Real Footballers' Wives – Carole Dobson
Catholic nuns ruled Paddock House Convent Grammar in Accrington with a rod of iron and although my parents were absolutely thrilled that I passed my 11 plus and won a place, I have mixed memories of my time there. My brothers all went to St Theodore's High in Burnley but my sister, Linda, followed in my footsteps. It was a good school, the sort of education parents were grateful for and it prepared you well for life, but it was awfully strict and I was ready to leave when I did. I finished at 16 then went on to college, where I studied Art & Design.
There were five children in our family and I was the oldest. Dad was a steam-engine driver for British Rail and during the holidays we would go with him when he was taking a train to the seaside. As a special treat, we could go on the footplate with him it was awe-inspiring and I've got great memories of days out in Southport and Blackpool. We'd spend the day on the beach with Mum then get on the same train Dad was bringing back home. It was real storybook stuff. Mum was kept very busy when we were young but she was a confectioner by trade and was always making cakes for special occasions. Later on she had a part-time job and Linda and I had to help with household chores and do some of the cooking, which stood us in good stead for later years. We had fabulous parents and a wonderful happy childhood.
My background is Irish and my grandfather used to get the ferry over from Dublin to watch Everton, so I knew a bit about football and went to the odd game. My dad was a sporting man, too, steeped in cricket and football. He was an avid Burnley supporter but when they were playing away, he would go and watch Blackburn because Ewood Park was virtually next door. In fact he would watch anyone he could and because of my grandad, he had a particular soft spot for Everton. He loved going to Goodison and told us stories about the derby games in those days. He said the Everton and Liverpool supporters would stand side by side and shake hands after the match and congratulate the winners; it's hard to imagine that now. He'd go and watch all the Home Internationals, too, with his Scottish friend Jock. One year he'd go to Hampden Park and watch England play up there, the following year Jock would come to England and they'd go off to Wembley together. He loved his sport and couldn't get enough of it.
Martin loves cricket, too. He used to play for Lancashire schoolboys and could have had a career in the sport but he opted for football because he wasn't too keen on, 'Hanging around in the dressing room'. He still loves cricket though, and during the summer he watches as much as he can. He and my father get on very well because their interest in sport is reciprocal.
It was 1971 when I met Martin and his wife at a party. I was about 22, also married and my husband was a big Burnley fan. One of our neighbours was another Burnley player, Les Latcham, and that was how we were introduced. We all became very good friends and would go out for meals in a big group, maybe eight or 10 of us on a Saturday night after a game. My first impression of Martin was that he was considerate, polite and quite shy. I think football brought him out of that to a certain degree, but he's still a very quiet man. He's entertaining when he's in company, but he likes his own space as well.
My then husband and I set up a studio designing and selling kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms and I did the designing. We were quite successful and ran it for 13 years but I think that contributed to our marriage breaking down because when you live and work together, there's nowhere to run. We finally got divorced in 1985. Martin had been to Everton back to Burnley by then and was player-manager of Bury by that time.
When we got together, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for but the idea of a football life didn't bother me at all. I'm a Catholic and Martin is Church of England but because we were both divorced, we didn't think we would be able to marry in a church. Because of my background I didn't really want a registry-office wedding, however, and fortunately we did find a little church on the outskirts of Burnley and the vicar agreed to it. I couldn't have arranged it during the season so we married in June 1987. We had about 40 guests and it was a lovely day. Frank Casper, Martin's first team coach at Bury was there along with Terry Robinson, the chairman, and the rest of the guests were just family. We had the reception at the Dunken Halgh Hotel in Accrington then flew off to St Lucia for three weeks. It was blissful. There was something in the press about it. I think there was a photo and a little write-up but that didn't bother me at all.
We bought a house in Burnley and that was where we settled. We didn’t have children together because we had a ready-made family. Martin has a son, Richard and a daughter from his first marriage and I've got two girls, Helen and Sarah, and we all lived together but the funny thing is that his daughter is called Helen too, so when you called one you often got the other. There were some problems, of course, but everyone really did get on well and it was one big happy family.
I was friendly with other footballers' wives but because Martin was the player-manager, I think I became a bit of a mother figure to the other girls. He had some super guys playing for him and I got to know most of the wives quite well — they were a good bunch. They were very supportive and loyal and went to all the games, but maybe the most important role they played was to help keep their men's feet on the ground and that's vital because if a player is happy at home, then that will reflect on the pitch. Bury are a small club with a great family atmosphere but they didn't have a tremendous amount of facilities and there was nowhere for these poor women to go on a match day.
That was always a bone of contention with me. Their husbands were entertaining thousands of people yet their wives and children were left to loiter in the corridors or outside in the rain. I thought it was so wrong. They spent hours waiting for their husbands to finish so they could go home, and there was nowhere for them to go. We told the chairman it wasn't good enough and they needed somewhere to come and belong. We managed to get a room organised for them in the end.
Martin would often tell us about his superstitions and he was adamant they worked. Apparently, when he was at Everton he would set off from home in his lucky suit or tie or, whatever he'd worn the last time they'd won, listening to the Electric Light Orchestra on the tape deck in his car. As he got nearer to Goodison Park there was a sea of royal blue and he would be driving past the fans with Mr Blue Sky blasting out at full volume. He said that by the time he got to the ground he was psyched up and ready for anything. As far as I know, footballers were pretty much all like that. They were so superstitious it used to make me laugh, but he really believed it worked, so who was I to argue? As soon as the team lost, it would all change again and he would soon be in pursuit of a new 'lucky tie'.
When he was there Everton were going through one of their barren spells although he did make it to Wembley for the League Cup final in 1977, a dour goalless draw with Aston Villa, but he made it nonetheless. He'll never forget seeing the fans on Wembley Way and to run out onto the pitch was the most fantastic feeling in the world. I can still remember the phone call I got when he got his England call-up, too, we were still only friends then but I was so proud of him. It was wonderful to know that he'd been asked to play for his country, I don't think it can get any better than that because that's somebody saying he's the best in his position in the country and that has to be the greatest accolade you can get.
There were the odd Bury games I couldn't make but I always tried my utmost to be there. I'd just jump in the car and go no matter where they were playing. I think he quite enjoyed it when I did because after the game we would come home together in the car rather than him go on the coach, because he needed that little bit of time as player-manager to distance himself and think about what had happened on the pitch. When they lost I was subjected to half an hour of horrendous ranting while all his frustrations came out, and if they won he would wax lyrical on how wonderful his team had been. I think he needed somebody to bounce his thoughts off and I'd watched so much football that I did understand the game and I had a great interest in how it all panned out, although my perspective was very different from his.
We'd always stop off somewhere different on the way home and have dinner. We'd just find somewhere we liked the look of and have something to eat and he'd gather his thoughts and we would enjoy each other's company. It wouldn't matter where we were, though, there would always be somebody in the restaurant that would come over and say hello or ask him for his autograph. It was amazing. You would think you'd be in a place where nobody would have the vaguest idea who he was but they would just materialise — it never failed to astound me. I suppose he was quite recognisable by his hair, but it's a little thinner these days. We always reckon that Kevin Keegan copied him with that perm of his. Martin was the trailblazer, and his was natural.
Injuries were an occupational hazard. He broke his leg very early on when he played for Burnley and that kept him out for a while — he made a rug while he was convalescing from that, he could never be idle. Another time he broke a wrist and he's had any number of head injuries and stitches. When he was very young he went to Germany and clashed heads with somebody and split his eyebrow open, and he's often come back with stud holes in his knees and shins.
Once, during a training session at Bury, he went up to head a ball and clashed heads with one of his players but unfortunately it was his face that caught the impact. He came home that night and I almost fainted when he walked through the door, because he was wearing a mask and looked like the Phantom of the Opera. He'd smashed his nose and it had ended up on the other side of his face. I can only imagine how painful it must have been. The consultant warned him it was going to really hurt so it must have been horrendous, but once they'd reset it and put it back more or less where it should have been, he was on the mend. He didn't really worry too much about getting hurt — it's wives who panic but he didn't seem to bother. He just picked himself up and carried on.
He didn't relive games in his sleep, though, and he often tells me that he doesn't dream. I'm sure he does but he's not aware of it because he gets it all out his system and then relaxes. The following day, his perspective would be very clear because he'd thought it through quietly and then he seemed to know what he had to do.
Pre-season was always a busy time but I was very lucky he didn't go away too often. He's been on the odd trip to Russia and the Isle of Man but you've got to get used to these things. I'm not too sure about the end-of-season tours, though. That was a different thing altogether and not something Martin particularly relished. If they'd done fairly well they'd be away for a week, but it wasn't on the top of his list of favourite things to do. They call it bonding but Martin always used to say to me that when you've been with players through a season — in the dressing room, training, travelling and working together — the last thing you need is to go on holiday with them.
He could also be transferred at the drop of a hat, but in a funny way it wasn't unsettling and I know we had children to think about but I always thought they were opportunities as opposed to ordeals. When you get involved with a professional footballer you know it's always a possibility and you've got to accept it. He was also manager at Bristol Rovers for a while in 1991 and we even had a short spell in Cyprus. We'd only gone there for a two-week holiday and got talking to someone in a bar and within two weeks of getting home, we had the secretary from Apop FC, a Cypriot football club on the phone asking if he was interested in managing out there.
The chairman of the club was a very interesting guy, a Greek Cypriot who invited us to come and meet him at the Grosvenor House hotel in London and stay in his suite. It is amazing the sort of things that happen in football. Sometimes you'd have to pinch yourself. We were only in Cyprus for three or four months but the football there isn't the same as we know it in England. I can't really go into detail but let's say it was different. Nonetheless, it was a great experience. We had a lovely place out there with lots of sunshine and the owner was very interesting. He had yachts and a mansion and everything he did was in a big way — it was quite an eye opener and all a little bit surreal.
We treated it as a lovely long holiday. We have lots of good memories from that and a few ragged ones too, but nothing we regret. Our children didn't want to come with us so we didn't force them because they wouldn't have been happy, and we didn't know how long we were going to be there. The youngest would have been 17 then and still being educated, so my mum stepped into the breach. God love her.
I think you have to have a broad perspective and take your chances, and we didn't want to get into our dotage and have any regrets We always like to have a go and if we didn't like it when we'd given it a try, we would come away non the worse. Nothing really daunted us.
Martin began as Bury's player-manager with about eight games left at the end of the 1983-84 season and the following year they got promoted to the old Third Division. That was a hell of a day. It's small fry compared to an England call-up, or being involved in the Premiership, but nonetheless it was just as important and I was so proud of him.
I was never expected to do anything other than be his wife, and I can honestly say he's never expected me to do anything I didn't want to do. It was my decision if I wanted to work. I didn't have to but if I felt like I wanted to, that was fine. He never expected me to even go to a game. He would ask me if I'd like to go, he is always very considerate and never presumes anything.
There was nothing I hated about being a footballer's wife. I think I've been very lucky because he's a real family man. There were always women hanging around at games but I never feared anything because he was very loyal and committed and still is. I can count the nights we've not been together and I trust him to the ends of the earth.
I wouldn't like to be a footballers' wife now because I think the pressures are enormous. When Martin was in his hay day nothing was expected of us but look at the Victoria Beckham’s of this world and they're followed around everywhere. I would really hate that. When Martin played there was more of an element of innocence and everybody seemed to be happier because they could be themselves but now they're conscious of what they're wearing and where they're going and who with. It's too public and the thought of somebody rummaging through my bins or taking endless photos makes me feel quite angry. Martin would finish playing a match then we would have a drink and go home and that was it. Now they're on display all the time. Victoria Beckham is a good example because she's constantly in the news but nobody knows who she really is or what she thinks, they just judge her on her image and that's it. I really do feel quite sorry for her. It all sounds very shallow to me.
People still recognise Martin, particularly if he goes back to Everton, as we do quite often. They've got one of his caps and an England shirt of his framed on the wall in the Legends Bar at Goodison and they always say there will be two tickets for us whenever we want them. We do go back. Sometimes he goes to do a match report for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and sometimes just socially, but whenever we're there, everybody wants to shake his hand. It's remarkable and ever so special. Suddenly you'll hear somebody shout, "Dobbo, it's great to see you."
It's just wonderful to think that the fans held him in such high regard. It's the same at Burnley, too. They've just started a Wall of Legends at Turf Moor and he was voted No2. They've got plaques built into a wall and they had the opening in February 2004. The former players had to walk around the pitch before the kick-off and there was a big dinner in the evening. The atmosphere was wonderful; there were 400 people at the meal and he got such a great round of applause, it made me feel so proud. It's a lovely feeling that he's done something special in his life. It's always nice to go back, see people and meet up with old friends. All the Old Boys get together and reminisce about the glory days and catch up with what they're all doing now. He still has fans writing to him wanting autographs and sending him photos to be signed, too. Some of them are avid collectors and it's nice that he's not been forgotten.
Martin's a frustrated writer, as well, and I think there's a book in him dying to get out. In the meantime he writes a column for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph so he spends a lot of time on the computer. He can sit for hours writing an article and he's quite humorous in his work. They love him at the paper because he doesn't need a ghostwriter; he does all the writing himself and emails it to them for publication. He also scouts for Joe Royle at Ipswich Town and does some after-dinner speaking, so he's always quite busy. He's still quite a home bird and as he's never been a pub person, he doesn't miss the usual lads' Saturday night out. When he was playing he was always very concerned about his performance and wanted to give his best every game.
He's also a keen gardener and likes to be outside. We've got a big garden now and he's out there whenever he has time, but there never seems to be much because he loves watching football so much. He might have played on a Saturday but if there was a game on the Sunday, he'd go and watch it. He just couldn't get enough and he's the same now. He'll watch any level and any age: children's games, friendlies and non-league. He was also the academy director at Bolton Wanderers for four years, when Colin Todd was the manager, a, job that suited him nicely.
I like to garden, too, but I never seem to get much spare time and now, as we've got four grandchildren, there are just not enough hours in the day. We've got two boys and two girls. The boys are Sarah's. Daniel is a keen footballer and always has a ball with him while Thomas is only a toddler but he kicks it around too, because he sees Daniel and he wants to join in. Helen has two girls, Laura and Alice, and they are following in their grandad's footsteps in a manner of speaking. They are both cheerleaders and help entertain the supporters before home games at Turf Moor — so the tradition lives on.
I work as a personal assistant to a chef in a restaurant called Chefs at Paragon. You know what chefs are supposed to be like temperamentally, but not this one. He's an excellent cook, too, but minor details and day-to-day things are not his forte, so I try to organise things for him. Martin said if I want to do the job that's fine and if not, that's also fine. I chose to do it as I've nearly always worked, except when the children were younger. I really enjoy going to work and I leave Martin here, getting on with his writing.
My brothers and sister are still very close although we're a bit far-flung now. John is a film editor and lives in London; Michael is still in Burnley and runs his own kitchen studio, Paul lives in Warrington and has just started his own electrical business and Linda has been a schoolteacher for years. We're all very lucky because these days families are not quite the same as they used to be. Yes, we have our differences occasionally, but on the whole we all get on and see each other as often as possible.
I suppose I did make some sacrifices for Martin's career, but I think that happens in any partnership and I think if the truth be known, Martin really made more than me.
Taken from Real Footballers' Wives — the First Ladies of Everton, still available for purchase in book or Kindle form. Copies are also for sale by contacting Becky directly via Twitter at @bluestocking63 or by email.
© Becky Tallentire 2004
Reader Comments (11)
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1 Posted 15/12/2020 at 18:57:56
Somehow I doubt that any modern footballer sitting out a long-term injury would spend the time making a rug. I got a chuckle out of that little anecdote.
2 Posted 15/12/2020 at 19:12:44
As for Martin Dobson...I wish we had him now. An elegant midfielder, he was another player who glided across the pitch, barely seeming to break into a sweat, and he had a good eye for goals as well. The '77 League Cup final is mentioned here. We had some lovely players at that time, Todd, Latchford, McKenzie, Thomas, King and Dobson, what a pity we were weaker defensively, and could not get over the finish line.
3 Posted 15/12/2020 at 19:17:42
No exaggeration to say Dobbo kept us out of a relegation scrap almost single-handed that season. He was the real deal a top-quality player who would have graced any of the great Everton sides.
Such a shame he played in one of our hopeless periods.
4 Posted 15/12/2020 at 19:39:03
Regarding Martin, an elegant and consistently good player, there was a fan on the Goodison Road side, close to where the players come out. He had it in for Dobbo. I never knew him or saw him up close, but one game v Newcastle, I think, Martin scored a cracker and made a beeline for this fan, waving his hands at him and an angry look on his face. Seemed to be implying to this fan by his actions “What did you think about that?”
I think Martin did a bit of scouting for Everton after he left. Nice to know he still comes back and is well appreciated by the club.
6 Posted 15/12/2020 at 20:34:05
7 Posted 15/12/2020 at 21:54:18
In his timeEverton came close but ultimately failed to get the success, the fans deserved. I still believe he should never have left EFC in 1979, as he was good enough to have played in defence as he could read the game very well.
I always remember a few classy and scruffy goals and his great goal at their place.
Becky done a few books I recall, and I have some in my collection, which I got signed by her and I subsequently got signed by many former players when I had chance.
In my view hed have been a top player in the modern game and its amazing to think where the years have gone, and so quickly.
Heres to a win at Leicester tomorrow.
8 Posted 15/12/2020 at 22:50:23
He was indeed a class act in midfield. Replacing Colin Harvey in 1974 was not easy but Martin quickly established himself as one of our best players in that era. Elegant on the ball, he not only set up our attacking play but also chipped in with his share of goals, some of which were among the best I have seen.
His twenty five yard rocket at Anfield in 1976 which flew past Clemence, was our first in derby games for five years. A few weeks later he scored a cracker in the quarter final of the League Cup at Old Trafford. His hat trick in the 8-0 win against Wimbledon in the League Cup in 1978 was only overshadowed by Bob Latchford scoring five.
We could ill afford to lose him in 1979. I was surprised at the time the club did not do more to keep him. After Martins departure the team steadily deteriorated until Howard Kendalls arrival in 1981.
9 Posted 16/12/2020 at 17:41:17
10 Posted 16/12/2020 at 21:12:14
We possibly underrated him after the magnificence of the Holy Trinity, but how we'd love him as the box to box man in the present team.
He was a very good footballer and an even better sportsman.
11 Posted 16/12/2020 at 21:18:54
He was a quality player who deserved to win trophies.
12 Posted 17/12/2020 at 06:47:51
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