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Did Dixie Dean really lose a testicle in a Tranmere Rovers match?

Arguably the greatest thoroughbred goalscorer of all-time, Dixie Dean was also a magnet for mythology. Found and reared in Birkenhead by Tranmere Rovers, the strapping centre-forward attracted wild conspiracy theories and fantastical caricatures throughout his career.

From delivering milk on the Woodchurch estate as a kid to scoring 60 league goals in one season as a superstar, Dixie was whatever people needed him to be, and that led to some outlandish stories, many of which are apocryphal. As such, it can be difficult to sift history from hysteria regarding old William Ralph Dean, much to our continued entertainment.

One particular Dixie vignette has inspired more half-truths and alternative facts than most in Tranmere Rovers history: the time he supposedly lost a testicle in a match at Prenton Park following a horrific tackle. The yarn has been passed down through generations of Rovers fans, becoming more garbled with each iteration, to a point where it now resembles bizarre fan fiction. Some are unsure whether it even happened, though, lending the tale a mysticism that yearns to be decoded.

Did Dixie Dean lose a stone while playing for Rovers? And, if so, how did such an eye-watering debacle occur? Where, quite frankly, did the testicle end up? And, if nobody knows, could it still be there, buried under the club’s new state-of-the-art Desso GrassMaster pitch?

These are the kinds of questions that plague the mind of a tortured Tranmere fan. We need answers to such quandaries, once and for all, before we can sleep easy at night. So, without further ado, an immortal scrotum is about to get the full Planet Prentonia treatment. This is the ballad of Dixie’s ball sack, much discussed yet chronically misunderstood.

How Dixie Dean lost a testicle on the Prenton Park pitch, according to legend

First, the supposed facts. Perhaps misremembering, Dixie always blamed his infamous injury on Davy Parkes, a bruising centre-half who bestrode the lower leagues in the 1920s. When asked about the alleged incident in a 1978 BBC Radio Merseyside interview, Dixie cited Parkes’ ire during a home league match against Rochdale as causation. According to Dean, Parkes took offence to the youngster’s prodigious talents and vowed to teach the pesky phenom a lesson by kicking him ‘where I didn’t want kicking.’

Indeed, this version of events has been regurgitated in many books and publications, each adding their own hyperbole. “The crunching challenge came after the 17-year-old prodigy was warned, ‘If you score again, it’ll be the last goal you ever score,’” writes Rob Crossan in Football Extreme. Quite where he found that quote is unclear, because no newspaper archive I have consulted carried such a line. Creative licence seems to be in full use here, just as in many places that peddle this story.

Take Back Page Football, for example. “One of Dean’s teammates rushed to rub the area to comfort the pain,” per the blog, “only for Dean to produce one of the greatest quotes to be said on a football pitch: ‘Don’t rub ‘em, count ‘em!’” Such is the degree of wanton poetry regarding Dixie’s crown jewels. Seemingly anything can be added to the story without it seeming implausible.

Nevertheless, when talking to the BBC all those years later, Dean was adamant that Parkes scythed him down, causing a ghastly injury that required urgent medical attention. Dixie said he was rushed from Prenton Park to Birkenhead General Hospital, where emergency surgery was undertaken once the swelling subsided. One of his testicles was removed, before a five-week convalescence kept him sidelined.

“They give you a little touch of the old gas lark and away you go,” said Dean in the BBC tapes, explaining the apparent procedure. “But while this thing was swelling, I turned around to the specialist and said, ‘You’d better hurry up – if this thing blows up, it’ll blow this bloody hospital up.’ At any rate, it didn’t affect me in any way afterwards.”

Did Dixie Dean really lose a testicle while playing for Tranmere Rovers?

Alas, Dixie’s story is itself bollocks. Well, at least according to football historian Gilbert Upon, who decoded the myth in Dixie Dean of Tranmere Rovers, his 1992 book. As Upton diligently explains, Dean faced Rochdale at Prenton Park only once, on 7th March 1925, and although he did score a hat-trick in that game, he played for Everton against Arsenal at Highbury two weeks later following his famous transfer, debunking the BBC narrative of an enforced interregnum.

In fact, according to Upton, Dean’s only five-week absence while at Tranmere came in February 1924, when he was a mercurial 17-year-old phenom turning out for the reserves. Dean played for the second string in a 5-3 win over Altrincham on 9th February, scoring twice, but did not appear again until 15th March, against Stockport County reserves in a Cheshire Senior Cup game. In the meantime, newspaper reports were coy about Dixie’s absence, with no direct references to a testicle injury, nor to a heavy blow forcing him to leave the field in agony.

The Birkenhead News said Dean missed the match after Altrincham – against the burly chaps of Ellesmere Port Cement Works – because he was ‘unwell.’ Later, the same paper reported that Dixie was unlikely to play against Hurst on 23rd February due to being ‘laid aside with a double rupture,’ adding that ‘all his many admirers will wish this promising boy a speedy recovery.’ However, by early March, the News suggested ‘Dean is not suffering from such a severe injury as was first believed and, although he is confined to bed, he is improving nicely.’

Ultimately, then, I believe the notorious injury may have occurred in 1924, although perhaps not as graphically as depicted by Dean, and probably not because of a tackle by Davy Parkes. Moreover, Rochdale are unlikely to have been the opposition, and the incident may even have happened away from Prenton Park entirely. Dixie may well have suffered a galling injury to his manhood, perhaps even a double testicular rupture, but it probably did not involve football, and local newspaper reported – keen for the scoop on Dean’s inevitable transfer – were complicit in a coverup fit for the prudish times.

The jumbled legacy of Dixie Dean’s scrotum

So, where does that leave us, then? More importantly, where does that leave the story, so thrillingly esoteric and weird? Well, Dixie Dean was undoubtedly a tough nut - no pun intended. He endured several operations during his career and even played with a metal plate in his skull following a motorbike accident. Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that, during the aforementioned BBC interview, Dean added another wrinkle to the testicle episode that lends it further intrigue.

Dean said that, many years after the supposed incident, he met poor Davy Parkes in a Chester pub and took retribution by attacking him. “He sent me a pint across the bar,” Dean told Bob Azurdia, his interviewer. “When I asked the barman who sent it, he pointed to him and I couldn’t quite place the face for a time. But I did, and then I done his face up and they took him to the hospital, so we’re even!” Alas, form suggests we should probably take Dixie’s reminiscence with a fistful of salt.

Regardless, this remains a quirky footnote in Tranmere Rovers history, and those of us with a dark sense of humour are inclined to celebrate the story as part of the club’s absurd folklore. Just as Tranmere named a bar after famed goalscorer Bunny Bell and displayed the ball from his sacred triple hat-trick game in 1935, perhaps they can do something to honour Dixie and his unfortunate escapade. Hanging the bygone testicle in a jar above the trophy cabinet may be a tad extreme, but this is definitely one to reconsider should Rovers ever open a museum. After all, you cannot rewrite history – no matter how much it makes you wince.

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