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Born: Sunday 27 January 1907, Birkenhead, England
Died: Saturday 1 March 1980, Liverpool, England (aged 73)
Position: Centre Forward
Much better known to the public as 'Dixie' Dean, a nickname he was known to dislike strongly, Everton legend William Ralph Dean was one of the most prolific goalscorers ever to play league football in England. With his playing career coinciding with the surge in goalscoring following the change to the offside law in 1925, he set goalscoring records which appear to be untouchable in the modern game.
Dean was born in Birkenhead on 27 January 1907, he played for several local amateur teams before joining his local Football League club, Tranmere Rovers, in 1923. As a child his only interest was football, and after leaving school and working as an apprentice fitter on the Wirral Railway preferred to take night shifts so that he still had time in the day to play football. Unlike many players, he was skilled with both feet and was renowned as one of the best headers of a ball that the game had seen. He made a handful of league appearances for Tranmere in Division Three North towards the end of the 1923-24 season, it was the following season that he really began to come the attention of the bigger English clubs.
In 1924-25 he scored 27 league goals in the same number of league appearances, and both Arsenal and Newcastle United showed interest in getting his signature. For Dean though, there was only one dream move and that was across the River Mersey to Everton, the club he had grown up supporting after his father had taken him to a game during their 1914-15 title winning season. When he heard of the club's interest in him, he is said to have run several miles to meet the club secretary and sort out the transfer. He left Tranmere in the bottom two of Division Three North but having scored more than half of their total of league goals up to that point, and added two more league goals for Everton in seven appearances at the end of that season.
His first full season at Everton, 1925-26, brought 32 league goals despite the team only finishing in mid-table. However, it was almost the final season of his career as he was involved in a bad motorcycle crash during the summer of 1926, fracturing his jaw and skull and leaving doctors doubting whether he would ever play again. The speed of Dean's recovery was remarkable - he returned to reserve team action 15 weeks later and was able to play in 27 of Everton's 42 league games, helping a struggling team narrowly to avoid relegation. He even got his first call-up to the England team in February of 1927. His debut brought two goals in a 3-3 draw with Wales in Wrexham.
That summer he scored hat-tricks against Belgium and Luxembourg on England's European tour, setting himself up for what would be the greatest season of his career in 1927-28. Everton's turnaround was remarkable - from battling relegation a year earlier they were suddenly title contenders, thanks in large to Dean's incredible run of goalscoring. By January he had broken the club record of 38 league goals in a season, and equalled the First Division record of 43 with 13 games still to play. The remaining targets were to seal the league title for Everton, and then break the Football League record of 59 goals, set just a year earlier by George Camsell.
The goals slowed up in the spring, thanks to international call-ups and a drop in Everton's form. A good run through April put him back in with a chance and took the club to the brink of the title, but with two games left, Dean still needed seven goals. Four in the penultimate game gave him a chance of the record, and the pressure was eased slightly as Everton were confirmed as champions a few days before their final game. Needing a hat-trick against Arsenal, he scored twice in the first half to equal the record but with opponents determined to stop him, time was running out for goal number 60. Five minutes from time Everton won a corner, and Dean rose to power a trademark header in to the net. 60 goals in 39 games gave him a record which will surely never even be approached, let alone broken.
The next four seasons were something of a rollercoaster ride. 1928-29 brought 26 league goals, less than half the previous season's total. Everton struggled in 1929-30, and although Dean scored another 23 goals the team finished bottom of the table and was relegated to Division Two for the first time in their history. Dean stayed with Everton despite relegation, and scored 39 Second Division goals to help them return immediately to the top flight as champions. In 1931-32, he hit 45 goals to lead the league in scoring for the second time, and won his second championship medal as Everton held off Arsenal to claim the title.
His international career came to end in the autumn of 1932, having brought 18 goals from just 16 appearances. Despite dropping out of the national team, the 1932-33 season did bring another major triumph, as Everton reached the FA Cup final and claimed a comfortable 3-0 win over Manchester City, with Dean scoring the second goal. In the mid-1930s, he required an operation on his ankle and it appeared that years of tough tackling were taking their toll. Although he broke the 20-goal barrier again in 1934-35 and 1936-37, when Everton signed Tommy Lawton in 1936 he recognised that his time at the top level was running out. Both centre-forwards, two struggled to play in the same team and eventually Dean was dropped in favour of the younger man.
Early in the 1937-38 season, he was sold to Third Division South side Notts County and made a handful of appearances for them over the next two seasons, before ending his league career towards the end of 1938. At that time Dean held the all-time record for total league goals in England, and today still stands in second place in that list behind Arthur Rowley. He also ranks third in terms of top divison goals in England, behind only Steve Bloomer and Jimmy Greaves. After a brief spell with Sligo Rovers in Ireland and an appearance for Ashton United in English non-league football at the start of the 1939-40 season, Dean retired from playing.
Other great players of his era spoke about Dean in glowing terms. Matt Busby recalled how his timing in the air made him so difficult to defend against, and Arsenal full-back Eddie Hapgood recalled his strength, speed and great sportsmanship. In his retirement, Dean ran a pub in Chester and also worked for Littlewoods Pools as a porter. Through the 1970s, his health began to fail and for many years he was unable to attend games at Goodison Park. On 1 March 1980, at the age of 73, he did make the trip to the ground to watch a game against Liverpool but tragically suffered a fatal heart attack. He is still remembered as Everton's greatest ever player, and a statue of his stands outside the ground.
References (all accessed 7 February 2012):
- Published on Tuesday, 07 February 2012 17:22