By Vince Cooper
SOMETIMES one feat can take a little away from the overall performance of a player. The 60 league goals Dixie Dean scored in the 1927-28 season is an example of this. But in Dean’s career it is one of many such feats for he was, undoubtedly, one of the supreme goalgetters of his and any other time, and as effective for his country as he was for his club.
William Ralph Dean was the fifth child, and first son, born to his parents William and Sarah and arrived fifteen years after they were married on 22 January 1907. Another daughter would come along later giving young Bill a total of five sisters.
William Sr, a native of Chester, was an engine driver with the Great Western Railway (where he sometimes drove Queen Victoria’s train). He initially moved to Birkenhead to be closer to his then-girlfriend and future wife Sarah who was in domestic service ant the time and it was here that young William was born.
After attending Laird Street School (on the same street he was born) he left home and voluntarily entered the Albert Memorial Industrial Borstal, an ‘institute for delinquents’ primarily because, run by a Scot, it had excellent football facilities. He had to lie to his schoolmates that he was in for stealing as they wouldn’t have believed anyone would attend of their own free will.
At 11 years old he started playing centre-forward for the school team, some of whom were five years older than him. By this time he already had his first job, as a Milkman’s assistant working from 4 a.m. until 8 a.m. and going around the local farms carrying churns of milk which no doubt helped his physical development during a time when nutritious food wouldn’t have been easy to come by.
Dean’s father was an Everton fan and he took his 8-year-old son to his first match in the 1914-15 season, the last one before football was cancelled due to the First World War and one in which the Toffees won the title. It was after that visit that young Bill vowed to one day become a professional footballer, and to play for Everton.
Schoolboy Dixie front and centre
Called up for a trial for Birkenhead Schools he scored six times (playing at outside-right). Immediately after the match he cycled off to play for his school, and promptly scored another six. Next – still on the same day – he went to play for the Moreton Bible Class team and, yes, scored six more. Eighteen goals in three matches in one day gave an early indication of Young Bill’s ability to find the net.
An early match for Birkenhead Schools came against Liverpool Schools and this time Bill scored just the once – and it was an own-goal in a 5-0 defeat. This proved a rare lapse and on many occasions he scored multiple times for the district side quickly earning a growing reputation, and all this whilst not yet a teenager.
Dean’s other main sporting interest as a youngster was golf and he got plenty of opportunity to improve on that game when finding work as a caddie at a local club. Such was his prowess that at the age of just 15 his handicap was down to two and he would eventually get it down to scratch. There’s little doubt that he could have made it to the top in that sport too but football remained his passion.
Dean left school at 14 in 1921 and was immediately found work at Wirral Railway by his dad who was now working there. Whilst working shifts limited his chance of football practice he quickly found his way into the works team.
After playing in the Cheshire Senior Cup Final where his team were beaten 1-0 by Tranmere Rovers it was another local team, Penby, who offered him 2s 6d a week to play for them in the Wirral Combination. His helped his new team win the championship in his first year and he was given the opportunity of signing for New Brighton who were relative newcomers to league football. Bill turned the opportunity down, saying that he only wanted to play for Everton!
So Dean spent two more seasons with Penby then, perhaps realising that there needed to be another step on the ladder before moving to Goodison Park, he signed for Tranmere Rovers. He signed professional with the Prenton Park club shortly after his sixteenth birthday, giving up his railway job and doubling his wages to £4 10s a week.
Bert Cooke. Dixie’s manager at Tranmere
In his second season with the club – 1924-25 – he travelled to the North East with his team to play Ashington. He was taken to St James’ Park on the morning of the match where unknown to him, the Tranmere secretary-manager Bert Cooke had arranged for representatives of Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Arsenal and Birmingham City to be present, each wanting to talk to Bill about joining them.
The 17-year-old, who had recently scored his first-ever league goal, against Southport, rejected them all, preferring to wait for the call from Goodison although it is intriguing to wonder what might have happened had he gone to the North East and linked up with Hughie Gallacher.
One incident during his time at Prenton Park stood out for Dean.
“We had lost 2-1 at Halifax,” he later remembered, “One of our lads had a penalty awarded against him and was still mad about it when we caught the train home.
”Unfortunately the referee got into our carriage and the player started arguing with him. Eventually he got so mad, he turned round to an old woman sitting in the corner with a basket of fish, took a kipper and swiped the ref.
”Needless to say he was reported.”
Everton continued to monitor him with their scout John Fare a regular at his matches. Dean’s first league hat-trick, in a 4-3 win over Hartlepools United, was monitored by the Goodison man who was suitably impressed.
Towards the end of the season the call he had been waiting for finally came. He had scored 27 times in 27 games for Rovers (the team only scored 44 in total) and finally Everton, whose secretary Tom McIntosh had first asked for a price prior to the Hartlepools match, upped his interest.
Dean had scored another hat-trick against Rochdale on 7 March 1925 and followed this up – watched by McIntosh with Tranmere’s goal in a 2-1 loss at Darlington a week later before having to leave the pitch with an injury.
The Toffees were enduring a difficult season. As the deadline approached, and with the club sitting in 20th place in the table they made seven players available for transfer, signed Fred Kennedy from Manchester United and increased their bid for the young centre-forward.
Everton’s initial bid was around £1,500. But with Nottingham Forest having already offered £1,800, Chelsea we’re said to have offered more, and with Sheffield United, Herbert Chapman’s Huddersfield Town and many others also reportedly interested, it was clear that they would need to up their offer.
The last day that signings could be made was 16 March and it was on this day that Bill became an Everton player An offer very close to the £3,000 convinced Rovers to part with their young star. The only problem now was that Bill was at the cinema. When he returned home his mum told him McIntosh was waiting for him at a hotel. The hotel was a little over two miles away so he ran there and on arrival agreed almost immediately to join the club he had supported since that visit to Goodison as an 8-year-old.
‘Bee’ writing in the Liverpool Echo a day after the signing was completed said of Everton’s new signing: “He is a natural footballer, with a stout heart, a willing pair of feet and a constitution that will stand him in good stead”.
A few days later there would be no dream debut for the 18-year-old. Having been left out of the team that faced Notts County 48 hours after his move Bill was in the line-up when Everton travelled to Arsenal where it was the other new signing, Kennedy, who got the Toffees’ goal in a 3-1 defeat.
Young Dixie with teammate Sam Chedzgoy
On 28 March it was time for Dean’s home debut and it took him just 27 minutes to get off the mark, finishing off a move that featured good work by Kennedy for the first in a 2-0 win.
Dean scored once more before the season ended, the consolation in a 4-1 defeat to West Ham as Everton limped to a 17th-place finish.
Where the new season started it was Jimmy Broad who was chosen by the directors (responsible for team selection at the time) to play at centre forward with Dean consigned to the reserves.
Broad was dropped after the four matches had produced three draws and a defeat and was sold shortly after to New Brighton. Dean, after scoring seven times in a Central League match against Bradford, was called up.
Dean’s first start of the season saw Everton hammer West Bromwich Albion 4-0 although he failed to find the net. A goal in the 4-4 draw at Manchester City was followed by another when the Toffees were thrashed 7-3 by Sunderland in early October, a result that left the club in 19th place and their centre forward with a moderate haul of two goals in seven starts. That was all about to change.
Ten minutes into the second half of the match against Burnley on 17 October, the Toffees fell behind and seemed to be staring at yet another defeat. Then winger Alec Troup set up Dean twice and the young centre-forward pounced on a defensive mix-up to complete a quickfire hat-trick and the Turf Moor turnaround.
At home to Leeds a week later Dean completed a second three-timer in successive matches. The Athletic News reported that; ‘Dean showed himself as both a successful leader and an opportunist’, and just like that, the promising youngster was a star.
After missing those first four matches and then scoring twice in his first seven starts he found the net 30 times in the next 31 matches and his all-round game finishing with 32 of his team’s 72 goals.
The youngster’s ability to score with either foot and prowess in the air made him probably the most promising young centre-forward in the country.
In fact it was that aerial ability that, in his own opinion, made him stand out: “While other lads did all the work with their feet, I found my head was my greatest asset,” he would later say.
”Whenever the ball was in the air I was the master of my opponents. In fact I could head the ball with more precision than the average player could kick it. And I could ‘nod ‘em in’ from 20 yards with bullet-like force.”
By the time he moved to Goodison he had already had to become used to being called ‘Dixie’ a nickname given to him because his dark skin, said some, made him resemble someone from America’s Deep South. He said of the nickname; “How I hated it it in those early days’ claiming it cast doubt about his own parentage and that he would always ask that people call him Bill. But the name stuck, so much so that now, if a footballing youngster is called Dean he is automatically given the nickname ‘Dixie’.
And the man himself came to accept ‘Dixie’, even using it to sign autographs.
In June 1926 Dean called for his girlfriend of the time to take her for a spin on his motorbike. Driving out towards North Wales they were involved in a head-on collision with a motorbike and sidecar. Bill was unconscious for 36 hours and suffered a broken jaw, concussion and a fractured skull. The Everton club doctor visited him and returned to Goodison with the grim prognosis that he felt that the 19-year-old would never play football again.
He recovered and right after leaving hospital he got back on a motorbike; ‘to test my nerve’ as he later said. Fifteen weeks after the accident he was back, playing for the club’s reserves against Huddersfield. Two weeks after that he made a scoring return to the first team against Leeds with the Toffees bottom of the table.
Dixie finished the 1926-27 season with 21 goals in 27 games, almost single-handedly helping the club stave off relegation as they finished in 20th, four points above Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion.
On England duty
Before the season had ended Dixie received his first England call-up. And he recalls finding out: “A friend rang me and said ‘You’re in!’
”I couldn’t understand his excitement. ‘The England team – you’ve been picked’ he explained”.
So, in February 1927, aged just 20, he made his debut against Wales at Wrexham, with Everton teammate Tom Griffiths his direct opponent. He scored twice and made the third in a 3-3 draw. Two months later he scored both goals as England came from behind to beat Scotland 2-1 in front of 111,214 fans, winning at Hampden Park for the first time since 1904. The match provided a financial bonus for the centre-forward. To set alongside the princely sum of £6 received from the F.A. a wealthy England fan offered £10 per man if they won with an added £10 per goal to each player who scored bringing the centre-forward’s earnings up to £36.
In May 1927 England went on a European tour, playing matches against Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Two hat-tricks and a brace gave him eight goals from the three fixtures and brought his England tally to 12 in five games.
The three matches during the 1927-28 campaign proved disappointing with the national team getting no points, and Dean getting no goals in the Home International Championship and the Wembley Wizards running out 5-1 winners against the ‘Auld Enemy’. But at club level is was a totally different story.
21st birthday celebrations. Dixie, known as a competent tap-dancer, no doubt showed off his skills
The 1927-28 season proved the most memorable in Dean’s career. He found the net an astonishing 60 times in the league (with three more in the cup and 82 in all competitions) as his team scored 102 goals times in the league and won the third title in their history.
A title winner
Dean started the season by scoring 17 times in the first nine games (he also got four in the Football League’s 9-1 thrashing of the Irish League). His next two starts were fruitless,, failing to find the net in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool and firing more blanks for his country as they lost 2-0 to Ireland (Everton were busy beating West Ham 7-0 on the same day).
Dixie returned to form in his next game with a hat trick and then did the same in the following outing. Two more followed in the next match and the league season record, set by George Camsell of Middlesbrough in the second flight the previous season, looked in danger.
Perhaps even more importantly the goals had fired the Toffees to the top of the table. On 9 April at Goodison Everton fell behind early on against Bury and when Dean uncharacteristically missed a penalty it looked grim. But he capitalised on a half chance nine minutes from time to earn his team a crucial point. With the defeat of leaders Huddersfield Town against Liverpool, Dean’s team went to the top of the table on goal average.with five matches remaining.
Wins over Sheffield United, Newcastle United and Aston Villa followed although Huddersfield were maintaining their challenge.
Huddersfield chase Everton
With just two games remaining Everton travelled to face a Burnley who had just beaten Huddersfield. They held a three-point lead over their Yorkshire rivals but had played two games more. Dixie had found the net 53 times leaving him needing to score seven times in the last two matches to grab the record. A tall order.
One of the four against Burnley
Dixie banged in four in a memorable 5-3 win that kept alive both the title hopes and those of either equalling or even beating George Camsell’s 59-goal mark set the previous season.
In fact, a midweek defeat for Huddersfield confirmed Everton’ championship success even before Dean and his teammates walked onto the pitch for the final match against Arsenal but Dixie had another worry. A thigh injury picked up in the Burnley match made it far from certain that he would even start the final match. Toffees trainer Harry Cooke actually moved in with the star man for the week before the fixture to ensure he could receive all of the treatment needed and he recovered in time to play.
Within ten minutes of the start, and after Arsenal had taken an early lead, Dean had headed number 58 and rifled home 59 from the penalty spot.
Arsenal equalised again but the result of the match was less important than Dixie’s quest for 60. The huge crowd had to wait until five minutes from time when an Alec Troup corner was met with a towering header.
The reaction to the goal rocked Goodison. ‘Stork’ writing in the Liverpool Echo said: “The scene was amazing.
“The crowd leapt to its feet, and the cheer must have been heard in Dean’s home town, Birkenhead.”
Arsenal levelled again before the final whistle but it didn’t matter. Everton had the title and Dixie had his record.
Toffees chairman Will Cuff enthused about his star striker after the match. “There has not been anyone in the last twenty years to equal Dean in the centre forward position”, he said, adding; “To my mind he has all the attributes – youth, energy, strength, ability, and what I consider the greatest of all assets – absence of side and the possession of a good temper.
”I have seen all the great forwards, from G. O. Smith downwards, including John Southworth, Geary, Freeman, Appleyard and Albert Shepherd, and I think Dean possesses the attributes they collectively possessed”.
Having set the new mark what else could the centre-forward, still only 21, achieve?
On England’s 1928 summer tour Dean scored four goals in two matches whilst in the following season’s home internationals he managed just one goal in the 2-1 win over Ireland at Goodison while Everton slumped to a poor 18th in the table and the star centre-forward, beset by injuries, scored ‘only’ 26 times in 29 games
The next campaign was even worse as, despite another 23 from an again injury-plagued Dean in just 25 starts, Everton were relegated after finishing bottom. They bounced straight back and, in fact won two titles in a row, taking the 2nd Division crown in 1930-31 and following this by winning the 1st Division in 1931-32, finishing two points clear of Arsenal. In the two campaigns the hit-man, now clearly back to full fitness registered a total of 84 goals in 75 league matches.
The 1930-31 season also saw Dixie bang in nine goals in five F. A. Cup matches as Everton made a strong run to the last four before losing to West Bromwich Albion.
In 1932 Dean, still only 25 made his 16th and and what would surprisingly be his last appearance for England in the 1-0 win over Ireland at Bloomfield Road. It does seem odd that he was never called up by his country again and that he won only 16 caps, scoring 18 goals.
England v Spain at Highbury. Dean challenges Zamora
Perhaps the most memorable of the international goals was the final one. It came at Highbury against Spain and their much-vaunted goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora, reputedly the best-paid footballer in the world at the time. England ran out 7-1 winners with Dean scoring one and having a hand in three others.
So, with two title wins, a Second Division championship and 16 England caps there was only one gap on the Dean resume. And he filled that in the 1932-33 F. A. Cup.
The League campaign was a disappointing one with a mid-table finish and Dean, who had taken over the captaincy from Ben Williams in 1931, only finding the net 24 times. But elsewhere things were different.
The Charity Shield brought a 5-3 win over Newcastle United with Dean grabbing four. Then Leicester City Bury and Leeds United were seen off in rounds 3, 4 and 5 of the F. A. Cup with Dean scoring in each.
A crowd of 55,431 were at Goodison for the quarter-final clash with 3rd Division (South) Luton Town and they saw Everton at their best.
Luton held their own for 15 minutes but goals in quick succession from Jimmy Stein and Tommy Johnson settled the hosts’ nerves and after the break the floodgates opened. Goals for Jimmy Dunn, Johnson, Dean of course and a second for Stein wrapped up a 6-0 win
The semi-final draw sent Everton to Molineux where they faced West Ham United
Dixie clashes with West Ham ‘keeper George Watson
An early lead came for the Toffees from Jimmy Dunn who headed a Tommy Johnson cross. Dixie went close on a number of occasions but was denied by Hammers ‘keeper George Watson.
Just before half time West Ham equalised through another Watson, this time Vic, who headed home to send the teams into the break all square.
The 2nd Division Hammers defended stoutly in the second period but eight minutes from time a Ted Critchley strike was deflected past Watson for the winner to send Dixie and his team to Wembley.
A Everton fan ‘Up For The Cup’
With Manchester City overcoming Derby County in the other semi-final it was set to be an all-Lancashire affair. It was also the first time numbers were worn at Wembley with Everton 1-11 and City 12-22. Thus Dixie had good claims to be the original number 9.
Manchester City skipper Sam Cowan and Dixie lead the teams out at Wembley
The match was played in the presence of the Duke of York after the poor weather prevented King George V from attending, and also of the West Indies cricket team who were touring at the time.
After pre-match preliminaries, performed by bands of the Irish Guards and the Royal Horse Guards were over, the match began. After an even start it was Everton who took control with Dean giving opposing skipper Cowan a tough time and proving a constant threat to the City defence.
Right-half Matt Busby worked hard to supplement the City defence but in the 40th minute the breakthrough came. Langford went to catch a cross from Cliff Britton but collided with Sid Cann and dropped the ball at the feet of Jimmy Stein who gleefully swept it home.
Seven minutes into the second period Langford went to collect another Britton cross but collided with Dean, well, the Toffees striker ensured they collided. Goalkeeper, forward and ball all ended up in the net and the lead was doubled.
Tit-bits from the final
Everton, with Warney Cresswell outstanding, were dealing comfortably with all City’s attacks and Dunn wrapped up an easy win with a header from a corner. In fact the Toffees could have had a fourth; Johnson was about to shoot and looked set to score but referee Eddie Wood blew for full time and the Toffees had to settle for 3-0.
Princess Elizabeth hands Dixie the trophy
So it was Dixie who went up to collect the cup from the Duchess of York and the team returned to Lancashire with the trophy on the Monday evening, parading through the city in the same horse drawn carriage that had been used when the team last won the competition 27 years before.
Outside Goodison with the cup
Of course, the club’s biggest rivals throughout Dean’s time at the club were Liverpool with Reds goalkeeper Elisha Scott becoming a great rival – and also a great friend.
Dixie challenges Elisha
Before Merseyside derbies Dean would later recall: “I used to post a little tube of aspirins to him on Thursday so he would receive them on Friday.
“I used to put in a note that read ‘Get yourself a good night’s sleep – I shall be there again on Saturday!”
Everton players admire the Dixie waxwork at Madame Tussaud’s
By this time Dean was married to Ethel and she had given birth to the first of their four children, William Jr who would later be joined by Geoffrey, Ralph and Barbara.
After the cup win Dean continued his prolific success as a marksman but injuries, including an ankle problem that resulted in an operation to remove bone chips, started to slow him and he was finding it tougher to stay fit.
Within a year of the cup win the player was shocked to learn that the club were already looking for his replacement. Chairman Bill Cuff admitted after the injury: “Although he has recovered physically, we are convinced that this has left a mental effect on him”.
Hibernian offered big money to take him to Scotland but Everton refused and the skipper gradually worked his way back into form.
Dean was now in sight of Steve Bloomer’s record of 352 league goals and he received the ultimate accolade from the great man himself.
”Dixie is the best centre-forward ever, and I saw all the old-timers”, said Bloomer. “He has something the others never possessed, especially in the way he evades centre-halves.
”There have been plenty of other good headers, but few possessed his ability in the air, for every time he heads the ball the goalkeeper has to stretch for it”.
Dean eventually equalled Bloomer’s mark in August 1936 and went past it against Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park on 3 September 1936 with boyhood friend and former Tranmere teammate Ellis Rimmer, now of Wednesday, the first to congratulate him. He went on to finish the season as Everton’s top scorer for the last time.
Tommy Lawton: Dean’s replacement
In 1937 the club bought Tommy Lawton from Burnley. The veteran said to his new 18-year-old clubmate; ‘I know they’ve brought you in to replace me. I’ll do whatever I can to help you’. Lawton eventually took his place, not just at Goodison but also for the national team and as the country’s most-feared number nine.
Soon enough the club decided Dean’s services were no longer required. After the player himself went to the board and reported that Blackpool wanted to sign him, he left Goodison for Notts County shortly before the March 1938 transfer deadline for the same amount – £3000 – Everton had paid Tranmere Rovers for him 13 years before, having scored almost 400 goals (Including five three times and 37 hat-tricks) for the club he loved.
The parting would appear to have been less than happy with Dean blaming club secretary, and later manager, Theo Kelly for the difficulties. “This chap Kelly had no time for the older lads, especially me,” Dixie would later recall, “I just couldn’t get on with him.”
Dean’s last appearance in an Everton shirt was a goalscoring one – of course – in a Liverpool Senior Cup semi-final against non-league side South Liverpool on 9 March 1938. 48 hours later he was gone.
Dean of Notts County
The move to County only came about after an audacious bid from Liverpool was turned down. The Reds were facing a relegation battle as the 1937-38 season drew to a close, and enquired after Dixie’s services. The Everton directors, no doubt mindful of the repercussions such a move might have among fans, quickly and summarily rejected the enquiry stating; ‘the board refuse to part with him to a club in this city.’
There was also an enquiry from Blackburn Rovers but Dean headed to Nottingham and, after making his debut in a 2-1 defeat at Queen’s Park Rangers, spent a little over a season at Meadow Lane, a time in which he was bedevilled by injuries managing just a handful of starts.
The next move was to Ireland where he joined Sligo Rovers in January 1939 for a brief and successful spell, helping them reach the Irish Cup final and finish runners-up in the league.
Scoring for Sligo against Shelbourne in the FAI Cup final. The first match was drawn 1-1 and Shelbourne won the replay 1-0
The club contacted Dean to ask if he knew of a good centre-forward they could sign and he recommended himself! He played seven times for the club, scored 10 goals and created a huge amount of interest in both the team and the game. In fact, for his expected arrival the Mayor and a brass band were present as the train rolled in. The only problem was that Dixie wasn’t on it as he was arriving a day later!
When he did arrive he received the same reception and is said to have thoroughly enjoyed his brief spell in the north west of the country.
On leaving Sligo he returned to England and was playing for Hurst (now Ashton United) in the Cheshire County League but had made just two appearances when the outbreak of the 2nd World War brought his career to an abrupt end.
Host at the Dublin Packet
His next job was working in an abattoir until he was enlisted in the Army in 1940, joining the infantry as a private in the Kings (Liverpool) Regiment. He transferred to the Royal Tank Regiment where he became a mechanic instructor. After he was demobilised Dean took over the Dublin Packet pub in Chester which he ran successfully until 1961 when he returned to Merseyside. His last job before retiring was as a security guard.
With fellow Everton greats Tommy Lawton and Alex Young
In 1964 Everton recognised the great man’s achievements at the club by awarding him a testimonial between teams representing England and Scotland. Over 34,000 fans turned up to pay tribute.
Bill Dean with his grandson
In 1976 he had his right leg amputated after suffering a blood clot and, confined to a wheelchair, moved in to live with his daughter on The Wirral where he doted on his grandchildren.
Admiring a painting
On 1 March 1980 he suffered a heart attack whilst attending an Everton v Liverpool match and passed away at the age of 73.
The Dixie Dean statue
In 2001 a statue was erected at the Park End of Goodison bearing the inscription ‘Footballer, Gentleman, Evertonian’.
Dixie with another Merseyside legend
When his league career came to a premature end (he had a total of 13 serious injuries which required operations), Dean had a goals-to games average of .867, the best-ever and highly unlikely to ever be bettered. Add in 18 goals in a paltry 16 international matches and it is understandable why many lists of the greatest ever centre-forwards begin, and end, with William Ralph Dean.