If a scriptwriter were to sit down today to pen the story of Dixie Dean's legendary 1927/28 season for Everton, the tale would probably be rejected as too far-fetched, just too implausible for even the most credulous of audiences. And yet the fact remains that the Toffees striker scored a phenomenal 60 league goals in that iconic season as Everton claimed the Division One title. A film depicting Dean's exploits has yet to be committed to celluloid but if it did ever make it to the big screen, it would make compelling viewing.
His dramatic story began in 1926 when Dean signed for Everton from Tranmere Rovers for a record £3,000 fee. An eye-catching 27 goals in 30 Football League appearances for Rovers promised much but at 18-years-old, Dean's game was still a work in progress and his goal plundering had come in the old Third Division North. His potential was obvious but not his top-flight pedigree.
During his first full season at Goodison Park, Dean scored 32 times and the following campaign, he registered a further 21 goals. It was already clear that Everton had made a prudent investment in the young Birkenhead-born centre forward but what happened next surpassed even the wildest expectations of both club and player.
Managed by Thomas McIntosh, the Toffees began the 1927/28 season at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Dean was on target in a 4-0 victory against the Owls and with 11 goals in his next seven appearances, the dream of eclipsing the existing Football League milestone of 59 - set by George Camsell for Middlesbrough in the Second Division just a year earlier - suddenly seemed possible.
That dream became more of a reality in early October when Dean scored all of Everton's goals in a 5-2 demolition of Manchester United in front of their own fans and although a rare injury denied him the opportunity to add to his burgeoning tally later in the month when West Ham United were mauled 7-0 on Merseyside, three hat-tricks in the next seven weeks saw his assault on the record continue apace.
Seven more strikes over Christmas and New Year followed but in March the striker suddenly experienced an uncharacteristic drought which threatened to derail everything. Dean drew a blank against West Ham at Upton Park and did not feature against Portsmouth. Two further fruitless appearances against Manchester United and Leicester City followed and although he scored twice in a draw with Derby County, he ended the month sitting on the treatment table as Everton beat Sunderland 2-0 at Roker Park.
This barren sequence left Dean needing an improbable 17 goals in the last nine games of the season to make history. Hitting the back of the net 10 times in the Toffees' seven subsequent games represented an impressive revival but with seven still required from the final two fixtures, it appeared Camsell's record was safe after all.
The penultimate match of the season took place against Burnley at Turf Moor and seeming to sense the hand of history, Dean was at his irrepressible and rampant best, scoring four goals in a 5-3 win. The stage was set for a dramatic denouement to a remarkable campaign.
Faced by Herbert Chapman's Arsenal on Merseyside, Dean required a seventh hat-trick of the season to rewrite the record books. Everton had already been crowned champions courtesy of Huddersfield Town's midweek defeat at Aston Villa and 60,000 fans crammed into Goodison Park hoping to witness the 21-year-old complete his incredible journey in style.
A trademark header, followed by a penalty saw Dean equal Camsell's haul but as the second-half ebbed away, the crowd grew anxious that their hero would be denied by the clock. They need not have worried and with just eight minutes left, the striker rose majestically inside the Gunners area to head home his hat-trick goal and the score a goal that confirmed his enduring place in football, let alone Everton folklore.
"To play against Dixie Dean was at once a delight and a nightmare," recalled the great Sir Matt Busby, who crossed swords with him during his Manchester United playing days. "He was a perfect specimen of an athlete, beautifully proportioned, with immense strength, adept on the ground but with extraordinary skill in the air. He hit that ball with his head as hard and as accurate as most players could kick it. He was resilient in face of the big, tough centre-halves of his day and I cannot think of one centre-half today to match up with that lot. He was a thorough sportsman."
There were to be 10 more seasons for Dean at his beloved Goodison Park in which he scored 234 more Football League goals in 288 games, securing a second Division One title in 1931/32, winning the 1933 FA Cup, scoring in the 3-0 victory at Wembley over Manchester City. Four years on, in 1937 and in the autumn of his record-breaking career, Dixie Dean finally left Everton for a brief and unremarkable stint with Notts County before finally hanging up his boots.
Retirement saw the legendary forward run a pub in Chester and work as a porter for Littlewoods Football Pools in Liverpool and in 1964 he was belatedly awarded a testimonial some 26 years after his last game for Everton. A crowd of over 40,000 packed Goodison to pay tribute to him, in a fitting tribute to a man who's unsurpassed exploits in that 1927/28 season still seem almost too incredible to believe.
He died in 1980 after watching a Merseyside derby and in 2001 his memory was immortalised with the erection of a statue outside Goodison Park with the inscription Footballer, Gentleman, Evertonian.
Tranmere Rovers (1923-25) - 30 Football League appearances, 27 goals
Everton (1925-37) - 399 Football League appearances, 349 goals
Notts County (1938-39) - 9 Football League appearances, 3 goals