Birkenhead School Boys 1920

Prenton Park has given many young players their first start in professional football. The likes of Steve Coppell and more recently Dale Jennings started their professional careers on the grass at Prenton Park. Of all the youngsters to pass through Prenton Park one stands out as true legend of the game, Dixie Dean.

On the 22nd January 1907 in a small house on Laird Street in Birkenhead William Ralph Dean was born. By the age of seven the First World War broke out and like all children Dean did his part by collecting milk from Farms in the Upton area and delivering it to the people in Birkenhead.

Dean attended the Laird Street School and later voluntarily went to the Albert Memorial Industrial School due to their football facilities. The Albert school was an interesting school choice for Dean as it was a borstal school for Youth Offenders. Dean told the other pupils he had been caught stealing so as not to seem too virtuous in front of the other pupils.

The above photograph shows Dean (the one with the ball) at age 12/13 with his team the Birkenhead School Boys. The picture was taken after a 4-0 win over Bootle in the School Sheilds Competition at Prenton Park. Dean was in good company as the boy at the bottom right of the image is Ellis Rimmer who also playered for Rovers before moving to Sheffield Wednesday where he won the First Division Trophy twice and the FA Cup along with a couple of England Caps.

At 14 Dean left school to become an apprentice fitter at Wirral Railway where his father was a train driver. Dean worked nights so he could continue his passion of playing football during the day. However he still got some football practise in during the night as he was known for kicking the many rats at the workshop over the wall of the yard.

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.

Whilst working at Wirral Railway Dean was approached by his Manager who was also one of the Directors at New Brighton A.F.C about joining the club. However Dean turned them down and instead joined Pensby United. It was whilst at Pensby United that Tranmere Rovers took an interest in this young promising player.

Dean signed for Tranmere and was playing regularly in the Cheshire County League. In 1924 at the tender young age of just sixteen, Dean played his first Football League game for Tranmere against Rotherham County which Tranmere lost 5-1.

Dean didn’t score for Rovers that day and in fact he had to wait until the following season to get his first goal at Prenton Park. On the 20th September local side Southport arrived at Prenton Park to for fill this familiar Football League fixture. The game itself was not overly exciting as the Birkenhead News described the Tranmere forwards as being almost not existent for much of the game.

It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the game that Dean saw his chance to put the ball in the back of the net. The confused Southport defenders Allen and Mulligan allowed Moreton through who then passed the ball to Dean. The Birkenhead News stated ‘Dean took the ball in his stride, cleverly eluded Allen who had come back to retrieve the situation, and slipped the ball into the net.’

This goal was one of many for Dean who scored a staggering twenty seven goals in thirty games for Tranmere. In February 1925 Dean scored his first hat trick at Prenton Park. The Birkenhead News reporter stated ‘I never remember seeing a cleverer goal than Dean’s headed effort that brought Tranmere’s total to three’
However with a scoring rate which was better than some of the player in the First Division it was only a matter of time before the top flight clubs came to see this young prodigy. The Tranmere directors too saw the value in Dean and thought a good sale of the player could completely clear Rover’s debts. Several big names including Newcastle came to offer dean a contract but Dean turned them all down until the team he had support since he was boy Everton made an offer.

Everton paid Tranmere £3,000 for Dean which as the Directors hoped cleared the Club’s debts. However a great footballing asset to Prenton Park was now gone and as the Birkenhead News reported ‘… the departure of Dean is to be regretted and it cannot be gainsaid that the Birkenhead boy by his play and scoring feats has been the main draw at Prenton Park all this season.’

At Everton Dean became a Footballing legend and in the 1927-28 season scored 60 goals, a feat which will never be overtaken.

The saddest part of this story however was that Dean did not return to Prenton Park for forty six years. Dean felt he was owed £300 from Tranmere for his transfer to Everton and held a bit of a grudge towards the Club who had given him his first professional step up in football.

However Prenton Park still holds his name in high regard as one of the Executive Lounges is named after the great the player. Whether Tranmere can produce another Dixie Dean isn’t clear but we can only hope and pray we do.