Seventy years ago this winter, two footballing giants from Liverpool and Everton shook hands before a floodlit charity match at Holly Park.
Leading the former stars of Everton that night was William ‘Dixie’ Dean, arguably the club’s greatest ever player. He scored an astounding 60 league goals in the 1927-8 title-winning season.
Captaining Liverpool was none other than Matt Busby, who made 115 appearances for the Reds from 1936 before earning international renown as the manager of Manchester United.
It was said that the Liverpool half-back line of Busby, Tom Bradshaw and Jimmy McDougall was one of the best the club ever had.
Standing between Busby and Dean on that January evening in 1950 was the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Alderman J. J. Cleary. The Liverpool Echo, who organised the game, sent a photographer to record the occasion.
Fans were delighted to see their heroes back in action. Centre forward Dean played his final game for Everton 13 years earlier in 1937. Busby last turned out for the Reds in 1941.
Born in Laird Street, Birkenhead, in January 1907, Dean’s first love was always football. He played for Pensby United and Tranmere Rovers before signing for Everton in March 1925.
He was so keen to put pen to paper that he ran the 2.5 miles from his Birkenhead home to the Woodside Hotel where Everton secretary Thomas H. McIntosh was waiting for him.
Dean was just 18 at the time, but made a massive impact in his first season, scoring 32 goals.
A major setback nearly ended his career in the summer of 1926. A motorcycling accident left Dean with a fractured skull and jaw, but his spirit was indomitable.
He bounced back to score a record 60 league goals in the 1927-8 season, steering Everton to the First Division title.
Harder times followed in 1930 when Everton were relegated, but Dean stuck with them. In a remarkable four years, Everton gained immediate promotion from the Second Division in 1931, were First Division champions in 1932 and won the FA Cup in 1933!
Dean, of course, scored in the FA Cup final and went on to make 433 appearances for Everton before joining Notts County in 1938. His club record of 383 goals is more than double the tally of his nearest challenger – Graeme Sharp on 159.
Our photo from August 1928 shows him heading one of the four goals he scored against Southport in Everton’s 9-1 FA Cup tie victory.
Staunch defending rather than goal-scoring was Matt Busby’s forte. After joining Liverpool from Manchester City for £8,000 in March 1936, he quickly established himself as a lynchpin of the Reds’ defence.
The Scot’s consistency and leadership qualities soon earned him the captain’s armband. He went on to make 115 league appearances for the Reds before the Second World War cut short his playing career in 1941.
Along with many other Liverpool players, he signed up for national service in the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
After the war, Busby was offered the job of assistant coach at Anfield, but without the amount of first team control he wanted. Instead, Busby took the vacant manager’s job at Manchester United.
But all was not lost for the Reds. In 1939, Busby took a new left half from Bishop Auckland under his wing. The latest signing was clearly destined to have a bright future at the club – and not necessarily on the pitch.
That young left half was Bob Paisley.
The pair not only became lifelong pals – but two of the greatest managers the game has ever seen.
*Hundreds of pictures from an unforgettable decade are packed into Clive Hardy’s fascinating book Around Merseyside in the 1960s. It’s available at £9.99 plus postage and packaging.
Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or ring the hotline on 01928 503777