by Stuart Moriary-Patten

5 May 1928: William ‘Dixie’ Dean nets his 60th league goal of the season

By scoring all three of Everton’s goals in their 3-3 draw with Arsenal at Goodison Park, William ‘Dixie’ Dean raised his total of League goals for the season to 60. This was enough to beat George Camsell’s record of 59 goals, which he had scored for second division Middlesbrough the previous season, and is still the record in English football.

Dean started his league career with Tranmere Rovers, and his 27 goals in his first 30 appearances quickly drew the attention of bigger clubs, including Arsenal and Newcastle, but it was Everton who he chose to join, the team he had supported since childhood.  So keen to join the side that his father had first taken him to watch as an eight year-old, Dean ran the 2 and half miles from his house to the meeting arranged by Everton to discuss his transfer.  Dean signed for a £3000 sum, a substantial fee in those days, but he was not immediately first choice.  This changed though when he scored seven goals in a reserve game and he was called up for his debut in March 1925 against Arsenal.  The next season he was the regular centre-forward and scored 32 goals in 38 games. In the summer break though Dean was involved in a motorbike accident that left him with a fractured skull and jaw and left doctors doubting if he would play football again.  Dean though was a strong man mentally and physically and in his first game back for Everton he scored with a trademark bullet-like header leaving the wags in the crowd to joke that the doctors had left a metal plate in Dean’s head. Over the rest of the season he scored 21 goals in 27 games but he was so far only hinting at what was to come.

In the 1927/28 season Dean was to leave his name indelibly in the record books by scoring 60 goals as Everton lifted that season’s title.  In the first three games he scored one goal in each, and then in the next six he netted 14 times, five in one match against Manchester United.  The goals kept coming and as early as 7 January two goals against Middlesbrough saw Dean break B.C. Freeman’s previous best of 37 for most goals by a Everton player in a season.  The next record in sight was that held by Harper of Blackburn for most goals scored in a single season in the top division.  This he equalled when a hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield saw him getting his 43rd goal of the season with 17 games still to go.  Teams were increasing their efforts to stop Dean by fair means or foul and after the Liverpool game he hit a barren spell not scoring for four games.  By the middle of March if he was to get Camsell’s record he needed to find the net a further 17 times but he had just seven matches remaining to get them.  Two against Derby on 24 March saw him back amongst the goals taking him to a total of 45 goals and giving him the record for number of goals in a season in the First Division.  The Easter period saw Dean score five more goals in three games to take him to 50 and for Everton to overtake Huddersfield at the top of the table.

He entered the last three games of the season requiring an unlikely nine goals to get to the magic 60. In the first of these he scored two against Aston Villa in a 4-2 win at Goodison, leaving seven to get in two matches.  One week later, in the next game away at Burnley he got four of them before half-time, but a pulled muscle meant he was reduced to a passenger after the break.  Everton’s trainer, Harry Cooke, desperate to see his friend get the record, stayed with Dean at his house from Wednesday night until Friday night nursing the injury.  It worked and Dean took to the field for the last game of the season at home to Arsenal needing three goals for the record.  With Everton having won the League title in mid-week courtesy of a Huddersfield defeat, 60,000 Evertonians crammed into Goodison to not only fete their new champions but also hopefully watch Dixie Dean achieve the remarkable feat of 60 goals in a season.

Arsenal scored first, but Dean, not ready to let Arsenal spoil the show, picked the ball up immediately from the restart and unleashed a thunderbolt from twenty yards to equalise and get Everton’s 100th goal of the season and his 58th.   Half way through the second half and Dean was fouled in side the area.  Only one player was going to take the resulting penalty, and, with half the crowd unable to look, Dean made it goal number 59 and 2-1 to Everton.

A second half own goal saw Arsenal equalise and then they strangled the life out of the game by playing an incessant off-side trap as they settled down for a point.  With just five minutes left Everton won a corner and as the ball came into the box Dean rose and headed the ball powerfully in the net and Goodison exploded.  During all the celebrations it was almost unnoticed that Arsenal scored an equaliser just before the final whistle but that did not matter, Everton were champions and Dean was the champion goal scorer.

Dean’s Everton career came to an end in 1937, after 383 goals in 433 appearances, including 37 hat-tricks, as the years of heavy tackling he had endured began to take their toll.  Even early on his career he had been victim of ruthless defenders including one in a Tranmere reserve game when a tackle that resulted in him losing a testicle, left Dean shouting “don’t rub them, count them” to the team mate trying to administer some treatment.  In fact Dean took everything in his stride and he was never booked or sent off despite the rough treatment he would receive.  Even when Everton signed Tommy Lawton with a view to replacing Dean he was unfazed.  In fact when he first met Lawton he put his arm round Lawton and said: “I know you’ve come here to take my place. Anything I can do to help you I will. I promise, anything at all,” and as good as his word he spent a large portion of his time in training with Lawton teaching him everything he knew.

Dean rounded his career off, which had also seen him score 18 times in 16 appearances for England, with a spell at Notts County, Sligo Rovers, and non-league Hurst F.C. before the Second World War brought an end to his career.  In total he scored 379 league goals in just 438 games, a record beaten only by Arthur Rowley whose 433 goals came in 619 appearances, with the majority of those outside the top division.  It was during the Second World War when an incident occurred that showed just how famous Dean’s football exploits had become not just in England but also across Europe.  Military records show that when British soldiers captured an Italian soldier in North Africa, the hapless prisoner took out his frustration on his captors by shouting “fuck your Winston Churchill and fuck your Dixie Dean,” at them.

Dean struggled with his health in his last few years, and died in 1980 aged 73, after suffering a heart attack at Goodison during a Merseyside derby.  His name is not forgotten though, and in May 2001 local sculptor Tom Murphy created a statue of Dean, which was erected outside the park end of Goodison Park at a cost of £75,000 with the inscription “Footballer, Gentleman, Evertonian”.  In 2002, Dean was an inaugural inductee to the English Football Hall of Fame, and there is an annual Dixie Dean award, which is given to Merseyside’s player of the year.  All fitting tributes to a true legend who played the game in the spirit it should be played in.