William Ralph (Dixie) Dean was born at 325 Laird Street in Birkenhead, Cheshire on January 22nd 1907 on the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool. Dean's family on both his mother and father's side hailed from Chester. He was the grandson of Ralph Brett; a train driver who drove the Royal train during the reign of George V. Dean grew up as a supporter of Everton thanks to the efforts of his father, William Senior who once took him during the 1914-1915 title winning season.
Dean's childhood coincided with the First World War and between the age of 7 and 11 he delivered cow's milk to local families as part of the "war effort: "Well, it was war time you see, so you were grafting all the time. I used to take milk out. I’d be up at half-past four in the morning and go down and get the ponies and the milk floats, then I’d come out to this place in Upton, between Upton and Arrowe Park, and Burgess’ Farm was there. We used to collect the milk in the big urns and take it out to people’s houses, serving it out of the ladle. And not only that, you had an allotment, and that was in school time. And there was no such thing as pinching and stealing and all that bloody caper. In those days, you were growing all that stuff and you needed it for the war time."
Dean attended Laird Street School but felt he was given no formal education. He said: "My only lesson was football; I used to give the pens out on Friday afternoons...the ink, and the chalks. That was the only job I had in school, I never had any lessons."
When he turned 11, he voluntarily attended Albert (Memorial) Industrial school, a borstal school in Birkenhead because of the football facilities on offer. The Dean family home had little room for him due to family's size and Dean was happy with the arrangement as he could play for the borstal school's football team. Dean falsely told fellow pupils he was caught stealing as he didn't want to be considered too virtuous by his fellow pupil.
He left school aged 14 and worked for Wirral Railway as an apprentice fitter, his father William also worked there. His father had been working on the railway since he was 11 years old for Great Western Railway, he later became a train driver before moving to Birkenhead to work for Wirral Railway and be closer to his future wife. Dean took on a night-job so that he could concentrate on his first love, football: "The other two apprentice fitters, they didn’t like the night job because there were too many bloody rats around there, coming out of the Anglo-oil company and the Vacamoil company...rats as big as whippets. So I took their night job, and of course, I could always have a game of football then.” Dean would kick the trespassing rats against the wall.
His managers at Wirral Railway were directors of New Brighton Football Club and they had expressed an interest in signing Dean. Dean had told the club that he was not interested in signing and would later play for local team Pensby United in Pensby. It was at Pensby United where Dean attracted attention of a Tranmere Rovers scout. Whilst at Tranmere, he was on the receiving end of a tough challenge which resulted in him losing a testicle in a reserve game against Altrincham. Immediately following the challenge, a team mate rubbed the area to soothe the pain. Dean shouted "Don't rub 'em, count 'em.”
He scored 27 goals in 30 league appearances for Tranmere Rovers and was attracting the interest of many clubs across England including Arsenal and Newcastle United.
Upon leaving Tranmere Rovers, the secretary Bert Cooke reneged on an agreement to pay 10% of the transfer fee to Dean. Dean was paid 1% of the fee which he gave to his parents who in turn donated it to Birkenhead General Hospital. Instead of receiving £300 he was given £30 and never forgot this injustice.
In March 1925 Dean joined Everton in the First Division for a transfer fee of £3,000. He made his first appearance against Arsenal at Highbury and scored on his home debut a week later against Aston Villa.
He suffered a serious motorcycle accident in Holywell in 1926, in which he suffered a fractured skull and jaw. He was told by doctors that he could not play football again. They were particularly concerned about the dangers posed by heading the ball. Dean ignored that advice and was once again Everton's top scorer in season 1926-27. This included a large number of headed goals. In February 1927 Dean won his first international cap playing for England against Wales. Dean scored after 10 minutes and added a second before the end of the game. The following month he scored two more against Scotland. In May 1927, Dean scored hat-tricks against both Belgium and Luxembourg. In his first five games for England he scored an amazing twelve goals.
Dean was in sensational form in season 1927-28. He scored seven hat-tricks that season and ended up with a record-breaking 60 league goals in 39 games. Everton won the First Division title that season with 53 points, two more than their rivals Huddersfield Town.
Dean was also Everton's top scorer in season 1928-29. He repeated this feat in 1929-30 but could not save Everton from being relegated. Everton easily won the Second Division championship in season 1930-31. Dean scored in 12 consecutive league games and once again was the club's leading scorer.
Everton won the First Division championship in 1931-32. Dean scored eight hat-tricks that season and for the seventh successive season was Everton's top scorer. Dean was also recalled to the international side and scored against Spain in December 1931. All told, he scored 18 goals in 16 games for England.
Dean also scored 28 FA Cup goals for Everton including one in the club's 3-0 victory over Manchester City in the 1933 FA Cup Final.
Dean's body took a terrible hammering during his career and he suffered several spells out of the side with injuries. He failed to be leading scorer for Everton in season 1933-34 but regained his position as the best marksman at the club in 1934-35.
Matt Busby played against Dean several times. In his autobiography he pointed out: "To play against Dixie Dean was at once a delight and a nightmare. He was a perfect specimen of an athlete, beautifully proportioned, with immense strength, adept on the ground but with extraordinary skill in the air. However close you watched him, his timing in the air was such that he was coming down before you got anywhere near him, and he hit that ball with his head as hard and as accurate as most players could kick it. Defences were close to panic when corners came over. And though he scored a huge tally of goals with headers he was an incredibly unselfish and amazingly accurate layer-off of chances for others. He was resilient in face of the big, tough centre-halves of his clay - and I cannot think of one centre-half today to match up with that lot, though it was often the unstoppable force against the immovable object - and he was a thorough sportsman."
Eddie Hapgood, the Arsenal full-back agreed: "Dixie Dean, a wizard with his feet, but just as deadly with his head, as strong as a house, and just as hard to knock off the ball, as clean in his play as a new pin, a great sportsman, and a trier to the end. Dixie was always a tough handful, not only because he was so big and fast, but because he used to roam out on to the wings, taking the centre-half with him, and, frequently, slipping him, making it extremely hard for the rest of the defence to keep some sort of order."
In December, 1936, Everton signed Tommy Lawton for a fee of £6,500. It was a record fee for a teenager. One of the attractions of the deal was that Lawton now had the opportunity to play with Dean. When they met for the first-time, Dean put his arm around Lawton and said: "I know you've come here to take my place. Anything I can do to help you I will. I promise anything at all." Dean was thirty years old and after suffering several serious injuries, he knew that there was not much time left for him at the top. Dean kept his promise and spent a lot of time with Lawton on the training field. Gordon Watson, who played at inside-left for Everton, later recalled: "Lawton and Dean used to work together under the main stand, Dean throwing up a large cased ball, stuffed with wet paper to make it as heavy as a medicine ball".
Six weeks after joining the club, Tommy Lawton was brought into the first team for an away match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, as Dean was rested prior to a fifth round FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur. Lawton found it difficult playing against the England centre-half, Stan Cullis, however, he did score a goal 15 minutes from the end.
Everton drew the FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur 1-1 and it was decided to play Tommy Lawton alongside Dixie Dean in the replay. In the second minute Lawton scored with a tremendous shot from outside the penalty area. Dean turned to Joe Mercer and said: "Well, that's it then. That's the swan song. That's the end of it." Dean realised that it would not be long before this talented player took his place in the side. After twenty minutes Albert Geldard provided the centre for Dean to put Everton 2-0 up. Dean later added a third but Tottenham Hotspur scored four to go through to the next round.
John Jones, Everton's young full-back, later argued that it was Dixie Dean who was the main coach at the club: "Dixie was the boss. Young players at Everton had to keep in order otherwise they were pretty soon stepped on... It was Dixie, along with a couple of England centre-halves, Charlie Gee and Tommy White who ran the show. Occasionally they'd call a meeting and they'd be telling the youngsters what to do. It was the best method of coaching I ever experienced." Lawton agreed but claimed that: "All they ever said was make sure you pass it to a man in the same colour shirt."
At the beginning of season 1937-38 Tommy Lawton played at inside-right and Dixie Dean at centre-forward. The pairing did not work and Everton failed to win a game when they two men played together. On 8th September 1937, Dean was dropped and Lawton replaced him as centre-forward to play against Manchester City.
During his career he was known as Dixie Dean. This was a reference to his dark complexion and curly black hair. Dean hated being called "Dixie" and insisted that his friends and acquaintances used his real name. His biographer, Nick Walsh, argues in Dixie Dean: The Official Biography of a Goalscoring Legend (1977) that Dean felt that the term "had connections with colour problems connected with the Southern states of America, and therefore contained an inference that he was of that origin, or half-caste."
Dean was leaving the pitch after a game in 1938 when a spectator called out: "We will get you yet, you black bastard." Dean went over to him and punched him in the face. A policeman came running over but instead of arresting him, shook him by the hand.
At the end of season 1937-38 Dean was transferred to Notts County in the Third Division. While at Everton he had scored 349 goals in 399 games. This included 19 against local rivals Liverpool. He only played nine games for his new club before moving to Ireland to play for Sligo Rovers.
After retiring from football in April 1941, Dixie Dean ran a pub in Chester called the “Dublin Packet".
Dean died on 1 March 1980, aged 73 after suffering a heart attack at Everton's home ground Goodison Park whilst watching a match against their closest rivals, Liverpool. It was the first time that Dean had visited Goodison Park for several years due to ill-health.
The funeral took place at St. James Church on Laird Street, the street where he was born in Birkenhead