Dixie Dean was officially the world’s first football number 9 and a true goalscoring legend. Forever remembered with a statue outside Goodison Park, the Everton striker’s record of 60 goals in a single season will never be beaten.
When the Toffees face Manchester United on Sunday, it will mark 40 years since his passing. Back at Everton’s home ground on March 1, 1980, the iconic frontman had not visited for several years due to ill health. Watching his beloved Blues take on rivals Liverpool, he suffered a heart attack and died.
"He belongs to the company of the supremely great, like Beethoven, Shakespeare and Rembrandt,” former Liverpool boss Bill Shankly said of the striker in a speech at the ground just hours earlier.
Dean could shoot, practising when he was younger by apparently kicking rats against the wall during his time working nights as an apprentice fitter, so that he could play his football in the day.
It was his heading, though, which saw him truly reach the peak of his powers.
When Everton faced Manchester City in the 1933 FA Cup final, it was the first game in which shirt numbers were used. The Toffees were given 1-11 and so Dean was number 9. Hugely successful Manchester United manager Matt Busby was playing for the blue half of the city that day and came up against the Toffees' talisman.
“It was both a delight and a nightmare to play against him,” said the Scot. “He was extremely adept on the ground yet extraordinary in the air.”
In his record-breaking season of 1927-28, he climbed high above the Arsenal defence to head home in the last game of the campaign to complete a hat-trick and reach the magic 60 figure, eclipsing the 59 netted by Middlesbrough’s George Camsell only a year before.
Such was his attacking prowess in the air, Evertonians joked that after a motorcycle accident in 1926, in which fractured his skull and jaw, doctors must have left a metal plate in his head.
William Ralph Dean was born on January 22, 1907, in Birkenhead on the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool where he would earn his fame with Everton.
And his fame was global. Apparently, military records from the Second World War show that an Italian prisoner of war captured by Brits told them: “F**k your Winston Churchill and f**k your Dixie Dean!"
His love for Everton was born from his father William Sr, who regularly took him to matches as the original Merseyside club clinched the title in the 1914-15 season. Dean himself would go on to win the First Division championship himself in 1928, his own unforgettable season, and 1932.
Known by the name ‘Dixie’, though he and his family actually preferred for him to be called Bill, according to historian Gilbert Upton at his first club Tranmere, the moniker originated from his being called ‘Digsy’ referring to him digging his fist into a girl’s back during childhood games of tag.
So excited to sign for Everton, he apparently ran the 2.5 miles from his home to the riverside to meet club secretary Thomas H. McIntosh and sign on the dotted line.
Dean scored 377 goals for the Blues, with 37 hat-tricks among them. He also scored more goals for England than he earned caps with 18 strikes in 16 appearances for his country.
It was for his club where he truly shined and Dean has remained a massive source of pride and inspiration to the Toffees throughout history.
Everton have always had great, fabled number 9s from Joe Royle and Bob Latchford to Graeme Sharp and Duncan Ferguson. It seems fitting that 40 years on from Dean’s passing, the current incumbent of the famous shirt, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, is among the goals right now.
Upon unveiling his statue at Goodison Park, chairman Bill Kenwright said: “The word legend is a much-abused and overused word in our game. Today we salute probably the greatest hero of all time – our beloved William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean.
“He was an inspiration to his fellow footballers. He was a God to them and he was terrifying to the opposing team. Dixie Dean’s memory will never be forgotten by people who love football. Today, we celebrate the greatest goal machine in the history of world football.”
Dean once said: "People ask me if that 60-goal record will ever be beaten. I think it will. But there's only one man who'll do it. That's the fellow that walks on the water. I think he's about the only one."
Nobody will ever trump Dixie’s Sixty.