Unfortunately, the lot where house 313 on Laird Street, north Birkenhead once stood, is unkempt.
There is a layer of grass and a few dandelions sprouting from the floor, but nothing else. It seems remarkable, because on this beautiful spring morning the sense of history is palpable.
For it was here that arguably English football’s greatest goalscorer was born on January 22, 1907, and it was from here that William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean set out each week on the journey that would take him to immortality.
Dean has been the subject of much talk lately, his name being mentioned as a point of reference for Erling Haaland, who is pursuing the record he set in 1927-28 of 63 goals in a season (Dean’s 60 in the league is out of reach). The topic is particularly important with Everton hosting Manchester City on Sunday.
What Haaland, just crowned FWA Player of the Year, has done in his debut season in the Premier League has been extraordinary, but standing on Laird Street and trying to process what Dean did 95 years ago is almost too much to handle. contain.
William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean set a record of 63 goals from 41 games for Everton in 1927-28
Dean is brought in as a point of reference for Erling Haaland, who is pursuing the record
From here it is three kilometers to the Woodside Ferry terminal. If Everton had a match at Goodison Park, Dean would run the distance with his boots over his shoulder, board a boat to cross the Mersey, then take the 44 tram carrying fans from Water Street to the stadium.
“Can you imagine that now?” asks Frank Morris, a cheerful 83-year-old who has lived on Laird Street all his life and knew Dean well.
We get into conversation and for the next 20 minutes he balances between the role of historian and tour guide.
He points out the plot where Dean went to school. The old building has disappeared as it was bombed during World War II (Birkenhead, with its proximity to the harbour, was a prime target for the Luftwaffe) and also points to Our Lady’s social club, which became a haven for him.
‘One day in the 1970s there was a charity football match between the Our Lady’s football team and Radio Merseyside, and Bill was asked to kick off,’ explains Mr Morris. “I always called him Bill. He once said to me, “My name is Bill, I wasn’t baptized Dixie,” and that’s how it was.
“He would go there for a pint because he knew no one would bother him. He couldn’t go to the pubs in town because everyone wanted to see him.
“If you saw him, you’d say ‘Okay, Bill?’ call. – if he didn’t answer, you would leave him alone. If he gave you the thumbs up you would go there. This was his home.’
People wanted to talk to Dean because he was a phenomenon. As a child he received no coaching, he simply went off the grounds of a local chapel, threw a ball on a roof and practiced his control and technique. He left school at the age of 14 and was apprenticed to the railways, but football was calling.
Numerous clubs wanted to sign him, including Newcastle, Aston Villa, Bolton and Arsenal, but, in his words, ‘there would only be one team – Everton’.
You probably know the story of how Haaland scored nine times for Norway against Honduras in the Under-20 World Cup a few years ago, but think about this story Dean told Radio Merseyside in 1978 to realize just how much of a child prodigy he was .
“I’ve been selected to play for the Birkenhead Schoolboys Trial teams,” he said. ‘When I was done there I borrowed a bike so I could go back to Birkenhead Park and play for my school team. Then, in the afternoon, there was a team called Melville that I played with.
Dean trotting to the Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, as Everton take on Arsenal in a league game in 1936
‘I scored six in the first test match, six with the schoolboys – Laird Street School – and then six with Melville in the afternoon. So it was a good day at work. I got 18 in three games in one day. I wanted to bring in as much football as possible.’
He was also physically flawless. Dean felt blessed to have “put up a good pair of shoulders” turning potatoes at the two fish and chip shops his mother, Sarah, owned. He also had excellent balance from the dance classes he attended and loved to tap.
But he could also run like the wind. We all now know how much sports science is needed to keep the modern player at their best, but one wonders if they could withstand the regime that Dean revealed was the norm when he played for Tranmere Rovers.
Erling dominates FWA vote
Erling Haaland won the Football Writers’ Association Men’s Footballer of the Year award yesterday – with 82 percent of the vote.
The Norwegian has scored 51 goals in his first season in England – and he wants to sack Manchester City to a Treble.
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard finished in second and third place.
Haaland said: ‘I’ve enjoyed my time at City so far – my teammates are incredible and give me opportunities to score goals.
‘I want to thank them all, because without them I couldn’t have won this prize.
“I also owe so much to Pep and the team behind the team here at City. Everyone has been so good to me since I’ve been here and I’ve never worked with such top professionals.”
Chelsea striker Sam Kerr won the women’s gong.
“You’d be there on Sunday morning if you had injuries,” he said.
‘Then you would be there on Monday. Your week’s practice started on Tuesday, you would probably cover about 10 miles – it could be 12 – from Tranmere, up Borough Road, across Thornton Road and through Prenton playing fields.
“Then you drove around once or twice in the afternoon. Then I’d sprint — 30-yard sprints all the time, so I’d be off target quickly. You were there Wednesday morning, all day Thursday, then you did a few sprints on Friday morning. Then you would rest until Saturday.’
Saturday was the day he would come alive. He scored 27 times for Tranmere in 33 games before signing for Everton in March 1925, but his career was almost over before he started. As a 17-year-old, he was kicked in the groin during a match against Rochdale at Prenton Park.
Dean had scored two goals, but a defender named Davy Parkes took offense at what happened and hit him so hard he had to have a testicle removed. Seventeen years later, Dean recalled, he met Parkes in a bar in Chester. This time it was the last to end up in the hospital.
It is clear that Dean was a hard man. He underwent 15 surgeries during his career and miraculously overcame a motorcycle accident in 1926, which left him with a fractured skull, broken cheekbone and broken jaw. There were questions about whether he would survive, let alone play football, and he needed a metal plate.
“That’s why they said he had such a good head,” says Mr. Morris with a wry smile.
To think that he would not just recover, but that he would have a season that has become almost mythical. The report from the Football Echo on Saturday 27 August 1927 shows that Dean had Everton’s first chance against Sheffield Wednesday in the first minute and would score the first goal in a 4–0 win.
By 8 October, he had scored 17, including five against Manchester United, one of 37 career hat-tricks. He reached 30 with another treble against Aston Villa.
He did this with parental help, in the same way that Haaland’s father makes his son a pre-game lasagna today.
Dean took just two penalties in that 1927–28 season for Everton, scoring one and missing one
“On Saturday mornings before bringing me a cup of tea my mum used to bring me a spoonful of phospherine and that happened every Saturday she was alive when I was busy,” said Dean, again in that Radio Merseyside interview.
‘Then I’d have an egg or something. Then I didn’t have to go to the game, so I waited and ate a bit of boiled fish and a bit of toast around 12 o’clock. You would go down for the trams and there would be rows and rows waiting for them. Once or twice (I was almost too late) when there was a really good game. The Everton board always told me that if something happened, something like that, I should jump in a taxi. I didn’t really have money for taxis then, but that’s what they always told me.’
How remarkable is that? We know it used to happen, with players and fans mingling so freely, but football has become so disconnected from the crowd, with big coaches and blacked-out windows, that particular memory is sobering. Nothing changed for Dean on the day he went after the 60-goal goal against Arsenal on May 5 in what was also Charles Buchan’s last ever game.
The night before he had attended a church charity party in Prescot and sat with a priest who offered a prayer to help him break the record.
And it broke he did. Everton, who had been crowned league champions that season, drew 3-3 with Arsenal and the goal – a header – came with just eight minutes to play. Ernest Edwards, the correspondent whose pseudonym was ‘Bee’ for the Liverpool Echo, found the perfect words.
“There has never been such a joyful shout at Everton,” he wrote. “It went into overtime for minutes and went on until the end of the game. The crowd continued to cheer for eight minutes and Dean was embraced by all his comrades. It was a memorable scene.’
Dean took only two penalties in that 1927–28 season, scoring one and missing one. He had also received his first England call-up in February 1927, scoring 12 goals in his first five games.
Outside Goodison, two groups gathered around the bronze statue of Dean behind Park End yesterday. One was a father with a little boy, taking pictures of a superhero-sized figure with his cell phone.
Dean, whose ashes were scattered on the pitch after his death in March 1980, is the epitome of Everton.
Haaland may one day end up with a statue of his own, but even he will admit this point – William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean’s story will never be repeated.
HOW THE GREAT COMPARE…
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£6 per week plus £2 bonus
International caps (goals)
Luxury coach and Rolls-Royce