Dixie Dean – Greatest Centre Forward Ever?
Today marks 80 years since the greatest record in English football was set. W.R. “Dixie” Dean scored 60 times in a single season. His remarkable feat was honoured yesterday when his great grandson stepped out as club mascot for Everton’s match against Arsenal.
Dean scored a hat-trick against Arsenal in the final league game of the 1927/28 season to surpass the 59-goal mark that Middlesbrough’s George Camsell had set in the previous campaign, albeit in the second division. The 21-year-old Dean had hit four in his previous outing at Burnley and with Everton already crowned champions, 60,000 spectators packed into Goodison Park hoping to see if he could put the final touch on a great season. They were not sent home disappointed as the match ended in a 3-3 draw and Dean scored all the goals for his side.
In my experience at the rec/casual football level (I still play when I can), the best I’ve done is 5 goals in a match. Now scoff if you like but my point is not to extol my own virtues (I’m much better suited as a midfielder or full-back but have enough pace to pull off a flea-market Michael Owen impersonation from time to time) but to relay the feeling I had that day. It is a horrible cliche but it is also 100 percent true. There is a “zone” and I had found it. I was absolutely calm and I knew what I was going to do when the ball got to me but I didn’t need to think about it. It just happened and I probably could have scored a dozen if I had any talent :). Now, it’s one thing to do that at a casual level, I simply cannot fathom what it must feel like to do that in a stadium where 60,000 people are watching and the players you are up against are also amongst the best in the country and are motivated and paid to stop you. Also keep in mind that the game was more physical and Dean would have taken a battering over the course of the season.
Seeing Cristiano Ronaldo hit a brace on the weekend, which took his season total to 40, made me wonder if anyone will ever come close to such a staggering total again. The 40-45 goal range is viewed as a magnificent season and even goal-scoring machines like Gerd Muller, Marco van Basten, Josip Skoblar (Yugoslav great that ripped up the French league with Marseille) and Ronaldo have only even had a whisper of a hope of reaching 50 goals.
Personally, I don’t think it is possible with the way the game is played now. Without getting overly analytical and delving into all the whys and what-fors, I will give you two solid reasons why it won’t happen. First, team formations have become less attack-oriented and many teams choose to play conservatively in hopes of getting a draw from matches against the bigger clubs. Secondly a player with the potential to do it, like Ronaldo, will be rested for some of his clubs less-important matches.
If you want to read more about Dean, The Liverpool Echo has run an excellent 5-part series on him. There is also a documentary called “Dixie: People’s Legend” and you can view the trailer by following this link.