Following the passing of Everton legend Alex Young, we have been given generous permission by Evertonian author Becky Tallentire to reproduce her interviews with both Alex and Nancy Young from her excellent books Real Footballers Wives and Talking Blue.
Becky knew Alex and Nancy very well and in Nancy’s interview she speaks openly and candidly about what it was like to live life with an Everton legend. Alec and Nancy were married in 1957 and Nancy’s story about the real footballer’s wives of Everton gives a unique insight into the life of a footballing god.
His feet were the bane of his life and would have to be bound up with foam and bandages and plasters before he played to help ease his pain, but by the time he got home his socks would be stuck to his feet with blood. We’d have to soak them off and he would pop the blood blisters with a pin. It was so horrible. They used to allow tackling from behind back then and they would scrape down the back of his heels. He never had any toenails either – especially his big toe, but I think that was just an occupational hazard because they’ve grown back now.
It was great to see him run on to the pitch but I didn’t understand the game at all and had no idea what was going on; I just used to watch him even when he wasn’t on the ball. Alex didn’t have a pre-match ritual and wasn’t particularly superstitious, but he always wanted to be the second-last man out of the tunnel, and when he was at Hearts his mother would give him a drink of raw egg in sherry because it made him feel great.
Apart from the match, the highlight of the week was going out in Liverpool with team- mates and their wives. We’d all go to the Royal Tiger club and occasionally the Pink Parrot. The Tiger was our favourite and there was always a crowd milling around outside hoping to be let in. When an Everton player knocked on the door, a little peephole would open and we were whisked straight inside. If I’d been in Scotland, I’d have been going home at 10.30pm instead of just starting the evening. I’d never been to a nightclub before, it was all terribly exciting and it made up for the two years I spent staying in while Alex was in the army.
I fell pregnant early on in 1962. My mother was gone and I had nobody to turn to who could tell me what to do, so six weeks before I was due, I went to stay with Mr and Mrs Young because it would have been tragic if it had been a boy and not been able to play for Scotland. There was nobody I could ask, I just did what I thought was right and spent the last six weeks at their house. Mr Young went into the spare room and I shared a bed with Mrs Young in case something happened during the night.
You didn’t speak about your emotions then, everybody does now but then you just got on with it. Your hormones are changing but nobody explains it to you so I was crying all the time because I missed Alex so much and I didn’t understand what was wrong. You shouldn’t be separated like that, we know that now, but then you just did as you were told. A fortnight before Jane was born I couldn’t bear to be away from him any longer so I went against all advice and travelled down to see him. I was like a barrage balloon and I’m surprised I even fitted on the train but it made me feel so much better.
Jane was born in November 1962 at Simpsons Memorial hospital in Edinburgh. Everybody raved about what a great place it was but it was so regimented I’m surprised they didn’t clap me in irons. You were tucked in at night and you hadn’t to move the covers. Nobody was allowed to sit on the bed and you could only have one or two visitors at a time and only one of them men. It took Alex 10 hours to get from Liverpool to visit us because 1962 was the year of the big freeze. He was able to come away because all the games were cancelled as the pitches were frozen solid and I don’t think there were any played for six weeks. I was in there for 10 days but it seemed like a lifetime and I couldn’t wait to get back home to Aintree.
When they’d finished training the players had a lot of spare time on their hands. Alex used to love playing golf but his real passion was the races. He and Roy Vernon were always together at Manchester, Aintree or Haydock and when Roy left he hooked up with Alan Ball. They would go to Haydock or Aintree whenever they had the chance and he even went halves on a racehorse with Bally called Daxal, but they didn’t make any money out of it. One afternoon he told me they had extra training, I was changing Jane’s nappy on the living room floor and when I glanced at the television, there was him and Bally right in the middle of the screen at the Aintree racetrack
I don’t think I ever met anybody official from Everton. The wives weren’t encouraged at all and were generally regarded as trouble. We were kept in the background as much as possible and although we got a free ticket for the home games, it was in the stands like the rest of the crowd. Mr Catterick, the manager, wasn’t very keen on the wives being around, he thought we were a distraction.
After we won the League in 1963 the club took us all to Torremolinos for a fortnight and it was absolutely wonderful. All we did was lounge around the pool sunbathing and eating nice food. That was all we could do, the hotel had just been built so it was in the middle of an undeveloped building site and there was nothing but rubble outside. Apart from Jean, Alex Parker’s wife, breaking a leg when she fell into an empty fountain and Norma’s suitcase going missing for a day and a half, we had a great time. Jane was only about six months old and we left her with Mr and Mrs Young. They would often come down to Liverpool to stay with us and they loved it because they didn’t get any holidays at all until we moved to England.
All the wives went down to Wembley by train for the 1966 Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday. We were booked into the Waldorf hotel and it was really special because we didn’t get away very much. There we were, all dressed up to the nines and dying for the lads to win and suddenly we were 2-0 down. It was just terrible; it was the most gut- wrenching feeling you could imagine and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Eddie Cavanagh was a mad Evertonian and all the players knew him well, he spent a lot of time at Bellefield in their company and when we drew level at 2-2 he couldn’t contain= himself and he ran on to the pitch. When the policeman finally caught him, he wriggled out of his jacket like an eel, weaving and ducking and diving; it was hysterical. Nothing really surpassed that day; I think it was the proudest moment of my life when I saw Alex holding up the FA Cup.
We’d moved house to Aughton by that time and when Roy Vernon was transferred to Stoke City in 1967 Alex lost his dear friend and team-mate and I lost Norma, too. I missed her terribly but shortly afterwards Alex was introduced to Mike Pender of The Searchers, and he invited us to his house just up the road to meet his wife and family. I hit it off immediately with his wife, May, and the four of us are still great friends to this day; our children all grew up together and we still see each other frequently. We still laugh about our first meeting, Mike confessed that he was all excited about ‘The Vision’ coming to his house and Alex and I were equally thrilled about being in the company of a pop star and the singer of the hit record ‘Needles and Pins’.
The last couple of years at Everton Alex played No7 – wide right. Harry Catterick didn’t pick him for the 1968 Cup Final against West Bromwich and Jimmy Husband took his place. We both travelled down but we didn’t get to find out the team until we were actually there in the hotel room. He was supposed to be sub but at the last minute he put Sandy Brown in instead and Alex was absolutely devastated. Catterick didn’t like Alex and I don’t know what that was all about; he’s so placid and there are not many who wouldn’t be able to get along with him. Johnny Carey signed him and before Catterick even arrived at Goodison, he’d passed on the message via Les Edwards the journalist that he didn’t like Alex or the way he played.
It seems very strange that he would pass judgment before he’d even met him, but that’s the way it was and he really seemed to go out of his way to make his life a misery. Alex would get the vibes from him and he said they were not right, and that was it. It was probably a struggle for him most of the time but it was the crowd that kept him there, I think. The fans adored him and he loved them back.
That was about the time the filmmakers approached Alex to see if they could make ‘The Golden Vision’, which was a BBC Play for Today. They came to the house and shot the parts where he was talking, and Jane made her TV debut too. It took days and days to shoot a few minutes of film, I had no idea it was so complicated. Jane was only about five at the time but she was quite unphased by it all and performed magnificently. We still have a copy of The Golden Vision and every few years we dust it down and watch it again.
There was no way I was going to have my next baby up in Scotland and go through all that nonsense again, so I booked myself into Park House, the nursing home run by nuns in Waterloo when Alex Jnr was due. There were some complications, too, so they phoned Alex to ask him if it was OK if they did a caesarean.
It was about 10 O clock at night when Alex arrived to visit us but he didn’t realise there was a night bell and a day bell. He was ringing and banging on the door for ages trying to get in but he was pressing the wrong bell. A stony-faced nun eventually opened the door but she let him know how strongly she disapproved of the noise.
Alex didn’t really sustain any serious injuries that I can remember but he did have an operation on a cartilage and it was a knee injury that finished his career in the end but his blistered feet were legendary. You really had to see them to believe it and it was the same every week and if the ground was dry and hard then he suffered even more. We got hundreds of letters from people with remedies, old wives’ tales and tried-and- tested tonics, but nothing worked. Somebody even posted him a pair of boots, but it was hopeless. He almost got used to it.
Some nights he would re-live matches in his sleep. I could feel him starting the game, with the odd twitch now and again and it would progress to full-blooded kicking of an imaginary ball – but of course it was the back of my legs. I remember one night after a match he’d scored in when he stood up on the bed and was scrabbling around on the wall behind the headboard. The next morning he said he was dreaming that he’d scored and got tangled up in the net trying to get the ball back.
There was nothing I really hated about being a footballer’s wife. There were times when other women were after him but it didn’t bother me too much. The only thing that got on my nerves was that we didn’t have a lounge where we could wait after the match, like the Liverpool players’ wives did. It was awkward because we were all sitting in cars – assuming we had a car of course, and if they didn’t they would be standing in the rain. It was nothing to do with the fans, it was to do with the club and they just didn’t cater for us. The players were their livelihood but we were their wives and it showed such disrespect to us. It wouldn’t happen now but we weren’t treated very well at all.
One day, in the summer of 1968, Alex came home and told me Harry Catterick had sold him to Glentoran in Northern Ireland. I don’t remember having much of a reaction because we all knew that was part of the deal. I didn’t question things really; I just went along with it. He went over there to have a look then we packed up and all went with him. We didn’t sell our house, we didn’t even rent it out, we let a friend of a friend move in and look after it so it wasn’t standing empty.
We left Glentoran after about two months because the troubles were just starting and there was a very unnerving atmosphere in the town and he signed up with Stockport County where we stayed for about 10 months until his knee finally gave out and he hung up his boots for the last time.
We were a couple or three months without a job and we decided we’d go into the licensed trade. There was a pub going in West Linton, Peebleshire, called The Linton and we chose that one because it had a house attached where we could all live. We did that for two years and they were a long two years. We enjoyed it but it was hectic; it was a workingmen’s pub but it was out in the country so it wasn’t horrible or anything, but you couldn’t get it clean. I was scrubbing the floors all day then watching them come in at night and grinding their cigarettes out on my clean linoleum. The first six weeks we didn’t have one day off, from first thing in the morning til midnight, and we had to buy a sun lamp to give us a bit of colour. It was one of the old-fashioned ones you would just sit in front of to give you a bit of a glow because we looked like a couple of ghosts.
After that we took a day off a week and got Alex’s dad to run it for us while we went out for the afternoon. His mum looked after the kids and we’d come back again in the evening. It was the only break we ever got. We did it until I fell pregnant with Jason. It wasn’t going to be a normal birth again and I had to go in to hospital a month before he was due. Jason was also born by caesarean on March 1, 1972, and when I came out of hospital the pub was sold and Alex had bought a pram and a house in Penicuik near Edinburgh where we still live.
We were unemployed for six months and all our savings seemed to disappear because we’d been self-employed so we couldn’t go on the dole or anything like that. That was when Alex went into business with my childhood friend Helen’s husband, and opened up a soft-furnishings warehouse in Edinburgh called Richard Wylie Ltd. We still have the business and we all still work there in varying degrees.
Alex Jnr played football when he was younger and Jason still plays semi-professional now. Alex was quite good but Jason was better and signed for Hearts as a schoolboy and Celtic were after him too. He was 15 when he was chosen to play for Scotland in an Under-16’s tournament in St Malo, France and he used to partner Duncan Ferguson up front. He suffered a horrific injury against East Germany when he broke a thighbone and was never the same again, he lost a bit of pace and never went on to fulfill his potential.
He’s played first, second and third division Scottish senior league but sadly not Premier which is a shame because Alex says he had ability to be a better player than himself and he would have been a star.
I loved being a footballer’s wife and there was nothing about it that irritated me. People would knock on the door occasionally to say ‘hello’ or to ask for autographs, and it never bothered us. He was always signing them when we were out but that was just part of the job. I don’t know whether I’d like to be a footballer’s wife now, I imagine they don’t have much of a private life and I would hate that. The money would be nice because you could do a lot for your family but I wouldn’t like to be in the limelight as they are these days.
There were some proud moments for me and I loved it when we won the FA Cup in 1966 but the most amazing feeling was when I went on to the pitch at Goodison Park. The first time was when Alex was presented with a ‘Millennium Giant’ award at half- time during a night match against Leicester and he took me with him. The place was packed and I felt a bit nervous while I was waiting in the tunnel but when they announced his name and we walked out, it was to the loudest roar I’d ever heard in my life and I felt like I belonged there. I told Alex I’d have been scoring goals all day with a crowd like that cheering me on.
The last time I went was for Alex’s testimonial. Both teams formed a guard of honour and our whole family was there. Our granddaughters were the team mascots and our children were in the stands. It was absolutely amazing and it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
Whenever we go back to Liverpool people always recognise Alex. Hardly anybody in Scotland does or if they do, they don’t let on. His status among Evertonians never fails to surprise me. It’s been an awful long time now but people still adore him, its just wonderful and I still love seeing his face light up.