When the legendary Dixie Dean lined out for Sligo Rovers in his "happiest time" in football

Aidan Mannion of Sligo Rovers Heritage Group talks to Team 33 about the Bit o'Red history

BY Raf Diallo 14:06 Wednesday 21 December 2016, 14:06 21 Dec 2016

Bill 'Dixie' Dean, Everton. Picture by Barratts S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

The type of goal-scoring stats Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been producing is something we already cherish.

But it's only when the duo retire that we will fully appreciate what we have witnessing from both of them.

If you take their careers as a whole, they are pretty much in the goal a game rate.

Dixie Dean scored at a similar rate - albeit in a vastly different era - during a legendary career for Everton between 1925 and 1937.

The former England footballer, who scored 18 goals in just 16 caps and has a statue outside Goodison Park, had such an impact in the pre-World War II period that he is still talked about in exalted tones 80-90 years on.

Yet many may not know that Dean, who passed away in 1980 at the age of 73, also played in the League of Ireland.

It was something we touched on with Sligo Rovers Heritage Group chairman Aidan Mannion, when he joined us on this week's Newstalk's Team 33 to discuss the club's history. 

You can listen to the chat with Aidan Mannion on the podcast player below or on iTunes:

Dean's Everton career had come to an end in 1937 when he had turned 30, bringing the curtain down on a goal record of 395 goals in 447 appearances in all competitions.

While you let that goals rate sink in, Dean followed that with a couple of years at Notts County where he managed a respectable three goals in nine games.

By this time, 1939 was dawning and World War II was brewing, which in Ireland would be experienced in the form of The Emergency.

As Mannion explained, there was a slight random nature to how Dean finally arrived in Sligo, who had won their first league title in 1937.

"He was actually initially contacted to see if he would have known any forward or centre forward who would have come to play in Sligo," he said.

A waxwork of England and Everton star Bill 'Dixie' Dean in Madame Tussaud's in 1929. Picture by Barratts S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

"And in fact, instead of picking out somebody else, he offered to come himself and interestingly enough, the time he spent in Sligo was, he reckoned, his happiest in football. And in fact, he's on the record as saying that and he really enjoyed his time in Sligo."

What sort of impact did he have in the League of Ireland? Ultimately, his stay was brief. But his goalscoring instincts had never left him.

In seven games for Sligo Rovers, he is recorded to have scored 10 goals and reached the FAI Cup final.

Other activities also took his fancy during his stay in the North-West.

From George Best to Gordon Banks, check out other football legends who played in the League of Ireland.

"In fact he played golf. He was a scratch golfer and played in the west of Ireland championship and won in the first round in it when he was at Sligo," says Mannion.

"He also went to Donegal at one stage and refereed a match between a Sligo selection and Donegal. He refereed the match and then gave a lecture on football in Donegal afterwards."

And local soccer fans took to him as soon as he arrived with large crowds at Sligo's train station to greet him upon his arrival in the town. Some put the number at 2,000 people that day.

"Well, you can imagine, it was almost the equivalent of Messi arriving in Sligo. It was an amazing coup for a team like Sligo to have a guy [like Dean]. I mean, here was a guy who still holds the record for the highest number of goals scored in what was then the First Division in England and is one of England's legendary footballers," says Mannion.

You can find details on how to get a copy of the Official Sligo Rovers History ‘The Bit O’ Red’ book right here.

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