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Debunking the myth that Real Madrid tried to sign Dixie Dean

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Dixie Dean was famously the first footballer to wear the iconic number nine shirt in a high profile English match.

He became the first man to score 200 league goals before his 23rd birthday. And he is still the only man to score 60 league goals in a single season.

But what is often unreported is that he may also have become the first high profile player to ply his trade overseas - at Real Madrid.

Herbert Kilpin went down in history as the first British footballer to play abroad professionally, turning out for FC Torinense of Italy in 1891.

But it did not become a well trodden path.

It was another half-a-century before John Fox Watson moved from Fulham to Real Madrid in 1948 - and the solitary appearance he made meant that it was a further decade before players like John Charles, Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law made the switch to Europe.

But in early 1932 reports were rife that Real Madrid wanted to make Everton's legendary centre-forward an early Galactico - on a salary three times his £8 a week wage at Goodison.

A national newspaper reported: "Dixie Dean as Madrid FC centre - Reported Offer and Denials - £25 a week lure" and asked "Will Dixie Dean, the famous Everton centre-forward, go to Spain to play for the Madrid football club?"

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The rumour was emphatically denied by the player's wife, Ethel, who was quoted in the report: "This is the first I have heard of the offer of Billy to go to Spain," she said. "He is still sore from the bumping he received at Highbury and I am certain there is no truth in the story."

That "Highbury bumping" was an international against the Spanish national team in which Dixie scored.

However, the same report claimed: "On the other hand the possibility of Dixie being approached on behalf of Madrid FC is being openly talked about in football circles in Madrid."

Locally, the Liverpool Post and Mercury reported on January 1, 1932:  "W.R. Dean, the Everton centre-forward, has had to deny another rumour. The latest one appears to have emanated from Spain.

"The Spanish footballers, who played England in London recently, were greatly impressed by the Everton centre, and a rumour was published by a Madrid paper yesterday, that the Madrid Football club, has made overturns to the England International, to join the club.

"Dean told me last night, 'I have heard nothing whatever, of the offer, nor any rumours of such an offer.'

"Many clubs would like to have the assistances of Dean, but he will remain an Everton player."

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Dean's powers were arguably at his peak midway through the 1931/32 season - the campaign he captained Everton to their fourth league championship.

After a slow start to the campaign he broke his goalscoring duck with a hat-trick in an Anfield derby and by the time of the report had scored 29 goals in 20 matches!

Predictably he finished the season as the top division's top scorer - again - with 44 goals.

Although not everybody was impressed.

Dean scored once in a 7-1 thrashing of Spain at Highbury in December - possibly the match which led to the Real Madrid rumours - but the popular Daily Sketch reported: "It must be said that if Dean could only manage to score a single goal against an opponent of Isthmian League level, he is not the centre-forward for England's team.

"He was, contrary to expectation, often beaten in heading the ball, the very game in which he is a specialist."

The Star was even more critical:  “Dean is of no account outside his own team, and in an international match is like a man hopelessly at sea."

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Red top headline making?

A French report of the match held the opposite opinion.

"The English team centre forward, had played a wonderful game," it read. "Similarly, the leading players of the Spanish XI themselves were full of praises for the swarthy Dixie."

The legendary old Arsenal international Charles Buchan, who made his final senior appearance in the match in which Dixie scored his legendary 60th league goal, told another newspaper: “The Spaniards devoted too much attention to Dean, who had little space in which to move, but nevertheless succeeded in doing a great deal with his head."

And the News Chronicle reported: “As Dean only scored once, the Spaniards may consider that their plan of defence was justified; but in concentrating round Dean they gave Smith and Johnson far too much freedom of movement.  It followed, as usual, from these tactics, that both inside forwards were enabled to score twice. Dean was remarkably clever with his head.”

Whether this was sufficient to prompt interest from Madrid was unconfirmed.

Everton's official boardroom minutes of that era contained plenty of transfer titbits.

Apparently Robbins of Cardiff "did not have enough craft" to warrant a bid, Weale of Crewe was "sturdy, used both feet and was a good player" while Celtic's Napier was "a good inside left but his club were not prepared to consider his transfer at present."

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The only reference to Spain was a letter from "T. Cook & Sons on behalf of the Barcelona FC offering £1,750 for 6 matches in Spain.

"The Secretary reported that on the instructions of the Chairman he had written stating that we would not be prepared to accept less than £2,500."

Dean's experiences of continental travel - and Spain specifically - meant that he would have been extremely unlikely to have accepted any formal bid anyway.

During an end of season tour of Tenerife in 1934, tensions between rival factions which would ultimately result in the Spanish civil war were already evident.

Nick Walsh's original Dixie Dean life story reported: "Quite a bit of shooting went on in Tenerife where the Everton team were accommodated. And not only was there civil unrest but Dean says leprosy and other diseases were at that time prevalent in the islands."

Following one lively evening out Dixie and his team-mate and partner in crime Jimmy Dunn were forced to "jump garden walls, cross roof tops and take numerous diverse routes to get back to their hotel in the early hours as a result of shooting."

So unsettled were the pair that, having fulfilled their playing commitments, both opted to return home early - without their team-mates - on the banana boat The Dunbar Castle.

Nick Walsh wrote: "In the circumstances they felt it was a justifiable course. Dean says that as a result of their decision there were no repercussions from the club."

And there were no further approaches from Spanish football. Officially at any rate.


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