I would have had to do this one even if I had not been given an official blog pass for weekends.
Everton are celebrating Dixie Dean Day this weekend. William Ralph Dean – universally known as Dixie - was the star of the Everton team during its glory years: the late 1920s and early 1930s, when over a five-year period they won the second division championship, two first division championships and the FA Cup.If he were alive he would be 100 years old on Monday.
My Dad (who would be 120) was an Everton fan. Our house was a museum of Everton iconography: ties, scarves, tea cosies and hot water bottle covers, all knitted by Mum in royal blue and white. My eldest brother went to the school next door to the ground, and my brothers and I, when we couldn’t afford the seven old pence it cost to get in, would stand outside the ground to listen for the roar that meant that we had scored – and at three-quarters time, when the gates would be opened for early leavers, we would rush in to see the end of the game.
Dad’s greatest moment was his trip to Wembley in 1933 with his brother - my Uncle Bert - to see Everton win the FA cup. Both were passionate Blues. What else could they be - the 1901 census shows their address as “Newsboys’ Home, Everton Road, Everton Valley, Everton”? (Media was obviously in the DNA.)
If Everton was our faith, Dixie was our high priest. I was brought up on the legend of Dixie: the goal-scoring genius who could shoot with either foot, head like a trench mortar – half of his goals were from headers – and turn water into wine. My earliest literature was yellowing clips from the Liverpool Echo recording Dixie’s greatest performance, when at the age of 21 he scored more League goals in a season than anyone else, before or since.
With three matches of that season still to go, few thought that Dixie could get the 9 goals he needed to beat the record of 59 goals in a season. But he hit six goals in the next two games – helping Everton win the First Division Championship in the process - and people started to hope. But he needed three goals in the last game - and it was against Arsenal, the cash-rich ‘Chelsea of the 1920s', who had already beaten us twice that season.
On May 5, 1928, despite the fact that the Championship was already in the bag, Goodison Park was packed with the Faithful, come to see if Dixie could do it. He scored in the first five minutes, then, mid-way through the first half, he cracked in a penalty – equalling the record. But with eight minutes to go, the score at 2-all, and 60,000 people looking anxiously at the clock, it began to look as though he wouldn’t make it. Then Alec Troup sent in a corner kick. I have a grainy picture of Dixie soaring above the Arsenal defence. When he came down, football history had been made.
Dad used to get out old newspaper photographs showing an open-topped bus besieged by ecstatic fans, and point himself out in the sea of faces. Pity he never met his grandson or great-grandson, Evertonians both.
Dixie’s record of 60 goals in 39 matches has stood for 80 years, and is unlikely ever to be beaten. He scored almost 500 goals in his career, including 37 hat tricks, before retiring to run a pub in Chester. The pub, the “Dublin Packet”, became a Mecca for former fans: my Uncle Bert was one of the many who made the pilgrimage from Liverpool. I made my own many years later, but by then Dixie was long gone.
His death was so appropriate it might have been cued by Max Clifford: suddenly, at age 73, at Goodison Park, watching the Blues play the Reds - our historic rivals. The only flaw was that Liverpool won 2-1. At the funeral, huge crowds lined the streets of Liverpool in silent tribute.One of the series of postage stamps commemorating the 2000 European Cup featured a typical Dean header, and is captioned “Football Legend: Dixie Dean, 1907-1980” – long-overdue recognition of the football legend who transferred to Everton from Tranmere Rovers for £3,000, and at the peak of his career earned £8 a week.
Little-known fact: Dixie played baseball for Liverpool Caledonians. In the year before Dixie scored his 60th, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs - and came to watch Dixie play against Spurs at White Hart Lane. The two legends met - but The Babe's record only lasted 34 years.
Happy Centennial, Dixie.
In a Private Member's Bill before Parliament today an MP is trying to give local people more say over local planning. One of its aims is to stop High Street globalisation – Windsor’s, for example, used to have two fishmongers, a shop catering exclusively for left-handed people, a saddler's, plus independent bakers, bookshops etc. Now I don’t think there’s anything that isn’t a chain store. There even used to be a real coffee blender's that you could smell the length of the street: Starbucks plan to open a thousand new shops in UK this year.
OK., so we vote with our feet - people must like them or they wouldn’t be there, etc. But France and Italy have chain stores and supermarkets – yet they still have independent shops and street markets.
Talking about France, some once-secret papers from the National Archive have just been released under the 50-year rule, and it seems that in 1956 the French Prime Minister Guy Mollet came to London to discuss the possibility of a merger between France, who were having a tough time economically, and Britain.
(The media are leaving no cliché unexploited, outdoing each other in inane conjecture: if it had gone through, would we all be eating frogs’ legs and snails by now – and they fish and chips? - and so on. The Mirror cartoon: kid says, 'Daddy, can I have a pony?' Father: 'You've already eaten'.)
We turned Mollet down, so he came back with another proposal: that France be allowed to join the British Commonwealth. He even said they would accept the Queen as Mrs Big. Quote: "there need be no difficulty over France accepting the headship of Her Majesty".
Which was probably where he blew his case . It's that word 'headship' - we know what the French do to Kings and Queens.
Sylvester Stallone was at Goodison Park last Sunday – and not only wore an Everton scarf but was still wearing it when he got to the opening of Rocky 11 or 12 in Paris. I wonder if he got to chat with Tim Howard, our American goalie. Americans tend to make good goalies – there are several in English clubs – because they can catch. (All except Tim, who has some difficulty with that aspect of his game.)
Sly was a goalie once – remember Escape to Victory? A film about a bunch of prisoners of war that included, incredibly, Pele, Bobby Moore, Pusckas, and, even more incredibly, a paunchy Michael Caine. It gets even less credible: they form a team that beats the cream of the Wehrmacht at the Parc des Princes in Paris in a ‘friendly’ match and escape under the Germans’ noses while the crowd sing the Marseillaise. I saw it on an Air France flight from JFK to Paris and there wasn’t a dry eye on the flight.
Sly stayed just long enough to see Andy Johnson’s equalizer and left. If he’d stayed longer we might have won. If Dixie had been playing we would have won.