but still went on to score 26 goals in 29 games – maintaining his fantastic Everton career record of averaging almost a goal a game: 168 goals in 169 games to be precise.
Later on, it was revealed that the famous Madame Tussaud's had made a wax model of Dixie. It stood next to the great cricketer, Jack Hobbs who was later knighted... so why wasn't Dixie knighted for his achievements? Well, because football was very much the poor man's preserve in that era...
Herbert Chapman, the great Arsenal manager of the time, came to Goodison to try and prise Dixie away with a blank cheque. Dixie was not interested and thankfully neither was the Everton Board, who would have been hung by the crowd anyway.
But it was not all rosy and, after two more seasons, the unbelievable happened: Everton were relegated! Dixie – like all Evertonians – was devastated. He hadn't played in many matches due to injury and couldn't stop the decline, despite scoring 23 goals in 25 games. But the Everton players licked their wounds and re-grouped to rectify the wrong of Everton being in the Second Division – for the first time ever.
Everton won the first five games and remained top of the Second Division for the entire 1930-31 season. On November 8th, Dixie broke another record: at the age of just 23, he scored his 200th league goal (27 for Tranmere) in only 199 games. Everton beat Wolves 4-0, with two goals by Dixie to set the record.
Everton went on to win the Second Division Championship in the 36th game out of 42, with an ultimate record of winning 28 games and scoring 121 goals – 39 by the great man. At the end of the season, Dixie had also scored his 200th league goal for Everton in just 198 appearances! In the same season, Everton reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, being beaten by WBA 0-1 at Old Trafford in front of 69,241 – with 20,000 locked outside.
Everton came back into the First Division with a bang! By the end of October they had beaten:
Oh to be an Evertonian then! By the end of 1931, Everton had scored a total of 78 goals. After 32 games, the team had passed the 100-mark and had 10 games left to pass Villa's record of 128 goals. Unfortunately, only a further 15 were added to make the total of 116. But there was a little consolation prize: winning the League Championship in the first season back in the top flight – where Everton rightly belong.
Something was missing in Dixie's trophy cabinet: an FA Cup winner's medal. This was to be rectified in a glorious cup run of 1933, leading to a unique trophy triple in consecutive seasons. The 3rd Round tie was Leicester away, a 3-1 success with one goal for Dixie. Then it was Bury at home and the same score. and Leeds beaten 2-0 at home in the 5th Round, with Dean again scoring one.
The 6th Round draw gave us Luton at home – a slippery one at the time as they were in the Third Division and everyone knows about cup upsets; we struggled through 6-0. West Ham next in the semi-final at Wolves. Dixie was the captain of Everton and had scored in every round up to now. West Ham fought hard but lost 2-1 and Everton were in the final with Manchester City the opponents.
Both teams normally played in blue, but the FA had two kits to be worn in the final – one red, the other white. Dixie would never play in red so Everton wore white. For three weeks before the Cup Final, the team refrained from drinking alcohol: Everton meant business. Dixie's incentive win bonus was £30 in vouchers – to be spent in nominated stores!.
The 1933 Cup Final was also the first match to have numbers on the players' shirts. But they were numbered 1 through 22 across both teams – the first Number Nine jersey being worn by Dixie. How fitting it was that the greatest centre-forward Britain has ever seen was the first to wear the Number Nine!
The night before the big game, the Everton team was tucked up in bed before midnight after a supper of tripe and onions.... Everton's fiendish plot was to put the wind up Man City – literally! The Northern hordes descended on Wembley in 40 special trains, meeting at Euston station in a cacophony of sound, banging drums, ukuleles and banjo's – they were determined to have a great day out whatever the outcome.
Now onward to Wembley, joined by the fellow supporters who travelled down in charabangs and cars. Before the match, the Duke and Duchess of York were sat next to the Mayor of Liverpool who proceeded to point out the names of the Everton players to the Royal members. The Duchess, when the Mayor pointed to Dixie, cut the helpful mayor down with the words: "Even I know who Dixie is."
The match kicked off in a tremendous atmosphere. Everton totally outclassed City and won in an entertaining match 3-0. Of course, Dixie scored in an effort reminiscent of Andy Gray's against Watford some years later at the same venue... The Queen Mother presented Dixie, the captain, with the winners cup; he gestured as if drinking from it to the masses of cheering Evertonians – anticipating the pleasure of downing a few that night after three weeks of abstinence.
When they recovered, the team boarded the train back to Merseyside on Monday to be greeted by scenes never before witnessed in football at Lime Street Station. Over 50,000 were at the station alone to greet their heroes. As the motorcade made its way through Liverpool city centre, Dixie held the Cup high like a true victor. This was Dixie's greatest moment – tears ran down his face, he was the proudest Evertonian alive. All his childhood dreams had become a reality.
As the motorcade moved towards Goodison Park, over half a million people lined the streets throwing petals at their hero's feet. There were 50,000 at Goodison alone to meet them at their journey's end. Such an outburst of love and passion had never been seen before. Don't forget, they were in the middle of a recession and Dixie's heroes made the hard experiences life a little easier to bear.
The following season, Dixie was still breaking more records. By September, Dixie had scored his 300th goal in 310 games – and he was still only 26. But tragedy struck and Dixie would need an operation to remove two pieces of bone from his left ankle; he was out of action for months.
In the 1935-36 season, Dixie was involved in a game widely perceived as the greatest game ever played – the 4th Round FA Cup replay against Sunderland. Another huge Goodison crowd was present, 60,000, to witness the event that would leave another lasting memory for life on the Evertonians lucky enough to be there.
Unbelievably, Dixie never scored in this game but pulled all the strings. There were 15 minutes to go and Everton were winning 3-1 but Sunderland fought back to equal the score and extra time ensued. Everton would score three more times and Sunderland one more. The whistle blew; Everton had won a thrilling tie that had everything: 6-4 was the final score. This was a game talked about for generations afterwards, it was that great.
The hard tackling and physical demands were taking their toll on the Everton Legend and on a cold day in December 1937, Dixie Dean played his last match for Everton – his 399th game – fittingly at Goodison, against Birmingham City. A young upstart named Tommy Lawton was being nurtured at the time to take over from Dixie – in fact, they played together for a while. The lad was to be Everton's next centre-forward. And he didn't make too bad a job of it...
Dixie was left to languish in the reserves – much to the dismay of his adoring subjects – and there was uproar when he was sold to Notts County for £3,000, ironically 13 years after he signed for the same fee. The same feeling of unbelief would be repeated years later when the mercurial Alan Ball left Everton. It was revealed later by Dixie that the then club secretary, Theo Kelly, drove Dixie out with an autocratic and disagreeable attitude shown to him and the other senior players.
Dixie was constantly injured in his brief Notts County career and later left to join Sligo Rovers in 1938... but he left his heart at Goodison Park. Dixie played 11 games for them and scored 11 goals to maintain his goal-a-game record.
Dixie returned to Birkenhead with his family just before World War II broke out and took up a job in the local abattoir. In 1940, Dixie joined the Army – the Kings Regiment, where Dixie played in games to entertain the troops and he had his Indian Summer of accolades. After the War, Dixie took over a pub in Chester 'The Dublin Packett' – it became Chester's biggest attraction for 15 years. Many famous people would drop in to see our legend including the likes of jockey Lester Piggot.
Then, Everton benefactor John Moores gave Dixie the call to come back to his real home on Merseyside and gave him a security job at Littlewoods. He did this for several years until he retired at 65 on a pension.
The travesty of leaving Everton without a golden handshake was put right with a testimonial match held at Goodison Park in 1964 – a game between the English players and Scottish players drawn from the Liverpool and Everton teams. Would anyone remember him that much to turn up? Well over 40,000 appeared for a player who last played for this team 26 years ago – what a tribute to the man. Over £10,000 (a tidy sum back then) was raised and put in trust for our special Number Nine.
After his retirement, he was often employed as an after-dinner speaker. In 1974, his wife died suddenly of a heart attack, and he then went to live with his daughter, Barbara. In 1976, Dixie was asked to present the Footballer of the Year trophy in London. Following the presentation, Dixie himself received a silver salver with the words inscribed:
'To Dixie Dean: 60 goals in a season, more than most teams score today.'
'To Dixie Dean: 60 goals in a season, more than most teams score today.'
In November 1976, Dixie had a thrombosis and amputation of his right leg was the only alternative. Dixie would joke he had been in more theatres than Morecambe and Wise. He managed to get about in a wheel chair; then, whilst watching his beloved Everton from the Main Stand, he died.
It's hard to make a fair comparison between the man's great exploits and the game that passes for football today. The ball Dixie headed and kicked was made of leather stitched up with a laces protruding. As it got wet, it got heavier and more difficult to control. The present-day players would have trouble kicking such a ball – let alone heading it – if they did, they would want extra money for the headaches that ensued and to go to the hairdressers more often.
Defenders of the day were more physical and players were given less protection those days by the referee. The condition of pitches was far worse and treatment of injuries was at best rudimentary. Dixie could head a ball harder than most players could kick it. If a midfielder from Portugal can command £40 million now (2007), how much would Dixie be worth?
In recent years, all Everton had as a memorial to their greatest ever player was a function room named after him at Goodison Park. But when lifelong Evertonian, Bill Kenwright, took over control of the Club in 2000, one of the first things he set out to do was to make Dixie's home a better looking venue to visit. The old lady of Goodison Park was starting to look sad and tired. A quick makeover and she's smiling again now – even if it is for a short while until we hopefully move to a new ground.
But something was missing: Bill Kenwright and his Board of Directors have finally delivered it – a statue of the greatest scoring Evertonian ever and a player who helped make this club a household name throughout the land.
Dixie has passed away many years now but it has taken this long for a fitting tribute to be made, Dixie's statue can come too with all our memories. Bill Kenwright also paid a record fee at Christie's recently for a FA Cup winners medal – £17,500 – because it belonged to Dixie Dean.
There will never be another William Ralph Dixie Dean, a one-off in life's hall of fame. His statue outside Goodison Park is just a token of the great man's memory that will always be linked with this great club.
For the record, this is what Dixie the phenomenal goal machine achieved:
Tom Murphy, the sculptor, has honed our hero in bronze in the famous pose where Dixie runs onto the pitch with the ball under his arm before that Arsenal game which made him a true legend.
On Friday 4 May 2001 the statue was unveiled at Goodison Park, the day before the 73rd anniversary of of that great day when this massive Everton legend scored his record 60th goal – something which will surely never be surpassed...
Abridged from an article by Ian MacDonald, May 2004
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