Dixie Dean – The man who walked on water

His nickname ‘Dixie’ was given to him by fans in reference to his dark complexion and curly hair which, they believed were similar to African Americans in the southern United States. However, Dixie disliked the moniker and preferred to be called by, Bill – a name only known to his family members.

William Ralph Dean was born on the 22nd of January, 1907. William Sr., his father, played a huge role in Everton becoming his son’s childhood club as he took him to matches during the 1914-1915 title-winning season.


Dixie’s football journey began with a local team, Pensby United. There, the striker managed to attract the interest of scouts from Tranmere Rovers.

The 16-year-old, at the time, Dean scored an astonishing 27 goals in 30 league games for Tranmere Rovers which lead to the interest of the country’s biggest clubs, most notably Arsenal and Newcastle United. One of Dean’s most important moments at Tranmere Rovers was shockingly, losing a testicle due to a tough challenge. One of Dean’s team-mates rushed to rub the area to comfort the pain, only for Dean to produce one of the greatest quotes to be said on a football pitch.

Don’t rub ’em, count ’em!

In 1925, Dean sealed a move to his boyhood club for a then record-fee for his previous club; £3,000. The striker’s parents received their share of the fee, a cool £30.The player was handed the number nine shirt, the first player to ever wear the number in the club’s history.

Dixie’s impact was immediate, as he scored 32 goals in his first full season. In that same year, however, a motorcycling accident left him with a fractured jaw and skull, doctors to warning him to stay away from the game. Dean, however, neglected their advice and managed to ironically score a header in his first match back from injury.

In the 1926/27 campaign, Middlesborough’s George Camsell scored an outstanding 59 goals in one season, a mark many expected to last several years, if not decades. But just the season that followed, Camsell’s record was already under threat by one special man. That man was Dixie.

Dean started the 1927/28 campaign by scoring in each of first nine games for the Toffees, including an incredible five goals in one match against the mighty Manchester United at Goodison Park. The goals kept on coming for the striker, and he managed to score hat-tricks against each of Leicester City, Portsmouth and Aston Villa. In addition to that, a very special one at Anfield followed:

I used to stick the ball in the net and bow three times to the Kop. They never liked me doing that.

Dean managed to score an unbelievable four goals against Burnley leaving him three goals shy of breaking Camsell’s record with only one fixture remaining for the end of the season. 60,000 people turned up to watch Everton’s final fixture of the season vs. Arsenal to support Dixie – the title was already sealed. To no one’s surprise, the striker scored within the very first five minutes, and managed to successfully convert a penalty kick right before the half-time whistle.

With only eight minutes to go till the final whistle, Dixie flew high up above the Arsenal defense and powerfully hit the ball into the back of net and the minute his feet touched the floor – history was written at Goodison Park. The crowd was euphoric and stormed into the pitch in celebration. The 20-year-old finished that season with 60 league goals in just 39 games. 87 years later, the record is yet to be broken. The Everton number 9 ended the year 1928 with 85 goals to his name in all competitions.

When asked about his thoughts if his 60 league goals record will be broken or not.

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.

Everton gave Dixie a testimonial match nearly 26 years since his last appearance for the club, but yet, a crowd of 40,000 turned out to watch his final touches of a ball in the iconic blue shirt.

Everton’s all-time top scorer with 349 goals in 399 appearances – including 37 hat-trick; Dean scored a combined total of 379 goals with the Toffees, Tranmere and Notts County. In the history of English League football, only Arthur Rowley has scored more with 434 goals for West Brom, Fulham, Leicester and Shrewsbury between 1946-65.

On the International stage, Dean hit an impressive 18 goals in 16 appearances for England, including hat-tricks in consecutive games against Belgium, Luxembourg and France in 1927.

Dean, who won two league titles and one FA Cup with Everton, died in 1980 aged 73 after suffering a heart attack whilst watching a Merseyside Derby. Regarded as one of the greatest British footballers of all-time, Dixie was one of the 22 players inducted into the inaugural English Football Hall of Fame.

In 2001, a sculpture of the club’s greatest striker was displayed outside of Goodison Park carrying a 3-worded inscription that perfectly suits the English striker:

‘Footballer, Gentleman, Evertonian’

The Author

Waleed Abu Nada

Covering European football. Featured for Goal, BBC, The Guardian, Daily Mail and more. Named the youngest accredited author in Jordan - for 'Implementing the SBYD Strategy'.

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