JOHN ROBERTS wrote for the Daily Express, The Guardian, the Daily Mail and The Independent, where he was the tennis correspondent for 20 years. He collaborated with Bill Shankly on the Liverpool manager’s autobiography, ghosted Kevin Keegan’s first book, and has written books on George Best, Manchester United’s Busby Babes (The Team That Wouldn’t Die) and Everton (The Official Centenary History).
As Matthew Engel once wrote in the British Journalism Review: “I suspect posh-paper sports writing changed forever the day John Roberts left the Daily Express to join The Guardian in the late 1970s, was handed a piece of routine agency copy and picked up a telephone to start asking questions.”
18 March 2010
In conversation with Dixie Dean: The Fourth and final part of a special series
JR: Do you think somebody will get more than 60 goals in a season?
DD: There’s one especially who will do it … Our Lord.
JR: [mishearing]…In what way?
DD: Eh? Well, he can do miracles, can’t he? It just shows, you’re not much of a church man, when I say Our Lord … he’s the only one that can do it.
JR: But seriously, do you think someone will come along and score more than 60 League goals in a season?
DD: I don’t know…if I could pass on my own spirit, just the spirit, to someone who is useful, then they could creep up there somehow.
JR: Do you mean your attitude of mind?
And there were have it, Dixie in his own words. To put our conversation in a little more context, as Everton’s centenary in 1978 approached, Dixie was obsessed with a quest for an artificial right leg to replace the limb that had been amputated shortly before Christmas 1976. He wanted a leg similar to those which had helped to make Douglas Bader one of the most celebrated RAF heroes of WWII.
Joe Mercer, Dixie’s former Everton team-mate, told me of the day he accompanied his old friend to hospital, where Dixie urged a specialist to tell him of any extra exercises he might try to hasten his fitness to obtain a new leg. (Everybody but Dixie knew that he would never be able to have an artificial leg and that the fear was that gangrene might also attack his good left leg.)
Dixie would enter the hospital reception area with the aid of a walking frame and look at the artificial limbs in cases on the walls.
“The room was filled with chaps who had limbs missing,” Joe said. “Bill took look at them all and cracked: ‘Aye-aye … I see Tommy Smith’s been in ‘ere!’ ”
Some material from the interview also appears in ‘Everton: The Official Centenary History’ and ‘The Legendary Dixie Dean’ CD book.