My Everton #127: Grandad's Tales Of Dixie Dean

My grandad, Joe Donohue, recently passed away, aged 104. An Evertonian, he watched Dixie Dean and he was one of the last six surviving men to have been at Normandy on D-Day during the War.

He was six when he first went to see Everton play. That would have been 1925, and he was at Goodison when Dean scored the three goals against Arsenal in the final game of 1927/28 season to break the all-time record for top-flight goals, netting 60 in a season.

He had a guided tour of Goodison for his 90th birthday and the guide was amazed when my grandad said he was at that game. We think he was probably the last surviving person who was in the ground to witness that historic day for the Club.

I remember he used to talk about the size of Dean and how he looked more like a modern player. He’d say: “He was massive, he was a beast. He couldn’t be stopped,” and how everyone tried to kick lumps out of him, but it couldn’t be done.

Funnily enough, he didn’t really talk much about the 80s, when the Club probably had their best period. I think it depends on where you are in your life and when you can go to games. He was around it a lot in the 1960s so he was big on that time and then also the 1920s, when he was a kid.

In 1964, he was at Dixie Dean’s testimonial match. It was England v Scotland but with teams from the Everton and Liverpool players of the day. A couple of years later, he had tickets for all the games at Goodison in the 1966 World Cup, and watched the likes of Pele, Eusebio, Beckenbauer, and Garrincha.

He went with his own sons in the 70s, but didn’t go much in the 80s because his sons – my dad and my uncles were away with their own kids and getting their families started. In the 90s, we all started going again, so from then on, he would’ve had a good run up until eight or nine years ago, when he went to his last game. He stopped going – not because of his own health – because of my gran’s health, so he’d stay at home to look after her.

One of my memories of going to the game with my grandad was that he always wanted to leave early. I think my dad told me that it was because of the queues for the trolley buses. If he waited until full-time, then it would take hours to get on one, so he’d always leave a few minutes before the end of the game.

That carried on until I put my foot down one day. There was a game years ago. Joe-Max Moore scored in stoppage time, and as we were walking down past the cemetery and past the park, we heard this huge roar from the ground. I remember thinking: “Well, what’s the point of going?” You don’t want to miss those moments, so from then on, he was happy to stay around until the end.

Those times, even just in the car and listening to the scores, they were just great. The more we could get of that, the better. He’d love that – spending time with us. We all think it’s about Everton, but it’s really about spending time together. That’s what he loved.

Some of his favourite players he’d talk about were Dave Hickson, Mike Trebilcock, Brian Labone, Alan Ball, and, obviously, Dixie Dean. I’d love to say I could remember more of the pre-war names. I wish I could just give him a ring now. I’m sure that’d set him off and he’d give me a big list of them.

He had his favourites, but he had his not-so-favourites as well – that would be a big list! He always liked the homegrown players. The local lads.

War came in 1939 and my grandad was called up. His induction was at the YMCA, Myrtle St, Liverpool, with: “A very posh officer, called out of retirement to do his bit’’ – my grandad’s words.

In the War years that followed, he was on 25lb artillery and saw service in the whole North Africa campaign.

Later on, he went ashore in the second wave on D-Day, June 6 1944. The fighting was dreadful, and he was to witness to the destruction of Caen, and that stayed with him throughout his life. He was in front-line service pushing up through France, Belgium, Holland and on to Berlin.

He also supported Operation Market Garden and was involved in the surrender of Wehrmacht soldiers in Denmark, particularly looking for Waffen-SS.

After service to his country, he went on to marry Lil, have four children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren, doing great service to his family as he did to his country.

In retirement, he was involved for many years with the 8th Army Veterans, Normandy Veterans and Operation Market Garden Veterans, visiting Normandy and Holland many times, always being met with great kindness and appreciation by the French and Dutch alike.

My grandad came out of the army a couple of years after the War. He stayed on a bit in Berlin, but after that, he worked in insurance and had Brian Labone as one of his customers. He would see Labone and other players getting the bus to the ground before matches.

His dad was an Evertonian, too. While he was ill in the hospital, my grandad would read out the match report from the paper for the most recent Everton games so he could keep updated with what was going on.

He was born around 1880 and he would’ve been following the Club almost from the very start, so our connection goes right back to the earliest days.

My grandad had three sons and a daughter. His sons are all blues (my uncles, Paul and Mike, and my dad, Chris). I'm his only Evertonian grandson and I'm working on keeping things going with my own two little boys.

I live in Donegal in Ireland. It’s a big Liverpool area, but they didn’t really have a choice. My youngest son, his first proper word was ‘Everton’.

They know all the songs and they dance around and get really into it. They both love following the Club.

By Kenny Donohue, Evertonian

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