The 1930s was a decade which played host to several of the European game’s most historically significant stars, but on British shores few were held in higher regard than Everton’s William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean. One of the most prolific forwards to have ever graced the game, Dean was in many ways the player who defined the decade in English football.
Born on Merseyside in the winter if 1907, Dean joined his local club Tranmere Rovers in 1923 at the tender age of sixteen. After a prolific two seasons with the Prenton Park outfit, Dean was approached by the club he had supported as a boy, Everton, and signed for the remarkably large fee of £3,000. It was to be the move which made his career.
Having survived a nasty motorcycle accident and established himself as a permanent fixture in The Toffees’ first eleven with an incredible 60 league goals during Everton’s title-winning season of 1927/28, Dean began the 1930s as the team’s star attraction. After relegation from the top-flight in 1930, Everton bounced back by winning the Second Division at the first time of asking as Dean scored a superb 39 goals in 37 appearances. It was to be during the 1931/32 campaign, however, that he would seal his place in English football history.
Newly-promoted and much unfancied, Everton took the First Division by storm upon their return, Tom McIntosh’s side winning the league by two points from Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. Dean, also in the prime of his all too fleeting England career – 18 goals in 16 games – led the line for his club with typical aplomb, scoring 45 goals in 38 games against defences which were beginning to become more savvy as tactics moved away from the traditional 2-3-5 ‘pyramid’ formation.
By the time Everton won the 1933 FA Cup with a 3-0 victory over Manchester City in which Dean scored, the Merseyside forward’s fame had reached its zenith. His physical prowess, however, was on the wane. Though still a regular goal scorer for the Goodison Park club, Dean entered a noticeable decline during the second half of the 1930s – a series of injuries taking their inevitable toll – and was eventually sold to Notts County ahead of the beginning of the 1937/38 season.
A single year at Meadow Lane yielded just nine appearances and three goals for Dean, the legendary striker also undertaking brief spells at Sligo Rovers in Connacht and Ashton United in Cheshire before retiring upon the outbreak of World War Two. A great career had come to an end, but the man they called ‘Dixie’ had thrilled football supporters the length and breadth of the county, becoming emblematic of the 1930s and immortalising himself in British football history. His death from a heart-attack at Goodison Park during a Merseyside derby in 1980 only stoked the fires of his already legendary status.
Finally, to give an idea of just how well-known Dean was throughout the footballing world, I’ll leave the last words to an Italian prisoner of war who was captured by British soldiers in Libya in 1940: “Fuck your Winston Churchill and fuck your Dixie Dean.” 425 goals in 489 career appearances, his legend lives on.