Will it ever be broken?
That’s what everybody was asking when Middlesbrough striker George Camsell shattered the record for league goals in an English season in 1926/27. Yet just 12 months later, 85 years ago to this Sunday, it was under threat – and while Camsell had managed his 59-goal haul in the second flight, Dixie Dean required three goals to surpass it in the examining waters of the top tier (Dean had surpassed the previous First Division best of 43 earlier that year).
The 21-year-old had rattled home 14 in his last eight outings, including four in a 5-3 win away to Burnley in the penultimate round that clinched Everton the title. He would not, however, have it easy on the final day of 1927/28. Indeed the visitors to Merseyside were Herbert Chapman’s emerging Arsenal side, and Dean was struggling with a muscle injury. To soothe the latter, Everton trainer Harry Cooke had kept a bedside vigil, awaking the England forward every three hours to apply a warm bandage, though Dean's involvement in the fixture was never in doubt – he was, after all, a man who had suffered a fractured skull, broken jaw and eye injuries in motorcycle accident just a couple of years earlier, and been unconscious for 36 hours as a result of it.
The full house at Goodison Park created a carnival atmosphere, with the Evertonians desperate to see their hero make history, but it was Arsenal that stormed into the lead through James Shaw on two minutes. Dean responded with a quick-fire brace, a fierce drive from distance preceding a penalty which he won himself, but an own-goal ensured the sides went in 2-2 at the break.
Arsenal were determined not to be the victims against whom Dean made it 60 goals in just 39 league games, and after the restart the powerful No9 was incessantly encircled by red shirts. This rendered Everton unable to create a chance for their goal machine, but when they won a corner in the 85th minute, Dean knew it was one he simply had to take. Intelligently, he hung back, just outside the box, before charging in once Alec Troup delivered his cross and thundering a header home to back it 3-2.
Goodison Park erupted and the apocryphal story is that when the goal went in, the pigeons and seagulls three miles away at Liverpool’s Pier Head were dispersed by the noise. Not even a last-gasp Shaw goal, which earned Arsenal a 3-3 draw, could deflate the euphoria.
Camsell’s record had lasted just a year. Dean’s has lasted 85… and counting.