"I Felt Like I Belonged There" – Nancy Young

Becky Tallentire 27/02/2017  58 Comments  [Jump to last]

Alec and Nancy Young, Ayr, 1957
When the pit horn went at 3.50pm, you could hear it all over the village and the women would get the dinner on the table knowing their men would be home in 10 minutes. Back then they didn’t have showers at the pithead, so the miners would come home dirty and wash in a tin bath in front of the fire. They reminded me of black beetles swarming up the streets.

My dad was a mechanic at the Lady Victoria colliery and used to maintain the vehicles that delivered the coal, he occasionally worked underground but spent most of his life under a lorry covered in oil. He wore a beret and overalls all the time and when he was issued with a new pair of overalls he used to make us laugh by parading up and down like a catwalk model. I was the second of six children; five girls and one boy called George.  Mum stayed at home and looked after us but before that she was in service and worked as a kitchen maid in a big posh house.

The pit closed in 1981 but the houses are still standing proudly on 1st, 2nd 3rd and right up to 10th Street. We lived on 9th Street and Newtongrange primary school was right over the road. At playtime I used to run home to have a wee go on the piano. I could only play Chopsticks, in fact, nobody in our family could play anything and I don’t know why we had a piano, but I used to love it and I dreamed of having lessons, but there was never any spare money for such luxuries. Life was like that for pretty much everyone in Newtongrange.

Although I passed my exams to go to High School, my dad thought it would be pointless. He said I wouldn’t stay in and study because I would want to go out to play all the time. Newbattle junior secondary school was all right, but instead of learning languages or science you got domestic science, dressmaking and lessons on how to iron. I didn’t really excel in anything but I was quite good at sports because I was double-jointed.

You had your pick of jobs then, so I left school at 15 and went and worked in a grocer’s shop for a few months and then Isa, my older sister, got me a job in her office at an insurance company. I didn’t like writing in the ledgers or anything like that but the machines they used for invoices before the days of computers, fascinated me. They were called punch keys and they punched data into a card that the tabulators would read. I used to sneak away to look at them at lunchtime, when everybody was out, and one day one of the bosses asked what I was doing. I told him I liked the machines so they moved me to the Hollerith department and that was where I stayed for the next four years.

There wasn’t much to do for teenagers in Newtongrange, so every Wednesday and Saturday night my best friend Helen and I would go to the Bonnyrigg Regal dance hall. It was 1957, the Bill Haley era, and we would get dressed up in high heels and flared skirts with two or three petticoats, but we’d take our flat shoes with us so we could jive the night away. One night I managed to break her wrist with my enthusiastic jiving, and she still reminds me of it to this day.

Alex was from a nearby village called Loanhead; he worked down the mine as an engineer during the week and played for Hearts at the weekends, and he turned up this particular night with a couple of other players; Dave Mc Kay and Tom Mc Kenzie.
They were all dressed the same, in maroon blazers and grey flannels, because they’d been at a club do and thought they would drop in at the local hop for an hour on the way home. Alex had been to Bonnyrigg before but it was the first time I’d noticed him. He caught my eye because he had lovely blond hair and was so good looking. He was feeling especially brave that night because he’d had two halves of Harp lager so he plucked up the courage to ask me to dance. When it was over we made a date for the next week, and I couldn’t wait for it to come.

Trades Week is when all the local factories and mines closed down for annual holidays. The Edinburgh side used to have the first fortnight in July and the Glasgow side the second, and entire villages would be deserted. You’d see people at the beginning of Trades with their big suitcases bursting open on their way to Blackpool and Scarborough but in the summer of 1957 Helen and I had booked to go to Butlins in Ayr. It was the first time we’d been away without our parents and we couldn’t believe we’d been allowed to go. One evening we were in the Butlins dance hall when Helen nudged me and looked over towards the door and there was Alex, he’d followed us up there in his car. ‘Mr Wonderful’ by Peggy Lee was top of the hit parade and it all seemed very appropriate.

Alex and I were together for about a year before we got engaged, then he went off to join the army in 1959. For a year of his national service he was based in Aldershot but he was still playing for Hearts, so he got to come home every weekend. They would fly him and Ron Yeats to Turnhouse airport near Edinburgh and I would drive his mother there in Alex’s little black Volkswagen Beetle every Thursday night to collect them. It was before the time of cassettes and he was the second person in Edinburgh to have a record player in his car, so off we’d go with Frank Sinatra crooning at full blast.

Big Ron was so huge; he would be hitting the roof with his head while his knees were tucked under his chin all the way to Mrs Young’s house, where he would stay the night. There was no sleeping together in those days so I would go home and on the Friday morning Alex would drop Ron off to go to Dundee United and he’d go to Hearts for training.

When we were courting we’d sometimes go to the pictures. We never used to eat sweets, we would take cherries and different kinds of fruit and half way through we would change seats because there would be a mound of pips and we didn’t want anyone to know we’d left a mess. We never saw the beginning or the end of a film because we’d have to wait until the lights were down before we went in and leave before the end so nobody would see him, because people used to really pester him. In Liverpool, the fans were lovely, they were interested, they genuinely liked him and loved the game but the Scottish supporters were different.

Mr and Mrs Young were so sweet. She was really fond of me and was just like my mother; she was so timid that if you spoke to her she would blush. She was of that generation that was brought up to respect people in authority and would practically doff her cap to policemen and doctors. Alex was the baby of the family, he had two sisters and two brothers, but he’s the only one left now.

I didn’t know much about football, but by coincidence my older sister was already married to a bloke called Jackie Neilson. He played for St Mirren and sometimes Jackie and Alex played against each other. My Dad wasn’t football minded at all and didn’t follow anybody, but he did go to one or two games once I started courting.

I remember my mum being ill for a long time but it never crossed my mind that she would die. Nobody ever mentioned the word cancer and it was an awful shock when we lost her because we spent all our time reassuring each other that she’d get better. I was 20 and gave up work to take care of the house and my two younger sisters, Marian and Kate, they were eight and four at the time and I think it was a tremendous relief to my dad because he had no idea what he would do with them. I didn’t feel as if I was making any sacrifices; I didn’t really have any aspirations or ambitions so it suited me to look after the kids and I willingly volunteered my help. I looked after them for a year or two, until I married, then my other sister Ellen took over.

Eventually Dad remarried. His new wife, Katie, had been in his class at school and was also widowed. She was wonderful and we all called her mum and loved her dearly - she brought the girls up with her own daughter, Carine, and we became one big happy family again.

When I heard Everton wanted to sign Alex I was thrilled to bits because I had an uncle and aunt who lived in Wakefield and I would stay with them over the summer holidays when I was a kid. I always said I would live in England when I grew up and got married. I loved it and really liked English people so although I didn’t know anything about Liverpool, it was all terribly exciting for me. Alex signed in November 1960 and moved into digs in Maghull with Mickey Lill and Jimmy Gabriel. He was still doing his national service but he was injured at the time so was getting treatment from Everton. He made his debut just before Christmas and I stayed in Newtongrange with my dad and sisters but I missed him terribly.


Alec and Nancy Young on their wedding day

We waited until the summer of 1961 to marry because we couldn’t have had a honeymoon otherwise. Alex was demobbed on the Friday night and we married the next day, in Newtongrange church. It wasn’t a huge white wedding, it was supposed to be a wee, small occasion, but the local press got wind of it and they turned up, so we’d have been as well having a big wedding after all because it ended up in the papers. I didn’t mind the press being there but I was terribly shy in those days and blushed all the time. For our honeymoon we flew from Edinburgh to London then caught a train to Bournemouth, where we stayed for two weeks. It was the first time I’d flown and it was a great big adventure.

I moved straight down to England. Everton had found a house for us in Bullbridge Lane, Aintree, and we bought it for £3,000. It was a brand-new three-bedroom semi and really big compared with what I was used to, but we had to stay in the Lord Nelson hotel for six weeks because it wasn’t quite ready to move into.

While Alex was in the army he was only allowed to earn £8 a week. It went up to £20 when his national service was over, but there was a ceiling on wages until 1962. As soon as it was lifted, he and Roy Vernon got pay rises to £35. My Dad was only earning £14 a week then, and my father in law was a miner on about £8, so it was big money.

Norma Vernon became my best friend. She was absolutely beautiful, like a little blonde doll. We were together every day for the six weeks Alex and I stayed in the hotel and we became very close. Neither of us had a car to go anywhere so while Alex and Roy were training, I would be at her house helping her control her two boisterous boys, which was harder than any training session. I don’t think any of the wives worked and we were often on our own while the men went off training, or for days in hotels to build team spirit, so it was quite an isolated life at times.

If I could get a lift I’d go to the away games, usually with Pat Gabriel’s dad, who would drive us there in his van, but I would go to all the home games without fail. Normally, I would travel with Alex to Goodison and sit in the car reading until it was time to go in, because there was nowhere for the wives to wait. The other players had to report an hour before kick off but he had to be there two hours early so they could try and do something to stop his feet from blistering.

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.

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