The final instalment of Real Footballers' Wives features Eileen Stevens, wife of 1960s Everton forward Dennis
Born: Eileen Crewe
12th September 1938
Like most girls from Bolton, mum worked in a cotton mill although she gave up work after she and dad started a family and was with us all the time after that.
She had three daughters, all born within a year of each other: Edna, Marian and then me, the baby. We were and are very close, and still see each other most weeks. Mum had two boys before us girls were born, but they both died as babies. She vowed she wouldn’t have more children after that, then we came along. It was a hard life in those days, but we had a happy childhood and I have good memories of it.
I was very creative and qualified to go to the art college when I was 11, but I didn’t take it up because Tonge Fold secondary modern was the school my sisters went to and I didn’t want to be separated from them. I did take up art later in life, when our children started school, and I’ve pretty much been painting ever since.
I enjoy portraits and life drawing most of all. I started painting with oils and went on a number of art holidays and courses, where I did pastels and watercolours and even studied sculpture for about five years. This year I won the Joe Lever trophy at my art club in Harwood and I was thrilled to bits. I don’t exhibit as much as I should but occasionally I have the odd show and sell my work. I should really devote more time to it, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day and it’s a hobby really, but I enjoy it enormously.
My first job was as a receptionist at a photographer’s shop, they did passport stuff and portraits of children and families; then I worked on the make-up and cosmetic counter in a chemist’s for a couple of years. I’d only ever been to one football match with a group of girls, one of them had suggested we should go and watch Bolton, so I just went with the flow, but I’m very small and I was among the crowd so I couldn’t see much and I hadn’t a clue what was going on.
It was the week after my 17th birthday when I met Dennis. I was with friends at the Palais de Dance in Bolton. He was an established player by then and one or two of the girls had already whispered that he was in there, but I didn’t know who he was.
He was the youngest of 12 children, born with a great love for football, but coming from such a big family there was never any spare cash for luxuries like football boots or match tickets. He was originally from the Dudley and had a teacher named Mr Davies who believed in him and would take him to the big games at Aston Villa and Wolves. The whole family chipped in to buy him his first pair of boots and Dennis often wonders how different things might have been if not for Mr Davies, his guardian angel.
He signed as an apprentice for Bolton when he was 15 and went into digs with an elderly couple called Mr and Mrs Nash. They didn’t have children but he was a scout for the club, so they took in the occasional lodger. Coming from such a huge family Dennis was terribly homesick, so he soon packed up and went back home. His mother then sent him to work on a farm so he would realise what the alternatives were for a working-class boy, and it wasn’t long before he was safely back in his digs in Bolton and counting his lucky stars. He stayed there until he married me at 26, and became the son the Nash’s never had.
Eric Oldham, a team-mate and good friend of Dennis, came from Newcastle and went out with my sister Marian. Dennis had already seen me around and asked Eric if we could get a foursome going so that was how I got to go out with him. Eric finished at Bolton soon after and headed back to the North-east to play for Gateshead so he lost touch with Marian eventually, and they both married other people.
Dennis and I asazsstarted dating and going out with a group of friends. We’d go to dinner- dances, the pictures, visit family and get up to the usual things courting couples did. Sometimes we’d go off to the coast or the countryside for walks. Dennis didn’t have a car when I first met him, but he got one eventually and there was no stopping us then.
My dad was an insurance agent and a very keen Bolton supporter, so he was really impressed when we started courting. He supported Dennis throughout his career and even used to come over to Goodison with his friends to watch him play there, too.
We waited until the close season to get married and did so on June 11, 1960. His brother Derek was best man and my sisters and Dennis’s niece were my bridesmaids. We married at St Stephen and All Martyrs in Bolton, which was my church when I was a girl. We went down to Bournemouth on honeymoon and one day a guest in the hotel asked if there was anybody who played golf because he needed a partner, so Dennis volunteered and off they went. I went around the course with them because I’d never seen him play before, and that passed a pleasant afternoon. He played another round with the guy after that, too, but it honestly didn’t mind being one my own at all. I went and spent the afternoon having my hair done and being pampered with a full beauty treatment.
By that time we had a group of friends who were mainly footballers so we would go along to the match and I would sit with the other girlfriends and wives. I was a friend of Nat Lofthouse’s wife, Alma, and Ralph Gubbins’ other half, Margaret. Alma has passed on but Margaret and I are still friends after all these years and we still go to see the Wanderers every other week.
Way back then, I remember going to Old Trafford when the floodlights were first in use, and that was the first time I first saw Duncan Edwards play. Duncan was one of Dennis’s cousins. I remember working at the chemist’s at the time of the Munich air crash and I had gone over the road to buy a newspaper when I saw the headline. Dennis came to meet me after work and we couldn’t believe it. Duncan didn’t die straight away, he was a big strong lad and died in hospital 15 days later, and Dennis always says he was the perfect footballer, a player’s player who had so much respect from everyone. He was a lovely boy.
We’ve been down to Dudley and seen his grave there. If a grave can be lovely, then his is. There’s an etched face of him on the headstone and some beautiful words. He was only 21 when he died and had the world at his feet. I believe his mother only died in 2003 and is buried nearby.
I needed a job that gave me Saturday’s off so I could watch Dennis play, so I trained as a dental nurse and I did that for about four years, only leaving when I was expecting my first son.
Dennis still has his pay slips from back then and when we met he was on £20 a week plus a win bonus, but the average footballer was probably earning £10 a week. They got cash loyalty bonuses, too, after five years they gave him a lump sum of £750 and another £1,000 after 10 years’ service. It was a lot back then but it was nothing like today; we’d have been millionaires if he’d been born later because he was a top-flight player for almost 20 years.
Our lives changed on Pancake Tuesday in 1962, when I found out I was pregnant and Dennis found out he was being transferred. It was all terribly exciting. At that stage he had been at Bolton for 12 years and played almost 300 games. He normally played at inside-right but this particular week he’d been playing out of position at centre-forward, standing in for Nat Lofthouse. He had a disappointing game, was booed off the pitch and he came home that night and vowed that that was it and he wouldn’t play for Bolton ever again. The word got round that he was upset by the reception he got from the crowd and the next thing he was approached by Everton who offered Bolton £35 000 for him.
We both went over and discussed everything with the manager Harry Catterick and Dennis signed the forms that morning. It was very sudden but it wasn’t totally unexpected. Once you realise things are not going as well as they might be, there’s always the possibility of a move.
By this time he was 29, so he was heading towards the end of his career anyway. We arrived near the end of the season and he made his debut away against Sheffield Utd and they drew 1–1. A couple of days later there was a night match against Chelsea at Goodison, Everton won 4–0 and Alex Young scored two. That was when we realised Alex’s status as a hero. He was brilliant that night and the fans cheered him off the pitch. They just loved him. Then, in the first full season Dennis played, Everton won the League.
Everton had a club house in Nantwich Close, Birkenhead, which we moved into. Not many of the players lived on the Wirral but we went over there because of a former Bolton player, Tommy Neil. Dennis was his best man and they were in digs together with Mr and Mrs Nash but he had transferred to Tranmere Rovers and lived over there with his wife, Audrey. They suggested we could live in Birkenhead so we would be near them, and at least we would know somebody and I would have company once I had the baby.
We lived round the corner from them and they introduced us to a few people and several neighbours, so we weren’t complete strangers. Gary was born in Arrowe Park hospital on October 17, 1962, at 6.30 in the morning. In those days fathers weren’t allowed to come in until visiting time so we had to wait all day for Dennis to come and see us. We were both absolutely delighted with our baby.
Most of my time was taken up with looking after Gary and I just managed to get to the home matches every other week, thanks to my neighbour Ann. She would look after him and he says he can still remember it now; he was only about three at the time so his memory goes back a long way. It was an exciting time to be an Evertonian, there were huge crowds every week and they were top of the League and fabulous to watch
Dennis used to relate all kinds of stories of players laying their kit out in a certain way and wearing lucky socks, but I don’t think he was superstitious at all, he just got on with it. As a young woman I didn’t realise how important the match was. I realise now but then, I suppose, I was more concerned with my baby and I didn’t take much interest. When Dennis was leaving the house, I’d ask who he was playing that day. We nearly always had a tiff over something and nothing on a Saturday before the match and looking back, I realise it was tension. He would sit very quietly in the chair, deep in thought, and he would be focusing his mind and going over what might happen and what the tactics would be. I would still be stinging about our row when the game had finished but he’d forgotten all about it, especially if they won. In fact he wouldn’t even know what had been said in the first place.
Before he went to a game he would eat something very light, perhaps poached eggs on toast or just a piece of toast. We never went out the night before a match and from Wednesdays onwards we hardly ever went out because it was the build-up to the match. He was very serious about his football and incredibly dedicated. I suppose that’s why his career lasted as long as it did.
I didn’t really know much about football; in fact it’s only since we’ve been watching Bolton play over the last few years that I feel I’ve got to learn more about the game. I don’t suppose I watched the play then, I just watched Dennis. If you go to a match and you don’t know anybody who’s involved you tend to watch the whole thing and the opposition as well. It was a bit nerve-racking but it wasn’t strange to see him play because that was all I knew, and I’d been watching him ever since we met.
He’s always been a devoted family man who spends time at home pottering around the house and doing a bit of decorating. He likes to spend time in the garden, too. He also spent a lot with the children and me and is still a very keen golfer. He liked to organise charity matches and dinners as well, and he did that for a number of years, getting the players together and raising money for various causes.
I didn’t really come into contact with his clubs – players’ wives weren’t really considered that much. I can remember when Everton won the League and John Moores arranged for the team and their wives to go to Torremolinos as a treat. I was undecided about going because Gary was only about seven months old. I didn’t really want to leave him but my friend Audrey told me I must go or I’d regret it forever. I went and Dennis’s sister Beryl, who lives in the Midlands looked after Gary for us.
It was the first time I’d been abroad and we had a wonderful time. The hotel was beautiful and the resort at that time was literally a little fishing village. There was nothing there at all apart from one more hotel over the road. We had a great time, lots of fun and laughter and we all really enjoyed it. I met some of the wives, too, so I got to know them better.
I think more things happened in our short time at Everton than ever did at Bolton. We got lovely hampers and special treats at Christmas and there was always a present for the wife and it was so nice to be thought of. The club was very generous like that and I don’t remember anything like that happening at Bolton. I also remember another time John Moores had told the players that if they won a particular game they would get a brace of pheasant each. Sure enough, they were delivered to the house and I hung ours in the garage but they still had their feathers and I didn’t really know what to do with them. In the end, my mum plucked them and did whatever needed doing and my sister poured a bottle of Chianti over the top and roasted them. They were delicious.
I kept a scrapbook I clipped from the papers of all his achievements, and I’ve still got it somewhere. I also have a photograph when he was playing for Bolton against Chelsea and Roy Bentley’s boot was too high and caught Dennis in the ear. It ended up hanging off and needed stitching inside and out; it was pretty gruesome. He had lots of scrapes and knocks and bruises but that’s the one that sticks in my mind the most. He relives the match more in his sleep now than he did when he was playing. Sometimes he shouts out instructions and sometimes he kicks. He seems to have perfected the art of going back in time.
When Everton won the League it was amazing. We were at the peak of everything, we’d just had the baby and we were both thrilled to bits with him and after spending so long with Bolton, suddenly Dennis had a winners’ medal. I think that was the highest point of his career.
I could kick myself for missing the last match of the season, as I’d been to every home game but we’d been told we were going away to Spain the following week. I remember saying I had to go to town to get something to wear and spent the afternoon in Liverpool looking around for something and I missed the best match of the year. It was against Fulham and Roy Vernon scored a hat-trick. They did a lap of honour and collected their medals - the fact that I missed it still fills me with regret 40-odd years later.
Dennis went away quite often in pre-season; when he was with Bolton they went off to South Africa just before we were married and after we got to Everton he was off in Australia for about six weeks. He was happy for the first 10 days or so there and enjoying it, then the tone of his letters changed and he wanted to get back. He’s a real home-bird and family man and he wanted to get back to the children, and I suppose to me. I passed the time by visiting my family in the Isle of Man for two weeks; I also went to Dudley to see his family and stayed with my mum for a while. When you’re young, six weeks seems like such a long time, and Gary was only small then so it made it seem even longer. I couldn’t wait for him to get back.
I was expecting Julian when we left Everton in December 1965 and he was born the following April, after Dennis had transferred to Oldham for £20 000. Gordon Hurst was the manager who signed him but he left fairly soon after and Ken Bates came in. Dennis didn’t click with the new manager, Jimmy McIlroy, and only stayed for one season then went to Tranmere. So really he went back to where we’d just come from.
We decided that as his career was coming to an end, we would buy a house in Bolton and Dennis would commute, so that’s what we did and we’ve been in the same house ever since. Julian was born three weeks after we moved. The arrival didn’t interrupt any games because he was thoughtful enough to be born on a midweek evening in Havercroft maternity home in Bolton. He’s married now to Ruth and they have two children, Olivia, who’s a wonderful dancer, and Lloyd, who’s just mad about football. He’s only a toddler but all he ever thinks about is kicking a ball.
Dennis was only at Tranmere a season or so and he slipped a disc. He was playing at the time and they plied him with painkilling drugs while the match went on, but that finished him off really.
It was by chance that he ended up working as a gents’ outfitter. We went to a party and some people came along and one of them was in the men’s outfitting business. A new shopping precinct was opening close to where we live and we were looking for any kind of business at the time that we could run together, maybe a newsagent’s or something.
This man said he wanted to open a men’s outfitters. Dennis had been offered a job at an engineering company but it all fell through, and Dennis made his decision right there.
He’d always had an interest in fashion but he had to learn from scratch. He found it challenging and that spurred him on. We had our shop for about 25 years in the end; it was called Dennis Stevens Menswear. We were on a precinct but we built our own shop opposite. We sold it in 1993 when he was 59 and retired. A young man called John Francis took over; he’d been coming into the shop for years asking if he could buy it.
A couple of years before selling up we started to do dress hire and John continued with that - he’s still got the shop and his whole family are employed there. He’s done very well for himself and we still pop in and say ‘hello’ to them.
Being a footballer’s wife was wonderful. I considered myself very lucky because he went off for training between 10 and 12 and was home again with me and the boys by 1pm, so he was always around helping with the children. I thought I was so lucky. I didn’t have to go out to work or worry about where the next penny might come from, and always felt that we had a very relaxed and happy time.
There was nothing about the life that I didn’t like. People would phone and knock on the door and it still happens. This morning a photograph arrived for him to autograph but that never bothered me at all because you’re in the limelight and it’s all part of the job. It’s very flattering to be remembered after all this time and to know that people are interested in you.
I don’t know whether I would like to be a current footballer’s wife. If it’s anything like the TV series, then I don’t think I could cope because it was certainly nothing like that in our day. I don’t really know what you’d do for fun if you earned £60,000 a week, but I imagine it depends on your personality in the first place. If you’re going to go off the rails, then I suppose you will but that kind of money might make it easier. Whatever they want, they can just go and get, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing to never want for something.
I feel sorry for Posh and Beckham; I think they’re a nice couple. They’ve encouraged a lot of publicity but I suspect a lot of it is tongue in cheek and they’re having the last laugh. I don’t know whether the adultery accusations are true but I can’t stand these women who kiss and tell. They don’t think twice about ruining somebody’s life and there are children involved, so it’s not right.
There’s a real love of sport that runs right through our family and it makes me so proud. Both my sons played amateur football and Julian still plays in a team. Gary is married to Andrea and they have their own family so he’s given up playing, but he still trains and he manages a team of 12–14 year olds called Eagley Juniors.
Elliot, my eldest grandson, plays football for his school and Eagley Juniors on a Sunday morning, and he’s keen on skateboarding too. Seb, his brother, is a rugby man and even Holly plays football at school and hopes to be chosen for the girls’ team when she’s old enough. Freddie is still a baby and he’s so adorable; he’s got lovely curly hair and he’s such good fun.
I don’t think I made any sacrifices for Dennis or his career. We always thought we should have our own freedom and pastimes and that’s what we did. He would have his golf and go on the odd holiday and I was always very interested in the arty side of things, so we’ve teamed up well together.
After a long illness, Dennis passed away age 20th December 2012, aged 79. Eileen was at his side.Dennis Stevens 1961/2 – 1965/6
Born Dudley Worcestershire 30.11.33
Played 142 games
Scored 22 goals
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 (10)
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1 Posted 14/01/2022 at 09:27:43
This series has been a joy to read and I've loved the insights it has given us of life for the footballers and their families in the
days when footballers were very much part of the community rather than the remote, cosmopolitan figures they have now become.
2 Posted 14/01/2022 at 10:32:55
I do enjoy these articles, thank you, Becky.
3 Posted 14/01/2022 at 16:03:45
Dennis was the ultimate team player, the player who did all the unselfish grafting, the man in the background doing the donkey work, that is not to belittle Dennis but to praise him, one of my favourite players who replaced another of my very favourite players, Bobby Collins, and took a lot of stick off fans for that.
Dennis persevered though and won many of those fans over with his work rate, skill and a few goals,as Nat Lofthouse said when they played together at Bolton
“ I would score a goal and get all the plaudits off the crowd while Dennis would pick himself up off the floor after doing all the spadework to create that goal.
Off the field Dennis was a well liked personality and a genuine man, a couple of fans I knew who knew all the players got a lift home on the Everton coach after an away game with two more of their mates, the coach stopped at an hotel for the players to have a drink, they stayed on the coach because they were skint, as Dennis was passing them to get off he asked if they were coming in to join the team, they explained the situation and Dennis said “ I never asked you how much you had, come in with me, then once inside he did the honours and looked after them.
Gone but never forgotten Dennis, and not just by me but by plenty of Bluenoses my age, although we are getting less and less as the years roll on.
4 Posted 14/01/2022 at 16:28:30
In 1962 when he joined Everton I was just 11 years old and the club house near Arrow Park into which Dennis moved was situated around the corner from where I lived with my parents. It was a young boy's dream as I was able to go around to his house and talk to him about the club. Better still, when they won the League he kindly took in a commemorative brochure that was printed by the club and got me all the players' autographs.
Even better, when he eventually moved out of the club house, Brian Labone moved in and he was just as accessible - they didn't live in security compounds in those days !
I would occasionally see Dennis boarding the 77 bus on his way to work (how times have changed !) and it surprised me how short he was - I had previously been under the impression that all professional footballers were giants ! Some of the photos accompanying the article confirm that as he is smaller than Alex Young and about the same height as Alan Ball, both of whom being termed 'pocket battleships' at the time.
5 Posted 14/01/2022 at 17:41:02
These articles are always a good read, even though I've got both books!
6 Posted 14/01/2022 at 18:10:55
7 Posted 14/01/2022 at 20:26:30
8 Posted 14/01/2022 at 20:53:37
Dennis was part of the team when creativity was allied to physical and mental toughness. Despite being at least two stone heavier than Young or Vernon, Richarliason would have been in tears at the treatment those two received.
9 Posted 14/01/2022 at 21:10:33
10 Posted 14/01/2022 at 21:21:22
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