DIXIE DEAN: Never again anyone like him
“I don’t care what the doctors say.
They haven’t played football.
They don’t know what it’s like to have run on the pitch at Goodison Park.
They don’t know what it’s like to have scored hundreds of goals in an Everton Football Club shirt.
I know all those things.
And I know that certain sensations can only be felt if you have experienced them directly.
It was in March 1925 when my father told me that Mr. Thomas McIntosh, manager of Everton Football Club, would be waiting for me at the Woodside Hotel to offer me to become a player for the “Blues” and leave Tranmere Rovers, where I had started my professional career just over a year earlier.
That day I ran all those nearly three miles between my home in Birkenhead and that hotel.
Playing for Everton was my dream.
I’d had no other since the day my dad took me to Goodison for the first time.
I was eight years old at the time and Everton were the strongest team in England.
For the next ten years that was all I could think about.
I longed to one day be there, in the middle of that field, in front of the 30,000 delirious fans that filled the stands of that magnificent stadium to score the goals that would bring so many more trophies to “my” Everton trophy cabinet.
With every goal I scored for Tranmere (and I scored 27 in 30 games) I hoped there would be some Everton scouts in the stands who could tell Mr McIntosh about me.
The first to come forward were Arsenal and Newcastle. Two real big teams.
But I wanted neither Arsenal nor Newcastle.
I just wanted EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB.
I’ve never regretted that choice.
Not even in May 1930 when we were relegated to the Second Division.
All the biggest teams in the country came forward, convinced as they were that ‘Dixie Dean would never agree to play in the Second Division’.
… there were rumours that those in the red shirts who played on the other side of Stanley Park had also tried …
How wrong they all were!
I told our Boss right from the start.
“Tell all those vultures that I’m not moving from here”.
We only stayed in the Second Division one season.
And it couldn’t have been any other way.
We were quite a team.
With me were Cliff Britton, Warney Cresswell and Tommy Johnson and we knew our place was in the First Division … but even we could never have imagined what would happen within two years of our return to the top flight.
As soon as we were back in the First Division we won the league straight away and the following year the FA CUP, every footballer’s dream.
It really was a special day.
And for more than one reason.
It was the first time in a Fa Cup final that the players wore numbers on their backs. Everton wore number 1 to number 11 and Manchester City, our opponents that day, wore numbers 12 to 22 … but starting with the goalkeeper in reverse order!
We won by three goals to nil and it was one of the greatest joys of my career.
I also scored a goal, the second.
A bell-shaped ball went up in the small area. I came in like a fury.
We all ended up in the back of the net. Me, City goalkeeper Langford and, fortunately, the ball too.
They were unforgettable seasons even though I knew they could not last forever.
All the knocks I took in those years in my thirties began to present me with a bill.
In 1937 I left Everton.
Let’s say better.
I was no longer indispensable to the team.
I accepted that gladly.
Twelve years is a long time and by then no one could take away from me all the goals scored, the triumphs and the wonderful memories of that period.
I played again for a couple of years.
But it wasn’t the same anymore.
The atmosphere of Goodison Park I would never breathe anywhere else.
I had my aches and pains. Now I get around in a wheelchair and my right leg, the one that scored at least half my goals, (the others I scored with my head) I don’t have it anymore.
They had to amputate it a few years ago.
But life goes on and today my children will accompany me to Goodison.
I’ll sit in the stands and enjoy the derby against the ‘red shirts’ and who knows … maybe one of the blue shirts will score a great header and maybe someone else in the crowd will say ‘my goodness what a goal! Only Dixie Dean could score goals like that…”.
It’s the 1st of March 1980.
After years of absence from the public scene due to increasingly serious health problems, William Ralph Dean, known as ‘Dixie’ returns to Goodison Park.
The welcome is one reserved for the greats because nobody, not even the youngest fans, does not know his name and his story.
For them, to see him in person is to put a face to an authentic legend.
The derby between Everton and historic city rivals Liverpool is being played.
These are difficult years for the ‘Toffees’, who are not only struggling to return to the top ranks of English football, but who also have to put up with the overwhelming power of their ‘cousins’, who for three decades now have been the most successful club in England and one of the strongest on the entire continent.
Everton are languishing in the lower reaches of the table while Liverpool are already leading the league. After half an hour of play the match already seemed ‘on ice’ for Bob Paisley’s Reds. David Johnson and Phil Neal on a penalty kick put Liverpool two-nil up, and for the rest of the match they contained the attacks of manager Gordon Lee’s Blues without too much difficulty.
With half an hour to go Everton played the desperation card. In comes Peter Eastoe, a striker, in place of centre-half Nulty.
It was Eastoe who, with about ten minutes to go, reopened the match.
The finale was convulsive. Everton threw themselves into attack in search of an equaliser backed by the 53,000-plus crowd.
In the stands, however, there is a certain agitation.
There are people drawing the attention of the medical staff on the sidelines.
Dixie Dean has a heart attack, which will be repeated, fatal, shortly after the end of the match.
It will happen right there, at Goodison Park where his exploits, despite the very few images available, will be remembered forever.
It will be on that lawn that his ashes will be scattered because it is there that the heart of Dixie Dean, the greatest English centre forward in history, was left.
ANECDOTES AND CURIOSITIES
The origins of the nickname ‘Dixie’ are not entirely clear.Although Dean was not too fond of this nickname (he signed his name ‘Bill’ and was called this in the circle of friends and family), the most credible theory is that it came from his physical appearance, with very black hair and a complexion much darker than the classic British one, which made him resemble, even as a boy, an inhabitant of the southern states of the USA who were nicknamed ‘Dixie’.
In the summer of 1926, just over a year after his arrival at Everton, Dean was involved in a serious accident in north Wales while riding a motorbike with his girlfriend.
Dean’s condition is desperate. For several days his life hangs by a thread.
Fractures to his skull, face and back.
“What is certain is that he is done with football,’ was the merciless verdict of the doctors.
In November of that same year he returned to the pitch, scoring a goal against Arsenal (header!) and making his debut three months later with the English national team (scoring a brace against Wales),
He would end that season with 36 goals in 36 official matches.
The national team is, however, a very delicate and controversial chapter in the career of William Ralph Dean. In addition to the Federation’s brainless decision to exclude itself from the main football competitions of the time, there were also the often bizarre choices of the English Football Association’s ‘Committee’, which at that time shamelessly favoured players belonging to London clubs.
The fact is that Dixie Dean played a paltry 16 matches with his country’s national team.
… scoring 18 goals …
The physicality of football in that era is well known. Defenders were allowed practically anything and forwards had to know how to defend themselves given the almost non-existent referee protection.
Very emblematic is what happened to Dean during his first professional season at Tranmere Rovers. During a match against Altrincham, the young centre forward was the victim of a murderous entry by an opponent that even cost him the loss of a testicle.
Dean fainted from the pain and when he recovered there was the team doctor trying to soothe the pain in that delicate area.
The phrase Dean said to the doctor has remained in history.
“Don’t think about massaging ! Tell me rather HOW MUCH !”
Dean always considered Elisha Scott, Liverpool’s goalkeeper at the time, the strongest of all time.
Their challenges were proverbial and the outcome of Merseyside derbies almost always depended on the performance of the two.
So much so that it became a veritable psychological war between the two.
The day before each derby Dean would send the Reds’ goalkeeper a packet of aspirin.
With a note.
“I know you wouldn’t get a wink of sleep without these. See you tomorrow Elisha !”
In 1932 Everton at the end of the season were invited to a series of friendlies in Germany.
Hitler had not yet come to power but his influence over the German people was well established. Everton have to play six matches in a fortnight, not exactly a walk in the park for a squad of only 17 players and at the end of a gruelling season.
As soon as the group arrives in Germany they are greeted by Hitler’s emissaries.
“Before every match it is obligatory to greet the public with the national-socialist salute.”
“You can forget it!” Is Dean’s reply to which all his teammates join in.
In the first match in Hannover exactly what Dean and his teammates said happened.
At the next match in Dresden, even von Ribbentrop and Hermann Göring are there to welcome the English players.
They advise the team to comply and then go and sit in the stands.
No luck this time either.
Not a single member of Everton obeys the ‘orders’ given by two of the highest echelons of the Nazi party.
It will be like that for the rest of the tour.
After the last game in Cologne the team is in a club celebrating the end of the tour and the imminent return to Liverpool.
There are a few spirits overheated by alcohol.
Some of these are two German policemen who find nothing better to do than to harass Dean.
In short an altercation ensues … which ends with the two German cops lying on the floor of the club.
Dean will spend a night in the cell and will have to shell out the equivalent of almost £14, a hefty sum for the time.
But that was certainly not what bothered Dean most.
“Fucking Nazis !” Dean would recount of the episode in which he would break two fingers.
“Because of them I couldn’t hold the cards for a fortnight !”.
Dixie Dean’s popularity reached such a level that stories periodically surfaced involving him. One of the most frequent involved women who boasted of affairs with him.
On one occasion Dean even had to appear in a courtroom to answer for the alleged paternity of a child.
Of course Dean claimed he didn’t even know the lady in question but what convinced the judge otherwise were the movements of the baby’s head towards his mother’s womb.
“Look Dean,” the judge told him. “That’s the identical movement she makes when she hits the ball with her head,” the judge stated convincingly to the general astonishment.
Who then closed the matter by saying ‘I will see to it that this lady receives two pounds ten shillings a week’.
Dixie Dean’s retort was marvellous.
“Bravo judge ! Very generous gesture ! At this point I think I will donate a few pennies to the Lady myself !” with the courtroom onlookers doubled over in laughter.
In January 1937 Everton bought a promising young striker from Burnley. His name is Tommy Lawton.
At first he is employed as a half-back but it is clear that Lawton is a centre forward and was bought to take Dixie Dean’s place.
“Son, I know very well why you are here. You will soon be taking my place but know that as long as I am here with you at Everton I will do all I can to help you.”
These were Dean’s words to his promising young team-mate.
He will be true to his word.
Tommy Lawton will become the second-best header in English football history …
The most touching moment during his funeral was the words of Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool coach who became a great friend of Dean’s over the years.
“Today we are here to say goodbye to the greatest of them all. And someone so great will now be up there chatting with Shakespeare, Bach and Rembrandt’.
You can read many more Remo Gandolfi stories at www.ilnostrocalcio.it