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Ninety years on.....Dixie’s date with destiny and a record for all seasons

Ninety years ago, on May 5, 1928, Dixie Dean completed one of football’s greatest achievements when his hat trick for Everton against Arsenal took his top flight League total for the season to an amazing 60, a record that will surely remain untouchable in the English game.

Everton had already secured the League title. The only topic gripping the Goodison fans was whether Dixie would score the three goals he required to surpass George Camsell’s 59-goal haul for Middlesbrough in the old Second Division the previous year.

And in the days leading up to Dixie’s date with destiny there were even doubts whether he would be able to face Arsenal after a leg muscle injury sustained in his four-goal outing in Everton’s 5-3 win at Burnley a week earlier.

He was taken off at Turf Moor and club trainer and physio Harry Cooke spent most of the following week at Dixie’s family home in Claughton, Birkenhead giving Dixie intensive treatment to get him fit for the big day in the last match of the season.

“Old Harry was bandaging and putting plasters on my leg right through the week and, good enough, he got me fit, “ a relieved Dixie recalled.

The pair of them left the Dean home on the morning of the game and travelled together on the Mersey ferry and then by tram – or “jam jar” as Dixie referred to it in rhyming slang – from Liverpool city centre, disembarking in Walton Lane to walk the remaining several hundred yards to the ground, past the site where Dixie’s imposing bronze statue now stands.

As they did so Dixie was swallowed up by well-wishing fans, back slapping and hugging him to shouts of “ Go on, Dixie !” and “Bang Them In, Dixie !” before finally making it to the players’ entrance in Goodison Road.

A crowd of 48,715 was recorded although it has been said in many quarters far more than that managed to gain admission. And if all the people down the generations who said they were there actually had been there they would have filled Wembley Stadium !

The official History of Everton Football Club , published a year later, set the scene for Dixie’s task thus : “The 59 was there, an irritating numerical skeleton at the feast ……could Dean supplement his already staggering achievement of scoring 57 in League (top flight) matches and do the hat trick against Arsenal ?”

Dixie gave his answer in the affirmative. Less than seven minutes into the game he’d struck twice. “ I didn’t have to wait long, “ said Dixie. “ After a corner from Ted Critchley I headed the ball from just outside the penalty area – and it flew in !

“Soon after I went sailing through into the area and was just about to shoot when I suddenly went up in the air and ended flat on my face (from a challenge by Arsenal centre half Jack Butler).

“Penalty ……….I took it myself, which I did normally. I intended to place it. I always tried to keep them low and this was no exception. But, believe me, it went between the legs of goalkeeper Bill Patterson. It wasn’t one of my better kicks at all. But it went in ! I could hear a voice inside me saying: ‘ Well, that’s two you’ve got…….’ “

But late in the second half the voice was speaking to him in far more urgent tones. With Dixie’s mother Sarah, seated in the Press Box, putting her hands together in supplication and pleading: “Just one more chance …..” , Dixie, too, was very much aware that the clock had become as much his enemy as Arsenal as he pursued that crucial third goal.

“ Time was getting on and I still needed another. I was getting the ball from all angles. I was hitting them just over the bar or just wide of the post and had two or three efforts tipped round by the keeper. The crowd were getting very tense.”

Then, in the 83rd minute, it happened …….and the stadium erupted. Dixie takes up the story: “ Patterson tipped a shot from George Martin over the bar at the Park End. Alec Troup took the corner from the left and it came absolutely perfect for me.

“I ran in from outside the area to head it ……and the ball flew into the net. That was it. The record ! I just bowed but the crowd went wild. Somebody ran onto the pitch and stuck his whiskers in my face trying to kiss me ! I’d never seen a spectator run onto the field until that day.

“ The game had to be finished (it ended 3-3) so I went to the referee, Lol Harper, and said to him: ‘Look, I’ll be sliding off a couple of minutes before you blow the final whistle’ and he understood.

So I slipped off and got away from the mob. But afterwards, when our captain Warney Cresswell received the championship trophy, I said a few words to the crowd .”

Dixie had planted his flag at the goalscoring summit that season with 40 shots and 20 headers, 31 of his goals coming in 20 away games, 29 in 19 home matches.

And there was no false modesty from the man himself about the scale of his achievement. Dixie reflected: “ 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 that feller who walks on the water. I think he’s about the only one.”

(Extracted from John Keith’s book “Dixie Dean: The Inside Story Of A Football Icon” published by Robson Books,2001).

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