Real Footballers' Wives – Dolly Sagar

The next installment of Real Footballers' Wives features Dolly Sagar, wife of Everton's longest-serving player, goalkeeper Ted Sagar who spent 24 years with the club.

Born: Dolly Evans
Walton, Liverpool
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 she worked in the railway office, too, but we didn’t like her very much. She was crafty and thought she could manipulate everyone, but we were all working and independent by then so we all stuck up for ourselves

My school was on Arnot Street in Walton. I loved it and stayed on until I was 14 then 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 up 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.

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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 when 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. A man came over the next week and he played his best. He went for a trial with them but before they had chance to offer him a contract, Everton came over and said they liked his style of play. He was just what they were looking for so 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 on the corner, over the road from Goodison Park. Johnny Wilkinson was one of them and Tommy Robson was another. They were all good-looking boys but they didn’t know anybody or have anywhere to go because they weren’t locals.

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. These 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 at home 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. I was thrilled to bits and I fell for him right away.

Ted was such a gentleman; he would take out me out to the pictures but not to the Walton picture house like everybody else, we’d go into town. He would go into Liverpool after training and would wait for me to finish work and meet me 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 of him. 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 stripe 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 was too. 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 said he could come and lodge with us in Chirkdale Street. My dad was very well in with the management and he told them he would keep an eye on Ted and make sure he wasn’t going off the rails. 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 a pint. He was very much a father figure to him and 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. My dad never let him get drunk and he never dreamed of going out on a Friday night before a match. He took his football very seriously

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 that 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. I said that was fine because I thought everyone would be having their Sunday lunch but it must have got round the ground the day before because half of Liverpool turned up to wish us well. There would have been a few burnt roast dinners that day; their mothers must have been going mad.

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 it was absolutely 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 would 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 lovely new furniture. We got a nice carpet, a bedroom suite and a sofa and chairs. He was coming home straight from the match to the house and I was going to have a nice dinner ready for him. I got it all sorted out and ready and I was so proud that I took my sister there so she could 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.

Dolly Sagar

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 that way. Dr Davies was the club doctor 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 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 waiting 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. Nurse Tyson delivered him; she was very nice and used to come to the house to visit me. 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 used to live there and we had quite a nice house in Allendale Avenue. Little Jimmy Dunn lived in the next road; he was a lovely ginger-haired fella who’d come down from Scotland to play for Everton. He was our friend and I liked him a lot. Dixie wasn’t far away either; he lived on the top road by us. He was a good man and Ethel his wife was nice and very homely, we were all good pals.

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. He would wheel her in the pram and he was as proud as Punch. 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.

Dixie Dean and Ted Sagar of Everton

Dixie Dean shakes hands with Ted Sagar

Football was cancelled for six seasons during the war because all the men were called up to fight. Ted joined the Fifth Divisional Signal Corps stationed out in Syria and he 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. Because my boys were at school, I was called up for duty near where we lived 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.

Once 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. They were big Evertonians and we’d all look forward to the game on a Saturday. 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. They would have their Yorkshire pudding with gravy on its own, not on the plate with the rest of the meal. It was like a separate dish that they ate first.

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. We were pals and we were always nice to each other and she was so proud of her big son.

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 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 weren’t at 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. Nobody would even bother to ask him and if they did they’d get refused. 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 all 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. He was bad tempered, and if you upset him on a match day, you’d had it. 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 could 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 they were often wounded and bleeding at the end of a game. Dixie Dean was a great player and so were Tommy White and TG Jones - they had a good side and they played together well like a team.

We didn’t ever need to move away because he stayed at Everton until he retired in May 1953, 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 called the Chepstow Castle and I think it’s still there now. It’s really near 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. They never got one past him because he had those great big hands.

The next pub was in Aintree called the Blue Anchor; it had a beautiful bowling green and overlooked the 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 out and 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.

Footballers Wives with Becky Tallentire

Becky Tallentire (fifth from left) links up with the Footballers' Wives who helped with her book. L-R: Eileen Stevens, Pat Labone, Irene Lee, Dolly Sagar, Carole Dobson, Maureen Harvey, Maureen Temple, Rose Hurst and Janet Royle

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

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Reader Comments (10)

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Dave Abrahams
1 Posted 09/06/2021 at 21:08:03
Ted Sager was the first goalkeeper I saw playing for the Blues and although Everton were a poor team at the time, Ted Sagar was a very good all round goalie, looking back I think we would have been relegated a lot sooner if Ted hadn’t been our number one. Like Dolly says he always looked absorbed in the game, took no prisoners in going for the ball once he had made his mind up the ball was his, opponents and his own players were knocked out of the way as Ted fought for possession of the ball. He always seemed to have a stern expression when playing for Everton.

As a young boy footballers were Gods to me and Sagar, TG Jones, Peter Farrell and Eddie Wainwright were the players I admired the most. One of Ted’s last games was in the final of The Liverpool Senior cup against Tranmere Rovers which we won 4-1, I think, after the game most of the crowd stayed behind to see Ted presented wit a cheque for £1, 000 for long service, this was in the early fifties so that was a lot of money then.

Ted gave long and valuable service to the club over twenty years, counting the war, and I wouldn’t mind betting over that dedicated service he never earned as much, in his whole career, that the spoilt players of today earn in one week. You were born too soon Ted, although tge late Dolly would never agree with that.
Bill Watson
2 Posted 09/06/2021 at 01:13:24
Thanks for a really fascinating insight into a (mainly) pre-war footballer's wife's life.

I started going to Goodison in 1958 so, obviously, never saw Ted play. I worked with his son, David, through the 1970s but he never really spoke about his dad.

As Dave # 1 says Ted would have only earned a fraction of what they get today but, compared to other working men, they were well paid as is shown by Dolly being able to furnish the house in one go.

94 East Lancashire Road must have been a Liverpool Corporation house and would have been brand new when they moved in.
Derek Thomas
3 Posted 10/06/2021 at 01:53:15
Thanks Becky for another glimpse of a bygone world, I remember (just) seeing Ted in the Blue Anchor and he did indeed have hands like shovels. They don't make them like Ted or Dolly any more.
Peter Mills
4 Posted 10/06/2021 at 08:21:09
A great read Becky, thank you.
Ken Kneale
5 Posted 10/06/2021 at 09:59:57
Lovely article as ever – keep them coming!
JP Ashcroft
7 Posted 10/06/2021 at 10:55:39
Lovely article by Becky. RIP Dolly.
Any new signings - manager or players - should be made to read these to realise just what our club means to us.
Barry Hesketh
8 Posted 10/06/2021 at 18:27:54
A link below to a game in which Ted Sagar featured for Everton, on this day in 1938, it's mainly reported from a Celtic point of view, but an interesting read nevertheless.

Celtic v Everton 1938
Dave Abrahams
9 Posted 10/06/2021 at 21:17:03
Barry (8) a good report on a famous game of the time 1938, just a bit before my time, but I saw quite a few of those players later on for Everton, Ted Sagar, Greenhalgh, TG Jones, Alec Stevenson and Wally Boyes, Boyes for Everton reserves not the first team, Joe Mercer for Arsenal and Tommy Lawton for Notts County. If the Jimmy Delaney who played outside right for Celtic that night was the same Jimmy Delaney who played for Man.United after the war I saw him as well. I bet that Alec Stevenson goal was onside as well, we never got the breaks even then!!
Rick Tarleton
10 Posted 16/06/2021 at 09:52:45
My first game was in 1953-54, but Ted Sagar was often talked about and like T G Jones was referred to as a great player.

This article is a lovely reminder of the world that disappeared around the end of the fifties, of a world in which footballers were working class in every sense.

A friend of mine was Jeff Whitefoot, still the youngest player to play for Man Utd and he played in the first ever Under-23 international. Anyhow, as Duncan Edwards and Eddie Coleman emerged at United, Jeff realised that he had to find a new club.

Eventually he ended up at Nottingham Forest and won a cup winners' medal there, but first he signed for Grimsby, then in the lower half of the old Second Division. I asked him why he'd signed for them? It was simple: they offered him and Nell a club house and the wages were the same everywhere. A couple of First Division clubs had wanted him to sign, but had no club houses free.

Jeff became a publican too after his career was over, as did William Ralph Dean, who I met through my dad, and with whom I spent a fascinating afternoon in The Dublin Packet in 1964.

Life for such footballers was very similar to the life of the supporters who watched them at 1s/6d a time.

John Atyeo stayed at Bristol City though a very good England player, because of his other job as an accountant in I think a family firm.

Gary Imlach's fascinating book about his dad, the old Everton trainer Stuart, "My Father and Other Working Class Heroes" gives a detailed picture of the world Dolly Sagar so movingly evokes.

Thank you for a wonderfully moving article.

Dave Abrahams
11 Posted 16/06/2021 at 16:28:21
Rick (10),

I think Geoff Bradford of Bristol Rovers did the same as John Atyeo, stayed with Rovers all his career in the lower leagues and played for England. I saw him score a hat-trick at Anfield in a night game, only to finish on the losing side; Liverpool won 6-4 with Johnny Evans scoring four,

In the same game, Billy Liddell was playing for Liverpool, another who stayed with the same club all his career, including eight seasons in the Second Division, while he held another job as auditor for Liverpool University, I think.

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