Dan RawleyComment


Dan RawleyComment

The start of the 2012-13 Premier League season this weekend marks the 85th anniversary of Dixie Dean's record-breaking 60 goals in a season for Everton in 1927-28. It is a haul never likely to be beaten, and that this year also marks 105 years since Dean was born surely deserves some sort of recognition.

Sadly, a sizeable proportion of modern-day football fans and players are unaware of Dean's feats - an ignorance attributed to the all-encompassing Premier League age, which many fail to see past, and the lack of video footage captured during Dixie's career.

From a young age Dean had been willing to compensate for football's benefit, agreeing to attend a Borstal school aged 11 due to the sports facilities on offer, and taking up a night job three years later in order to allow him to play more football matches during the day. Even on his late shifts on the Wirral Railways, Dean managed to hone his skills, kicking trespassing rats against the wall in the first evidence of his powerful shot.

The freescoring teenage Dean inevitably attracted interest from several sides, and he joined Tranmere Rovers in 1923, aged 16. A scarcely believable 27 goals in 30 games over his two-year spell saw scouts from bigger clubs - including Arsenal and Newcastle - dispatched to Prenton Park, but lifelong Everton fan Dean held out for a move to his beloved Blues.

Finally, in 1925, Dean got his wish. Although the £3,000 the Toffees shelled out was then the highest fee Tranmere had ever received, Dean was certainly worth it, scoring one goal for every £7.80 Everton had paid Tranmere. Compare that to the £1.8 million Chelsea paid for each Andriy Shevchenko goal, or Bosko Balaban's failure to score even once after Aston Villa splashed £5.8 million on the Croat, and Dean's transfer soon looks like one the game's biggest bargains.

If two goals in his first seven games at Goodison was a tentative start, Dean quickly disproved any doubters by reaching 30 goals in both of his next seasons. As incredible as this was - given Dean was still a teenager - he would indelibly leave his mark in football's record books in the 1927-28 campaign. Beginning with a goal in a 4-0 mauling of Sheffield Wednesday on the opening day, Dean scored in nine successive league games - including grabbing all his side's goals in Everton's 5-2 win over Manchester United in October.

Although he somehow continued in the same vein for much of the season, Dean looked destined to fall just short of George Camsell's record of 59 Football League goals for Middlesborough - a tally that had only been registered the season before. A barren spell in March by his standards, in which Dean only scored twice - not being aided by missing two of Everton's games through injury - left the forward with a mountain to climb in order to surpass Camsell.

With just seven league fixtures remaining, Dean needed to score fifteen times - an average of 2.1 goals per game. Doubles against Blackburn, Sheffield United and Aston Villa inched him even closer to Camsell's record, but, ahead of Everton's penultimate game of the season at Burnley, Dean was still some seven goals short of his target.

In perhaps the most incredible twist in an extraordinary tale, Dean netted four times at Turf Moor only to pull up with a thigh injury in the second half, to his and Everton's dismay. He later recounted "Old Harry Cooke [Everton's trainer] was shaking when he found out about [the injury] and so was I."

With Dean just one more hat-trick away from making history, Cooke made one last desperate attempt to allow his star striker to play against Arsenal against all odds. For the three nights leading up to the game, Cooke forewent sleep to stay by Dean's side, waking him up every two hours to apply fresh plasters.

It worked, and Dean's gratitude was still apparent decades later as he described "a wonderful man" whose role in the Dixie story often goes unrecognised. Cured of his injury, "all" Dean had to do now was score three times against Herbert Chapman's Arsenal - no mean feat.

However, two goals in the first six minutes of the match settled Dean's and Everton's nerves, as the forward raced out of the blocks. Seemingly having failed to read the script, the Arsenal defence pulled itself together and held tight for the next 76 minutes, and as the seconds ticked away it looked as though Dean would have to settle for joint-first place in the record books.

Just eight minutes remained when Everton winger Alec Troup - who had set up over half of Dean's goals that season - floated in a corner in Dixie's general direction. He duly obliged to make football history, and, in his own words, "just butted the ball in." Predictably, the Goodison crowd went wild and stormed the pitch as soon as Dean's header hit the net, a moment the man himself describes with some humour. "The crowd invaded the pitch and I got more whiskers on my face from the Scotland Road lads than Soft Joe. You see, these lads swarmed all around me - some rubbing their faces against mine - and a lot of them hadn't shaved that day."

Dixie's sixty, a tally achieved in just 39 league games, is never likely to be beaten. The closest any other forward has come to emulating Dean in the intervening 85 years is Tom Waring's 49 goals for Aston Villa three years later. The mind boggles to think that Robin van Persie's 30 goals for Arsenal last season (a feat which earned him the tag "the Premier League's miracle man") is just half of Dean's total.

Goodison's great goalscorer was just 20 years old at the time, something that makes his tally even more impressive. The scoring record of modern-day youngsters pales in comparison  - Manchester United's Danny Welbeck, a year older than Dean was in 1927, has only scored 18 league goals in his entire career, let alone in one season.

Inevitably, Dean failed to reach such dizzy heights again. Injuries took their toll, but he still managed to reach at least 20 goals in the next five seasons, even netting 45 times in 1931-32. At the age of 30, with new signings such as Tommy Lawton - who Dean helped nurture - becoming first-team fixtures, Dixie moved to Notts County.

His stay at Meadow Lane was brief and followed by similarly short 7- and 2-game spells at Sligo Rovers and Hurst FC. A modest, down-to-earth character, Dean looked for work after World War II forced his retirement from football, running the Dublin Packet pub in Chester and working as a porter for Littlewoods Football Pools. The polar opposite of the "I used to be famous, you know!" types, Dean was remembered by his non-football colleagues as "a quiet, unassuming man", proud of being back in work. It seems unlikely that Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi will be allowed to return to relative anonymity after their playing days are over, and even more unlikely that they will look for employment in a local garage or factory.

Despite his obvious talents, Dean surprisingly earned just 16 caps for England. Predictably, he netted 18 times in his five-year international career.

Robbed of the chance to play regularly for his country by the English FA's reluctance to travel abroad, Dean refused to allow his international career to be hampered and still produced a number of notable moments on foreign and native soil, including being perhaps the only England international ever to be sin-binned (sent off for ten minutes for fouling the Belgian goalkeeper in a friendly in Antwerp in 1927), netting hat-tricks against Belgium and Luxembourg and scoring his penultimate England goal at Goodison Park against Ireland.

Dean was the King of a very different football era, one in which goalkeepers wore flat caps, defenders were called Warney and Willie, and insults from opposition players were, by modern comparison, strangely polite. Dixie remembers one Rochdale defender telling him "Thy'll get no more bloody goals today." When the insults were more offensive, Dean quickly put a stop to them - he responded to a spectator making reference to his dark skin in 1938 by calmly walking over and punching the man in the face. A policeman came running over, not to remand Dean, but to shake him by the hand.

Earning just £8 at the peak of his powers at Everton, Dean's dissatisfaction with 1970s football was clear to see: "When you think that they [1970s footballers] can earn more than £100 a week, and people have to pay 30p just to stand up to see them, we expect a lot more entertainment than we get today...some of the things that go on [in modern football] make me want to weep."

God knows what Dean would make of players earning in excess of £100,000 a week - around twenty times what Dean earned in his entire 12-year Everton career. As his daughter Barbara laughed in 2007, "I think he'd have thought they were a load of fairies! He used to say 'they play in carpet slippers and with a beach ball'".

Though Dean's achievements in the game were inexplicably ignored by Everton at the time - the club failed to reward the forward for his 60 goals - the Blues have posthumously recognised Dixie's incredible services to the game. Dean's vast collection of medals, which were sold at auction after his death in 1980, were brought back to Goodison Park by Everton chairman Bill Kenwright in 2001 at a cost of £18,212. The same year, the club erected a statue of their greatest ever player outside Goodison's Park End - a fitting tribute to a man who made history.