WAGS are nothing new, but more recently, their role has changed beyond recognition. Now you can find them in high-profile advertising campaigns, fronting ghost-written magazine columns, in girl bands, modelling underwear, judging talent shows or creating their own fashion labels.
Of course, since football began there have been wives, but way back when, they stayed quietly in the background and dedicated their lives to supporting their husband’s careers. Continually shelving their own ambitions, security, support networks and families to sustain their partners’ dreams, these women were made of stern stuff.
While their men headed off in search of glory, they repaired the trail of chaos left in their wake – more often than not with a clapped-out car in the driveway and a baby under each arm.
In the time I spent researching and writing my book ‘Real Footballers’ Wives – the First Ladies of Everton’ I learned a great deal about the human spirit: how obstacles can be overcome, pain endured and broken hearts mended. The original WAGS are unsung heroes, decades ahead of their time and living proof that love conquers all.
The following memoir is from Dolly Evans, a Liverpool-born girl who met and married Everton’s goalkeeper, Ted Sagar in the 1930s.
She spent her final years in a nursing home in Ormskirk, Lancashire where I met her. Although she was in her mid-90s, her memory was sharp and as she told her story, I realised she’d never been asked about her life before as she’d always lived in the shadow of her famous husband. She never craved attention or fame, she was happy to look after him, keep house and bring up their children. How things have changed.
Born: Dolly Evans
6th June 1909
We were brought up in Chirkdale Street in Kirkdale. My dad was a lovely man and worked as a clerk for the railways. He was good with figures and very trustworthy so on match days he would earn a bit of extra money working on the gate at Goodison Park. When I was a little girl we’d sometimes go with him; we could just fit under the turnstiles so dad would let us in and we’d sit on a little seat at the edge of the ground. I loved going to the game but I never guessed I would end up married to a footballer.
Our childhood was quite sad. There were four girls and one boy, I was the second youngest and my poor mother died when I was five and left us all behind. My auntie moved in to keep house for us while we were very young and when I was about 12 my dad remarried. His new wife was also widowed and worked in the railway office, too, but we didn’t like her very much.
My school was in Arnot Street, Walton. I loved it and stayed on until I was 14 when I got a job at Saunders, a pharmaceutical factory in Liverpool city centre where they did the labelling and bottling. I used to fill tins and jars with ointment and label the bottles of medicine and I got paid 11/6 (57p) a week. I was on piecework so the faster I worked, the more money I could earn. It was hard graft; I started at 8 o’clock and finished at 5.30 in the evening. I didn’t especially like the job but it was clean work and you didn’t question things in those days, you just stuck it out. I stayed there until I got married at 22.
Ted was one of six children born into a mining family in Campsall, south Yorkshire. Two of his young sisters died the same week his dad got killed in the Battle of the Somme when he was 32. Ted became the breadwinner and worked permanent nights in the pit so that he could earn enough money to keep his family, otherwise they’d have their house taken from them.
One Sunday afternoon he was playing in goal for Thorne Colliery and a man came over to him and asked how long he’d been a footballer. Ted explained he only had a game on a Sunday afternoon with the boys when he’d finished his shift. The man was a scout from Doncaster Rovers and told him he was very interested and thought he would make a good player.
He said he’d been watching for the last few weeks but he hadn’t said anything in case he built his hopes up, but was very pleased with him and would mention him to the club. He went for a trial with them but before they had chance to offer him a contract, Everton said they liked his style of play, he was just what they were looking for and they signed him up.
It was March 1929 when he came to Everton and we were both 19. Everton signed three or four new players around that time and they all moved into digs above the sweet shop over the road from Goodison Park.
I’d had a few years flirting with boys in Stanley Park and I’d had a boyfriend but we had a tiff and he fell out with me. Two girls I knew met up with the new players and told them the teenagers congregated in Stanley Park and there would be plenty of people for them to meet up with. Ted was introduced to my sister, Flo. She already had a boyfriend and he asked her if she had a sister who would meet him that night and she immediately thought of me, so we met on a blind date. I thought he was lovely when I first saw him; he was blond and tall and had the biggest hands you’ve ever seen.
Ted was such a gentleman; he would take out me out to the cinema, but not to the Walton picture house like everybody else, we’d go into town. He would go into Liverpool after training and wait for me to finish work every night and sometimes he’d buy me a box of chocolates. I fell in love with him straight away, I thought he was gorgeous and all the girls from work were jealous. It was a real love match.
He only had one suit and it was really cheap, but he hadn’t got anything smart to come to Everton in, so his mother had bought it for him. It was brown with a pinstripe and I didn’t like it one little bit. I took him to Burtons and told him they would rig him out properly. He used to listen to what I said because he’d never worn a suit before so he didn’t really know what was good and what wasn’t. His mother bought him some spats, too. They were so old fashioned. He asked if he should wear them and I told him he could, but not when he was with me.
My dad was made up when I told him I was going out with a footballer and the club were too because they liked it if their players were courting because they were more settled and didn’t go out drinking and getting into trouble. Dad thought Ted was a nice lad and he could come and lodge with us in Chirkdale Street. Dad was like a father to him and for his mother’s sake that was a great relief because she was terribly worried about him being so far away from home.
Ted liked a drink but he wasn’t a big drinker. With him lodging with us, my dad would take him out for an occasional pint. He was very much a father figure to him and he would never let him drink too much. He wanted to meet the fans in the pub sometimes because they would make a fuss of him and he really enjoyed that. He’d had a lonely life when he was a miner and it made his heart sing when he was surrounded by Evertonians because they really liked him and enjoyed his company. He was a kind man and easy to get along with.
When the close season arrived, he went home for a while but he came back quite quickly and asked if he could come and stay at our house again. He said he didn’t want to be away from me for long. My dad asked if he minded sleeping in the attic because we didn’t have a big house and he said he would sleep anywhere so we could be together.
It was a real love match. I couldn’t believe my luck and I remember he kept saying he was going to ask my dad for permission to marry me. Eventually, he asked if we could get engaged and my dad said ‘Certainly’. He was a nice boy and just the sort of person any father would want his daughter to get involved with.
Somebody told me it was unlucky to marry in May but we didn’t take any notice, we both believed that you make your own luck. Our wedding was on May 8th 1932, at St Lawrence’s in Walton – it was a Sunday because he was playing on the Saturday. We went to see the vicar and explained our case and asked if he could make it late in the afternoon but he said he had to fit it around the Sunday services, so it had to be in the morning.
The vicar said he’d never had so many men in the church at once and there was a policeman there to control the crowds. I was a local girl so I was well known, too, and it made me laugh to see them all packed in there. They were shouting ‘Come on Teddy’ when we walked down the aisle and it was a great day. We couldn’t have a honeymoon because the season wasn’t over but later on we sailed to the Isle of Man from the Pier Head in Liverpool. We went on to win the League in 1932, so when we married, I married a champion.
Our first house was number 94 East Lancashire Road. It was the middle of winter when we moved in and bitterly cold. The club used to take the players away to train in Buxton. They called it the headquarters and they would train hard and bathe in the spa waters, which were supposed to have healing properties. Ted told me to get the house sorted out and he’d come with me to get the furniture when he got back. He wasn’t going to be home until the next week so we decided we’d surprise him and get everything done so it would be all rigged out and lovely when he got back.
My sister and brother went with me to get our new furniture. We got a carpet, bedroom suite and a sofa and chairs. He was coming home straight from the match and I was going to have a nice dinner ready for him. I got it all sorted out and I was so proud that I took my sister to see it in all its glory. I turned the key in the lock but as I opened the door, water was cascading down the stairs. The tank had frozen and burst, so it was filling up constantly and just dashing down the stairs. The bed was soaked and everything was ruined. I cried my eyes out, it was all ruined and he’d never even set eyes on it once. Anyway, they fixed it up for us eventually and we got few bob back on the insurance but we were very unlucky that day.
I was six months’ pregnant with my first baby when Everton made it to the FA Cup final in 1933. I said I couldn’t go because I didn’t think it would be safe to travel all the way to London. Dr Davies was the club doctor and told me that I absolutely must go and that he would be there by my side all the time in case I needed him. Ted Jnr was only 6lb when he was born and you could hardly tell I was pregnant because I was sturdily built anyway, so I didn’t show much. I wore a nice loose dress and off we went on the train. I’m so glad I went. It was 29 April 1933 and it was the most exciting day of my life.
There were 93 000 supporters at Wembley that day and it was the first time footballers had numbers on their shirts so I suppose Ted was the first goalie to ever wear No1 because Everton were numbered 1-11 and Manchester City were 12-22. Ted made a great save in the first minutes of the game and his confidence rubbed off on the other players.
We won 3-0 that day and King George V1 and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, presented Dixie Dean with the Cup but they were only the Duke and Duchess of York in those days. When the train arrived back in Liverpool on the Monday, there were thousands of people waiting at Lime Street Station to congratulate them. The team went on a horse-drawn coach from the Town Hall, along Scotland Road, into County Road and all the way to Goodison Park and there was another 60 000 people inside the ground. We all went into the boardroom and had a drink then Ted and I got a taxi home. I think the players got a £25 bonus for winning the Cup, which was an absolute fortune back then.
My first baby, Ted Jnr was born in July 1933 in a private nursing home when we still lived on the East Lancashire Road. Ted would take his big son out in the pram for walks and he was so proud of him. We didn’t live there for very long afterwards, we moved to Aintree. A lot of the players lived there and we had quite a nice house in Allendale Avenue.
I waited another five years until David was born in 1938 and to celebrate, Everton won the League again that year. The boys were nearly grown up when I fell pregnant the third time. All we wanted was a daughter but I didn’t get pregnant for 12 years after David was born but Margaret Ruth came along in June 1950. I was so glad we finally got our little girl because Ted wanted a daughter so much and she’s so like him. We didn’t think we were going to have any more children; she was born very late and I was so worried I was going to have another boy.
Football was cancelled for six seasons during the Second World War because all the men were called up to fight. Ted joined the Fifth Divisional Signal Corps stationed out in Syria and spent some time in India. It was awful, I didn’t see much of him and I was so scared he wasn’t coming back. I was called up for duty at the silk works in Aintree. My job was testing the silk for the parachutes so I did my bit for the war effort, too. Eventually, Ted came home in one piece and with the unusual honour of having won a Northern Ireland cap to add to his collection. He was approached and signed up while playing for the Signal Corps at Portadown.
When the war was over, everything went back to normal again and the boys wanted to go to the match, so we would all go to Goodison Park together to watch him play. We saw some great matches but whenever the ball was near the net, I was really anxious. Sometimes it was strange to watch him play; it was like he was another person when he was on the pitch. When I was pregnant with Margaret I asked the doctor if it was wise for me to go to the games, but he said it was OK as long as I sat near him. There were not many women went to the match in those days.
When Ted wasn’t training he loved to go off and play a round of golf. I stayed at home with the kids and cooked the dinner. I looked after him well but I couldn’t make Yorkshire pudding like his mum and he never let me forget it. Because he was a miner, everything they had ran on coal even their ovens, so she used to make hers in a coal oven and we only had gas.
Coal ovens seemed to get hotter and the Yorkshire pud always had a different taste to it; it was made to a secret recipe they handed down. You couldn’t slam any doors in the house at the risk of it sinking in the middle and you had to walk around on tiptoe until it was ready. I spent the rest of my life trying to get it right and I still never succeeded because no matter what I did, it never tasted like his mum’s.
I don’t know how much he used to earn but he used to bank it; he was very good like that and he always sent money home to his mum. I didn’t begrudge it because she was good to me and she was a widow and she still had children, too.
People didn’t bother us, but if there were boys at our kids’ school who wanted an autograph, I would get their autograph books or bits of paper and bring them home for Ted to sign. I felt sorry for the kids and would always do it for them. He didn’t like people running after him and mythering but I’d get it done for them and give it back to their mothers the next time I saw them. I know what boys are like.
I’ve had a few kicks in the night when he’s been asleep and replaying a game. He used to shout out, too. One night he was terrible and I ended up black and blue with a great big bruise where he’s launched the ball in his sleep. If Everton lost, he was awful to live with; he sulked and was bad tempered. He was very nervous before a game, too. He kidded on that he wasn’t but he was and he went quiet. His heart and soul was in every game, it was just him and the ball that mattered. His job was to get that ball and woe betide anyone who tried to stop him.
Sometimes during the week, we’d go out to the pictures. He loved Laurel and Hardy and they always seemed to be on and when the boys were off school he would take them with him. On a Saturday night after the game we’d go out to The Queens Arms on Warbreck Road in Aintree and The Sefton – there were no night clubs then and we’d just go and have a couple of drinks and go home but he’d never go out on a Friday night, he was too dedicated to go drinking before a game. He wasn’t a dancer; he couldn’t dance to save his life. I loved being a footballer’s wife, we were happy, he was a good husband and father and he looked after us well.
He was a great player and he was a big tall man with the biggest hands you’ve ever seen, and he was fearless. They wore great big heavy boots in those days but he was never frightened to jump in and claim the ball. He believed the ball was his and nobody was going to get it off him. The fans loved Ted, they would always tell me to look after him because he played such an important part in Everton’s success.
They said he was worth his weight in gold because he had a special gift and could read the way the ball bounced and judge where it was going, even when it was out on the wing. Some of the players were dirty in those days and he would listen to the crowd who would warn him of what they were doing. They would kick lumps out of each other and were often wounded and bleeding at the end of a game.
We didn’t need to move away because he stayed at Everton until he retired in May1953, then we went into the pub business. He did well, he played right up to the end and I think it was because I looked after him so well.
Our first pub was the Chepstow Castle and I think it’s still there now. It’s close to Goodison Park and all the lads would come and see him after they’d been to the match. He’d catch beer glasses and say that the first lad who could get one past him he’d buy them a pint but they never managed it.
Our next pub was the Blue Anchor, it had a beautiful bowling green and overlooked Aintree racecourse. Ted really liked it because they thought the world of him there too. He had no messing around and when it was time, he’d shoo them all home, he wouldn’t stand for any nonsense. I liked it too, but it was hard work. I didn’t do a lot, I used to make sandwiches and help out a bit and pull the odd pint and I enjoyed it. We stayed there until we retired then moved into a bungalow on Altway, Aintree.
My boys both played a bit of football and although they had talent, they didn’t pursue it. Ted Jnr. went to sea, he wanted to be a sailor and off he went. I didn’t stop him because he really wanted to go and you have to let them grow up and make their own choices. He lives in London now and he’s still a good lad. David lives in New Brighton on the Wirral and Margaret in Pontypridd, South Wales, they both come regularly to see me here in Ormskirk but I miss them all. I think about Liverpool, too, there were some great people there and I think the world has changed now but I miss it the way it was.
Ted died very suddenly and I don’t really know what it was but I suspect it was the cigarettes. His only downfall was smoking and he often had a bad chest, but we didn’t really know better in those days. We had a good life together but I really miss him. He’s been gone nearly 20 years now and I miss him more than ever. His ashes are at Goodison Park scattered at the Gwladys Street End, because that was where he made the best saves.
A few years ago I went on to the pitch at Goodison to collect a Millennium Award on Ted’s behalf. It was during a night match against Leicester. They announced my name and I got the loudest cheer I’d ever heard, it was lovely and I felt so proud. I know Ted would have been thrilled to bits and I’ll always remember it.
I’ve had a great life but I wish he’d have lived a few years longer because I’m all on my own again and I’ve been lonely since I lost him. I never bothered with anybody else, there was only Ted I ever loved and nobody could have taken his place.
Dolly passed away peacefully on 11th July 2009. She was 100 years old.
Extract from Real Footballers’ Wives – the First Ladies of Everton
© Becky Tallentire 2004 (reprinted 2012)