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“My memories of Everton? Goodness me, they crowd in upon me after 24 years with the same club! There are so many memories, and mostly happy, that I could write a book about them. It has been a great life for me, and it was a terrible wrench when I finally had to call it a day. I must admit that my biggest disappointment was that I fell just short of completing 25 years with the Blues. Otherwise I’ve not had a single regret. We had our ups and downs, of course, but I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it. Everton were, and are, a great club, and always treated me with the utmost consideration and kindness.
However, let’s turn back the pages to the very start when I was a youngster at Highfields School, Doncaster. There I first took up goalkeeping. I played for my school, but never thought of becoming a professional footballer. I went into the mines at Thorne Colliery, immediately I left school at 16. I happened to be standing around one day when a local colliery team, Woodlands East, needed a goalkeeper, and I was asked if I would like to play. I jumped at the chance and that was how it all started back in 1926.
I had a trial with Hull City when I was only 16 but was considered too young. During the next three years, I was fortunate enough to attract the attention of several League clubs, including Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday and the two Bradford clubs. Then, one day, a man refereeing one of our games asked me if I would like a trial with Everton. I agreed and went to Goodison Park to be greeted by Tom McIntosh, the secretary. About a fortnight after the trial I was invited to sign for Everton and did so. It turned out to be the most important decision I ever made, for it led to years and years of the happiest association any player can have with one club. That was in 1929, and it was a disastrous season for Everton, for they suffered relegation for the first time in their history. I made my League debut that season but it was only in my “apprenticeship”.
Because of my youth and inexperience, Everton secured Bill Coggins, of Bristol City but still they went down. Everton soon proved that they were right out of their class in the Second Division. They “walked” the championship, winning just when and where they pleased. They almost won the FA Cup as well, losing, rather unluckily, to West Bromwich Albion by the only goal in the semi-final at Old Trafford. It was the next season that I managed to win a regular place in the League side and I’m happy to say that, injury apart, I never lost that place until I wound up my career in 1952. Twenty-one years as first-choice goalkeeper, it’s a most satisfying thought. What momentous seasons came in those early years. My first season saw us as First Division champions (1931-32), and my second saw Everton carry off the FA Cup for the first time. What a golden send-off for a young lad from Yorkshire - championship and Cup-winners’ medals in my first two seasons as a regular. And it was a wonderful team to play in. What young player could have asked for anything more than the privilege of serving with all the “greats” like Billy Dean, Jimmy Dunn, “Tosh” Johnson and Warney Cresswell? On and off the field there was never a dull moment with those great characters, all of whom were not only brilliant footballers but possessed of that indefinable something which is called personality.
I’m afraid that football today does not boast men such as these, who lived so good-humouredly and who played so seriously and so well. Why was that Everton side such a great one you may ask? My answer is that they blended ideally because they were all natural footballers and supreme in their class. There were no secret plans and chess-board pre-match discussions, although we always studied the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. We used to roll up our sleeves, go out on the field and “get stuck in”. It was our job and we did it and loved it. My own view is that there is far too much coaching and blackboard tactics today. It is killing individual initiative stone dead. Young players are frightened to do anything off their own bat in case it doesn’t meet with the approval of their managers. That is why football isn’t producing any stars like Alex James, Raich Carter and Hughie Gallacher. During those early exciting years, I faced all the outstanding centre forwards. Men like “Pongo” Waring, George Camsell, Hughie Gallacher, Jack Bowers, W G Richardson and the man I feared most of all, Ted Drake! I got the shudders every time Ted set off in my direction. He had a shot like the kick of a mule! Yet of all of these great centre forwards I never saw one greater than “Dixie“ Dean. In practice games at Goodison I was frequently on the opposing side, and then it was that I discovered how easily “Dixie” could hoodwink you. There were many who contended that “Dixie” was only a great header of the ball. Don’t you believe it. Billy could shoot with the best of them and with both feet, as I have good reason to know. As a matter of fact, three parts of the hundreds of goals scored by Dean were with his feet, not with his head. And was there ever a player who possessed a left-foot shot like Tommy Johnson, who joined us from Manchester City? I doubt it very much. When Dean would nod the ball back, as only he could, “Tosh” would step in and let fly with that hardest of all shots with which to deal, the one which is going upwards and away from you.
My greatest moment? Well, there are many for me in this wonderful game, but I think I must plump for Wembley, 1933, when we defeated Manchester City 3-0 to win the FA Cup. We knew we were up against a very fine City team, but were confident that this was to be our day and I bet Tommy Johnson half a crown that they wouldn’t get one past me. There was never a bet I was happier to win! The winning of the cup through goals from Stein, Dean and Jimmy Dunn, and then home to a fantastic reception in Liverpool, yes, undoubtedly the most extraordinary and exciting experience I ever had.
I made two appearances at Wembley, for in 1936 I went back there to play for England against Scotland. And the only time I was beaten on that Wembley turf was by a penalty taken by Tommy Walker, the former Hearts and Chelsea inside forward. But the finest match I ever played in was that sensational 1935 FA Cup replay with Sunderland at Goodison Park, the tie we won 6-4 in extra time. People still say it was the greatest match of all time. I confess that it had me in such a state of palpitation that I would never have liked to take part in another. We were leading 3-2 with only seconds left when Jimmy Connor, the Sunderland outside left, crossed the ball. I shouted “right” but the ball struck our centre half, Charlie Gee, and was deflected to that great opportunist, Bobby Gurney, who hooked the ball over his head, and mine too, into an empty net. We had to start all over again. We won in the end, but it was almost a tragedy that either side had to lose such a game, which featured the two best left-wing partnerships I ever saw. We had wee Alex Stevenson and Jackie Coulter, the Irishmen, and Sunderland had Jimmy Connor and Patsy Gallacher. Both pairs were absolutely brilliant.
Mine was a career which brought its crop of injuries. In fact, I had three operations for cartilage, two on my right knee and one on my left. When the third went, I feared it would be the end of my career, but fortunately I managed to fight my way back to fitness. The third operation was in 1936, but there was I in 1938-39 helping another brilliant Everton team to win the Football League Championship again.
I have often been asked which was the best save I ever made. I think it was at Wolverhampton, just after I had finished my time with the Royal Signals. I had regained my place in the team and we went to Wolves for an FA Cup game which in that season consisted of “two-leg” matches. Wolves were awarded a penalty, and up came pint-sized Johnny Hancocks to take it. Hancocks from the penalty spot was a nightmare to all goalkeepers, and he hit this one hard and low towards my right. I dived and just managed to turn the ball round the post. Johnny just couldn’t believe it. But, I’ve a confession to make. I moved at least two yards before that kick was taken! I always did when facing a penalty, and I was never spotted.
Happy days those when I was at Goodison Park, and I still recall a vow I made in 1931. I said, “Never shall I go back to the mines as long as I live.” I never did, and it wasn’t very hard to choose between Goodison and the mines. I wouldn’t have missed a moment of my time with Everton, and I often hanker after the thrill of the old days. There was nothing like it, as I’ve time to reflect. I don’t see the team often these days, as I am now in the hotel business near Aintree racecourse but I still follow closely what is happening at Goodison Park.”
Ted Sagar wrote this article in 1960 and he died in 1986 aged 76.
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