Even in the closing stages of his glorious career Dixie Dean was box office, drawing crowds and causing a stir wherever he went - and in the most unusual circumstances.
After a foot injury ended his spell at his final League club Notts County in 1938 he regained fitness and played for two more teams at a time when the world was on the brink of war.
He received a call from across the Irish Sea with an offer to join Sligo Rovers in January 1939, having just turned 32. So he took his goal-laden boots to sign for the west of Ireland club, arriving to a hero’s welcome when his train pulled in to a crowded Sligo station, as reported in the local newspaper.
Dixie was paid £15 a week by the League of Ireland side – almost twice the Football League £8 maximum – and he didn’t disappoint. In his 7 games for Sligo he scored 10 goals, helping to steer them to runners-up spot – their highest ever League position – and also to the FAI Cup Final, in which they lost 1-0 to Shelbourne in a Dublin replay following a 1-1 draw.
When Dixie joined Sligo they were in debt. When he left they were showing a £600 profit and showed their gratitude to him with the contents of an envelope handed to him at Sligo’s post Cup Final banquet.
“ I sailed on the night boat home after the banquet and as the ship sailed I opened the envelope which the Sligo chairman Mr Flannery had given me, “ Dixie recalled.
“ I thought it might be a tie or something but I was delighted to find 80 quid in it, in English pound notes. Sligo must have thought as highly of me as I did about them. They wanted to see goals and, I’m glad to say, they got some.”
Dixie’s return was not quite the end of his career. Some 12 days before Britain was plunged into the Second World War he made his debut for Cheshire County League club Hurst , who had signed him as English football’s highest paid player at £15 a week, the same as he’d been paid by Sligo. (signing picture illustrated).
Hurst – who later became Ashton United – lost 4-0 to Stalybridge Celtic on Dixie’s debut on August 26, 1939 but had the significant consolation that his presence almost tripled the attendance to 5,600.
Dixie’s appearance also inspired a cartoon in the Ashton Reporter hailing the great English goalscorer as a symbol of resistance to Adolf Hitler as storm clouds gathered over Europe.
The following Tuesday evening, August 29, 1939, Dixie had his final professional outing when he lined up for Hurst in the Cheshire League Challenge Cup tie against Hyde United. The competition was never a crowd puller but Dixie’s name on the team sheet attracted a crowd of 2,700.
True to his unprecedented scoring prowess Dixie scored Hurst’s second goal in a 4-1 win, the last the great man would score in a competitive match, described in the Ashton Reporter thus:"Taylor put the ball across to Dean who worked to the right of the goal before screwing the ball past two defenders into the net.”
An ankle injury prevented Dixie playing in Hurst’s next game, at Stalybridge on September 2. A day later Britain was at war with Germany and all details of the aborted new football season were expunged from the records.
But those spectators who turned out to watch him could always say: “ I saw the great Dixie Dean play for Hurst.”