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The Boy from Birkenhead – William Ralph ‘Dixie’ Dean

William Ralph “Dixie” Dean was born in a small house on Laird Street in Birkenhead on 22nd January 1907. Little did his parents know he would grow up to be regarded as one of the most iconic and influential footballers the beautiful game had ever seen.

Dixie soared to fame in 1927/28 when, playing for Everton, he scored 60 goals in a single Football League season, establishing a sacrosanct record hitherto unbroken.

He was a remarkable individual, because of his unassuming ordinariness that was retained until his final days, despite having an infinite amount to be boastful of. This amazing life all began on a quiet road in Birkenhead.

Dixie Dean Landmarks
Source: Wirral Memories

The Boy from Birkenhead

Dixie Dean’s family on both sides hailed from Chester. He was the grandson of Ralph Brett, a train driver who drove the royal train during the reign of George V.

His youth coincided with World War I and from the ages of 7 to 11, he would deliver milk from local farms in the Upton area at 4.30 in the morning, travelling to numerous family homes to ensure they got their proper ration for the day. He also helped attend to the family allotment in Birkenhead, which sustained them through the war years.

Dixie Dean attended Laird Street School, but throughout his education only ever had eyes for football. He grew up as a supporter of Everton, thanks to his father, William Sr., who took him to a match during the 1914–1915 title-winning season. From a young age Dean had an exceptional footballing talent and unwavering passion for the beautiful game.

When he turned 11, he started secondary school at Albert Memorial Industrial School, a borstal school in Birkenhead. The borstal schools were youth detention centres, and although Dean had committed no crime, he told his classmates that he had been caught stealing so he would fit in. The Dean family chose this school because of the football facilities on offer.

Birkenhead Borstal School
Source: childrenshomes.org.uk

The family home had little room for him due to their size and Dean was happy with the arrangement.  He could play on the school’s football team and spent a lot of time on the playing fields, practising his skill with the ball.

He played for Birkenhead School Boys regularly, winning games against teams like Bootle in the School Shields Competition that took place at Prenton Park.

He left the Borstal when he was 14 and spent several years working for Wirral Railway as an apprentice fitter. He willingly took on the night shifts eschewed by colleagues so he could play football. It’s said that he used practise his shooting skills by kicking the trespassing rats against the wall.

Dean was also known for kicking his ball over a Church roof in Birkenhead as practise alongside bouncing it off the roof to improve his headers as a boy.

However, it wasn’t long until Dean was approached by a professional football club. The sons of Dean’s manager at the Wirral Railway happened to be directors of New Brighton A.F.C. and they quickly took an interest in signing Dean. However, Dixie Dean declined the offer from New Brighton, instead signing for local team Pensby United. It was here that Dean attracted the attention of a Tranmere Rovers scout, his local team.

Today, Dixie Dean is a renowned icon of Birkenhead, who showed the world a talent and personality we’re unlikely to see again.

About Birkenhead

The town of Birkenhead is situated in the north eastern part of Wirral and is home to the iconic Birkenhead Town Hall, a focal point in Hamilton Square. This stunning square was designed by renowned Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham and construction began in 1825, taking 22 years to complete.  Today, Hamilton Square remains one of the most attractive places to visit in Wirral and has the most Grade I listed buildings outside of London.

Birkenhead Town Hall

Elsewhere in the town, Birkenhead Park is another iconic landmark. It was the world’s first public park, designed by Joseph Paxton, and said to have influenced the design of New York’s Central Park.

The oldest standing building on Merseyside, Birkenhead Priory & St Mary’s Tower encapsulates so much of the town’s history within a small, enclosed site. Founded in 1150, the monks of this Benedictine monastery looked after travellers for nearly 400 years and supervised the first regulated ‘Ferry ‘cross the Mersey’.

Home to so many amazing buildings, steeped and history and the birthplace of numerous influential people, Birkenhead is a very special place in Merseyside. Throughout his life, Dixie Dean held the town very close to his heart and was always proud to call it his home.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our history of Dixie Dean and Birkenhead, if you can remember a time when Dixie Dean lived in the town let us know in the comments! In the Dixie Dean Hotel, we hope to show this amazing history through never-seen-before memorabilia, kindly donated by the Dean family. 

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