“He Took My Breath Away”

The latest installment of Becky Tallentire's Real Footballers' Wives features Johnny Morrissey's wife, Celia

Real Footballers' Wives – Celia Morrissey

Johnny and Celia Morrissey on their wedding day

There were four girls and two boys in our family but we were born in two batches, so mum was a housewife who really had her work cut out. Lionel, Patsy and Gordon were quite grown up when she had my twin, Angela, and me. We’re not identical; we don’t even look like sisters, and then came the baby of the family, Betty, 18 months after us.

My father was a Jack of all trades and master of none; he worked as a painter and decorator more often than not, and kept himself busy. I went to St Mary’s Catholic school in Douglas, a mixed school where the teachers were nice to me but, to be honest, I wasn’t really in love with it and always looked forward to leaving.

I was very much a homemaker. Mum would go to work in the summer because trade was, and is, very seasonal on the island, and I was the one who would be at home doing the cleaning for her and tidying up after everyone. When she came home she would be so delighted and she’d say, ‘You’re the only one who ever helps me in this house’. None of the others would bother but I was a home bird and I always loved cooking, too.

John was from a family of Reds, and had recently signed for Liverpool when I met him. He was 17 when he came over to Douglas on holiday, with his mum and an uncle. I was 16 and had worked in the Scottish Wool shop since I left school a year earlier. Our mothers were distant relatives so Aunty Nelly arrived at our house to visit with John in tow. He was so handsome, and the first time I saw him he took my breath away.

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We went to the pictures together that evening and I suppose that’s where it all began. After he went back to Liverpool we wrote to each other for months and he would phone me about twice a week. When the football season finished he came back over to the Isle of Man and it was lovely to see him again. I travelled back to Liverpool with him on the ferry, met the rest of his family and they invited me to stay for a while.

When we were apart I missed him terribly and after much pleading and cajoling, Mum eventually agreed that I could go over to Liverpool and lodge with John’s parents at their house in Athol Street, off Scotland Road, so we could continue our courtship. I was 17 when I arrived. John has three sisters, they all spoilt him rotten and all still lived at home. Both sets of parents were very old fashioned and we didn’t live together as a couple because that was completely out of the question, but there was plenty of space in the house so we had separate rooms and some nights we would go to the pictures or dancing at the weekend.

He was a really dedicated player who loved football and took it very seriously. He hardly drank, never smoked and was always in bed really early, so sometimes I’d go out dancing with his sister Kitty. All we used to do was dance and we didn’t even start drinking until we were about 21. John likes a drink now, but still goes to bed early.

John’s dad was a docker and had opened a shop on the Wirral, which sold bits of furniture, and his mum bought a grocery shop on Scotland Road. I would help her out from time to time to earn a bit of extra money, and give her a hand around the house whenever I could.

In the summer of 1962, Everton made John an offer he couldn’t refuse. Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s manager, was away scouting in Scotland and when John returned to Anfield after a training session, there was a message that Harry Catterick was waiting to speak to him in the office. Everton’s manager told him they had put in a bid of £10 000, that they would increase his wages from £17 to £20 a week and he that he would be guaranteed first-team football, starting the very next Saturday. They agreed the deal and John was told to go to Goodison that afternoon, where he would be introduced to the press.

Shankly returned shortly afterwards and was so furious the deal had been done without his knowledge that apparently he threatened to walk out. He rang John and told him there had been a mistake, he was part of his plans for Liverpool and he was to ring Everton and tell them he had changed his mind. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing but there was no going back and John became a Blue that afternoon. For the next few years, whenever he played against Liverpool, the fans would shout ‘Traitor’ and ‘Judas’ but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. As soon as the wage cap was lifted in 1963, his money more than doubled, to £35 a week

As promised, he made his Everton debut against Sheffield Wednesday the next Saturday, in August 1962, and they won 4-1. I was at that game with a Liverpool reserve player, Alan Jones, who used to be John’s room-mate. It was a bit strange to watch him play football, I’d never been to a match before, but all the same I quite enjoyed it, even if I didn’t really know what was going on.

I didn’t go to many games. Saturday was the day I would get my hair done but I used to look forward to the match finishing because that was always the big night out. We’d usually go the Lord Nelson for a meal and some weeks we’d meet up with Pat and Jimmy Gabriel then we’d all go to the Royal Tiger club. It was the time of Beatlemania and even now, every time I hear a Beatles song, it reminds me of those days. We’d be on the street waiting to go in and the music would be belting out from downstairs. We used to love dancing, not many of the players would get up on the floor, but John was a great mover.

When Everton won the League in 1963 the players and their wives were taken for a two-week holiday to Torremolinos. I didn’t go because that was in the May and we didn’t get married until June, so I wasn’t allowed. The club didn’t want to be seen encouraging that kind of behaviour, but I went to Wembley with them twice.

The first was in 1966 and I was there again two years later. John didn’t play in ‘66; he’d injured an ankle and wasn’t fit, and neither was Fred Pickering, so they swapped the side around a bit and brought in Mike Trebilcock who ended up scoring twice. Who knows what would have happened if John had played. The history books might have been written differently, but we’ll never know.

The men had gone down to London on the Thursday so they could get settled in and we went a day later. We travelled down on the train from Lime St and were booked in to the Waldorf, which was a beautiful, majestic place. We went for a meal and to watch a show at the theatre on the Thursday night. I spent most of my time with Gwen Wright, Tommy’s wife.

John and I got engaged when I was 20 but my mum died tragically young a year later. She was the person I had most time for and it broke my heart that she didn’t see me married. We had a white wedding five years after we met, on June 22, 1963, at St Anthony’s Catholic Church on Scotland Road, and we had the reception in the Lord Nelson. A few players were there, Alec and Jean Parker and Nancy and Alex Young. My little sister, Betty, was my bridesmaid and we moved into our first house in Aintree Lane.

It had three bedrooms and cost £3,500 and we really thought we’d made it to the big time, but we were worried we’d be paying off the mortgage for the rest of our lives. Pat Gabriel lived round the corner and so did Alex and Nancy, before they moved out to Aughton. Pat and I had our babies around the same time so we’d sometimes see each other at the clinic and have a natter.

Our first son, John, was born in March 1965 at Park House nursing home in Waterloo. He was due on the Sunday but arrived on the Monday night. John Snr wasn’t at the birth, they didn’t do things like that in those days, they just dropped you at the hospital and off the men went to wet the baby’s head.

He didn’t have much spare time because he had a little newspaper shop near Oriel Road in Bootle. He’d go training and then he’d pop into the shop and see if anything was happening or needed doing. John was very hard working, ambitious and always wanted a better life. He was very sensible considering he was so young.

John had a reputation for being a hard player and he often came home badly injured. When he was still with Liverpool he got involved in some kind of scrum against Portsmouth: there were fists and boots flying and he ended up with a broken jaw. He’s also had teeth knocked out and his nose was broken two or three times. One of them was against Leeds, courtesy of Norman Hunter, and another was when he played against Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final in 1971. He was caught up in a mêlée so he wasn’t sure who was responsible, but when the dust settled Larry Lloyd and Chris Lawler were closest to him.

I suppose we were quite well off at that time, but it was nothing compared with what they earn today. Towards the end of his playing days, John was earning £100 a week. Everton were known as the Mersey Millionaires and they had 50,000 or so fans paying in every week, but I think it was the club that made big money, not the players. There was a crowd bonus and a bit of extra money for winning the game on top of the basic though, so I suppose we were quite comfortably off really.

Johnny Morrissey and John Jr fishing for tiddlers while Celia was in hospital

Johnny Morrissey and John Jr fishing for tiddlers while Celia was in hospital

It was a penalty in the semi-final against Leeds got us through to the 1968 FA Cup final. I was pregnant with Stephen at the time, but I was at the game. Alan Ball was injured and Harry Catterick told John that if there were any penalties, he’d be taking them. I remember sitting with my head in my hands when the moment arrived, because I couldn’t even look. It seemed to take the longest time and I only looked up when I heard the screams and knew it had gone in. A newspaper photographer came to our house on the Sunday morning and took John and young John down to the canal. The next day’s papers were full of pictures of them with a little tiddler in a jam jar.

Aunty Nelly looked after John Jnr when I went in to have my second baby and Stephen was 8lb 9oz and also born by caesarean on the November 9, 1968. It was a Saturday morning and Everton were playing Ipswich at Portman Road. They drew 2-2, and it couldn’t have been further away

John phoned Park House before the game and the sister told him he had another son. He didn’t get to see us until the Sunday because Suffolk was so far away and they only got home really late at night. The nuns were lovely to me, Mother Monica was a beautiful person and Sister Celia was lovely as well. She took me up to the operating theatre and made me feel really at home, which was just as well because you had to stay in for a fortnight in those days.

I was lucky we didn’t need to move house because we stayed in the North-West when John finished at Everton in May 1972; he had a season at Oldham before retiring. After his success at Goodison, the interest wasn’t there anymore and he only played a handful of games before he hung up his boots in the summer of ‘73. The passion was gone and it made training and recovering from injury that much harder. He’s still and Evertonian and still follows football, he loves watching it on the television, and we watched young John play professionally all the time. It’s a little bit unusual for a footballer to have a son who can play, too.

The Morrisseys, Newtons and Browns celebrate winning the 1969/70 League at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Southport

The Morrisseys, Newtons and Browns celebrate winning the 1969/70 League at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Southport

John Jnr signed for Everton as an apprentice when he was 17 but he was only there for a couple of years. Howard Kendall was the manager but released him in 1985. Wolves signed him up, but John had to commute every day and his dad told him to move down there or leave. He used to get up at 6.30 in the morning to get to the Wolves on time for training, and that was the same every weekday. He was spending so much time on the road it was taking away from his game.

He went to Tranmere and ended up staying for about 12 years and playing almost 600 games, he really loved it. We would go on a Saturday to watch him and really enjoyed it. I preferred watching him to watching John because I wasn’t as keyed up about it. Stephen was also on Everton’s books for a short time, but they both work with their dad now, buying and selling property.

People used to knock on the door all the time asking for autographs, although it didn’t bother us. I would have done the same when I was a kid, so we never refused anybody.

When I weigh it all up, I don’t think I made any sacrifices for John’s career. I’ve always been the motherly and homely type. When I look back I think if I had my time over I’d have liked to be a beautician or something like that, but even so I’ve had a good life and I’m happy with my lot. I loved being at home, bringing up the children and cooking nice meals. It suited me down to the ground.

Given the chance, I don’t think I’d like to be a footballer’s wife now though. There seems to be an awful lot of pressure on the players and the wives, but we were lucky in the 60s because football gave us a great start in life. Now we have a place in Florida and usually spend four months a year out there, on and off between October and March, and that way we miss the worst of the English weather

No matter where we go, though, somebody will recognise John even though his hair is completely white now. Of course now they’re all of a certain age but it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, there will be somebody who wants to shake his hand or come over and say 'hello'. We were in Disney World in Orlando with my son and two of our grandchildren a while back and somebody shouted over to him. It doesn’t really surprise me because Evertonians are like that, they remember everyone who played for them and they cherish them. I think John quite likes it when it happens, and it makes him smile.

Taken from Real Footballers' Wives — the First Ladies of Everton, still available for purchase in book or Kindle form
© Becky Tallentire 2004

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Reader Comments (32)

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Jack Farrell
1 Posted 10/05/2018 at 22:56:05
One of my all time heroes, a very under rated footballer and one of the hardest men to walk on a pitch. Full backs were terrified of Moggsie.

An interesting snippet from Jack Charlton’s autobiography is that there were only 2 names in his infamous “little black book”. One was Ian Hutchinson of Chelsea and the other was Moggsie. Apparently Moggsie broke big Jack’s ankle in a tackle and stood over him asking, “ are you ok big fella”.

Bill Watson
2 Posted 10/05/2018 at 23:10:52
Great story, Becky, and such a contrast to top footballers, and their wives, these days.

Alan J Thompson
3 Posted 11/05/2018 at 04:13:44
These really are first class pieces that not only give an insight into the private player but also as a reminder of the times.
Tony Kelly
4 Posted 11/05/2018 at 07:14:41
What a player John Morrisey was, he was the only player in the history of football who won more tackles against full backs than they won against him!!! He was the reason the Holy Trinity performed the way they did, was because Moggsy's presence in the side made them fearless.

He had great vision, two good feet, and a work ethic second to none. He is probably the most underrated player to play for the Blues, but those who know will never forget that part John Morrisey played in the history of our great club.

William Cartwright
5 Posted 11/05/2018 at 08:50:58
One of, if not the fastest players running with the ball that I ever saw. He literally ran at pace with the ball close to his feet all the time. Legs like bottles, the largest stand out calf muscles he could hardly get his socks round them! A truly great player who improved the team whenever he played.
Dave Abrahams
6 Posted 11/05/2018 at 09:15:12
Everton were always a better team with Johnny in the team, he could do everything as Tony Kelly says above, Tony has wrote my post for me.

If it is the Tony Kelly I think it is I hope you are okay Tony and battling on, very best wishes Tony.

John Keating
7 Posted 11/05/2018 at 09:17:28
I remember when he signed and that we were really wary that we had a red in the team.

That was quite quickly dispelled when he got going for us.

A 100% dedicated passionate player who was part of a great era in our Club and thoroughly deserved his place in the team.

I can understand why Shankley was pissed off when he found the deal had been done.

Great player, great days.

Rick Tarleton
8 Posted 11/05/2018 at 09:28:30
A smashing, whole-hearted player, but one who was as good as and similar in style to John Robertson, the Forest player. He and Derek Temple were rivals for the left winger's jersey, totally different in style and temperament, but both of them great players.
Ian Burns
9 Posted 11/05/2018 at 09:49:36
Moggsie and a later copy John Robertson at Nottm Forest, were two of the most unusual left wingers of their day.

As has been said above, Moggsie made life that much easier for the Holy Trinity. If I copied John McFarlane Snr's recent series of my favourite player, Johnny would be my left winger.

Great article, love reading this series of insights.

Laurie Hartley
10 Posted 11/05/2018 at 10:01:13
One of my two all time favourite players the other being Tony Kay. Both left sided players and both as hard as nails - how I wish we had their like in our current squad.

Back to the post - to me Celia Morrisey comes across as a very humble woman - I say that with great respect to her and her kind. There is something very satisfying knowing that she and her husband have a place in Florida for their summer holidays.

Terry Underwood
11 Posted 11/05/2018 at 11:21:37
When I was "chosen" to be a Blue, this guy was my hero, even ahead of Alan Ball, so that says plenty. The only match I got to watch each season was Southampton away and I still fondly remember the home fans ire as Johnny Morrisey tore their defence to shreds . Happy days, when players were real working class heroes as opposed to millionaire dickheads
Dick Fearon
12 Posted 11/05/2018 at 11:49:04
My favourite memory of Johnnie was when he goaded Tommy Younger to 'come and get it' then cheekily chipped it over the big scots keeper for our 4th goal in the Purple Heart thrashing of the RS at Anfield.
Rick Tarleton
13 Posted 11/05/2018 at 11:59:25
Dick, Tommy Lawrence wasn't it?
Tony Kelly
14 Posted 11/05/2018 at 11:59:25
Cheers Dave {6} it is me; we all have our memories of John.

I used to have long conversations with John over the years; he still spends a lot of time in Florida, I believe.
Peter Mills
15 Posted 11/05/2018 at 12:05:43
I swear that penalty kick at Old Trafford took 20 seconds to get from Johnny’s boot to the small gap between the post and Gary Sprake’s hands.
Andy Meighan
16 Posted 11/05/2018 at 12:22:19
I'd never been to a match before but I quite enjoyed it even though I didn't really know what was going on. A bit like for me watching Everton under Sam Allardyce.

No, seriously another great piece Becky and when I was a small kid growing up in the 60s I loved Mogsy even though the Trinity got the plaudits. Not complaining like. Keep them coming, Becky. Fantastic.
Dave Lynch
17 Posted 11/05/2018 at 13:23:58
My all time favourite Everton player.

I remember as a kid in the early 70s giving some lad around 30 swaps for Johnny and I already had him twice.

I used to stick him on the front of all my school books.

Dick Fearon
18 Posted 11/05/2018 at 14:14:23
Rick @13, You could be correct if so I can only blame my shonky memory.

I could not get a ticket for the Everton end but scored one for the Kop. That goal was our fourth and led to the koppites heading for the exits en mass. Leaving me on my todd in a vast empty space.

John McFarlane Snr
19 Posted 11/05/2018 at 16:29:35
Hi Dick [18] Rick was right, Tommy Lawrence was in goal for Liverpool in that game. I too was on the Kop, there were no Liverpool or Everton ends in those days, segregation came some time later.

Regarding your "Shonky memory" I'm afraid I must agree with you, on a different thread you stated that John Hurst and Brian Labone were paired together as a central defence shortly after the Hungarians had beaten England twice.

The first of those games was played on 25 November 1953 Hungary winning 6-3 I remember this occasion vividly, because I had left school a couple of months earlier, and my first job was as office boy for a firm in Lord Street.

You will no doubt remember that in those days the newspapers stopped the presses to update the news. I kept nipping out to ask the Echo vendor the score, I'm afraid that England mean nothing to me now, but at that time I had a different outlook. The second game was played in Budapest on 23 May 1954 Hungary winning 7-1

As John Hurst didn't make his debut until August 1965 when he came on as substitute at Stoke City replacing Fred Pickering in a 1-1 draw, I think that you'll agree it was a little longer than 'shortly after', although I appreciate that a short time to one person can seem like lifetime to another.

I Trust that I haven't offended you, it's just that I'm a stickler for accuracy, and I've seen many a pint lost on incorrect information. I find that if I'm not certain of anything I pre-fix the statement with I think or I believe.

I have secured one or two books over the years, so it makes it easier for me to reference things I'm not 100% sure of, but even then the odd misprint can cause problems.

Once again, apologies for any offence that I may have caused, it certainly wasn't intended.

Gerry Morrison
20 Posted 11/05/2018 at 18:12:49
Johnny Morrissey used to have a newsagent and tobacconist shop at the back of where I lived as a kid. It was on Irlam road, just by the Muncaster. At the time, it didn't seem out of place to go and get the Daily Mirror from one of my heroes. He used to serve in there himself, and he also sold ciggies one at a time which was very popular with a certain demographic. (i.e. me and my mates.)
Mike Berry
21 Posted 11/05/2018 at 20:39:56
Vastly underrated. The Holy Trinity would not have been able to function without him.

Remember the classy John Robertson, Mozzer did that and more before he was created by Cloughie.

Simon Bradley
22 Posted 11/05/2018 at 20:49:00
Great piece, great read. And close to home. Stephen Morrissey was in my class at school in Crosby. I met all his family a couple of times as I used to hand out with Stephen a little. He was a great little footballer too, the best at school for sure and I always wondered what happened to him.

I remember being really please for his brother John Jr - saw him make a couple of appearances in that superb 84-85 season - one in particular I remember was as a sub v Inter Bratislava at Goodison in the ECWC.

Great times, great memories. And Johnny Sr. was one of my Dad's favorite Everton players.

Dick Fearon
23 Posted 11/05/2018 at 21:07:36
John @ 13,

That was the nicest rebuttal of my shonky memory.

I was 14 and football mad when England was tonked by the Magyars.

My teacher, God bless him for being our U-14s team coach and also mad about the game, smuggled a radio into our classroom. We listened to the game in a silence of numbed shock.

Ah, for sweet if sometimes muddled memory.

Steve Carse
24 Posted 11/05/2018 at 21:16:22
Mogsy provided Catterick's "out ball". Whenever the team was struggling under pressure they'd invariably ferry the ball out to him to hold and retain possession and provide a breather. Very much as John Robertson (Mike, #21) was later to do under Clough at Forest.

Everton is not generally thought of as a club that produced wingers – centre-forwards and midfield players yes, but not wingers. But when you come to think about it we've had some great wingers over the years – Temple, Thomas, Limpar, Kanchelskis etc. But for me Morrissey was the best of them all.

Ron Marr
25 Posted 12/05/2018 at 01:45:14
Nice story. Morrissey was #11 on my faves team. Didn't think anyone could replace Derek 'The Goal' Temple but Johnny did.
Andy Riley
26 Posted 12/05/2018 at 07:18:39
Remember chanting “E for B and Morrissey” in a parody of the George Best TV advert advertising eggs!
Peter Roberts
27 Posted 12/05/2018 at 14:45:30
I would love to meet him. My Gran & his Grandfather were siblings. He scored 2 goals against Ipswich who were the current Champions. That was my first time at Goodison — October 1962.
Jack Convery
28 Posted 13/05/2018 at 11:45:47
The fact that Shankly was so angry tells you all you need to know about how good Morrisey was. I'm enjoying these articles and look forward to some more. Its a pity not too many footballers and their wives are not as humble in todays 'Look what I've Got Society' mores the pity. Steven Naismith proving the exception.
Lenny Kingman
29 Posted 14/05/2018 at 08:49:13

I too was at that game Dick, my first derby at Anfield. I was in the paddock with my dear old dad and was close to the super show put on by Morrissey, ruler of the left wing that day.

If my memory hasn't deceived me he crossed the ball with great accuracy right in front of us to Fred Pickering to notch a header into the red net. Probably his first derby goal since joining the mighty Blues.

There was a bit of a ruck in the mainly red populated paddock with my father and a worse for wear red fan, who was not enjoying too much the marmalising we were giving them that incredible day.

Needless to say that was the highlight of my occasional visits to our former ground. The year after I was on the Kop squeezed in at the side in pouring rain, and we left at 4-0 down, grateful not to have been there for the fifth.

Thank you Becky for stirring up memories from the deep blue past that all of us old Blues carry, good and not so good, throughout our lives.

Philip Yensen
30 Posted 16/05/2018 at 09:42:11
I met Johnny Morrisey in Liverpool a couple of days after a derby game.

During this game, he studded Tommy Smith down his shins. Took Ron Yeats's knee cap for good measure, two separate tackles. He told me they smiled at him in the tunnel and promised him a good kicking. He grinned at me, adding, "They're not that hard."

Loved him as a player; when he'd come into Goodison Park, around the edge of the pitch on match day, he'd stop for a quick chat and give autographs.

They used to say Dave Thomas was a great crosser of the ball... but he was not as good as Moggie.

Tom Bowers
31 Posted 16/05/2018 at 17:32:30
I used to work right opposite Johnny's shop on Irlam Rd. and he was frequently there.
Always was a gentleman and we did chat many times.
A super player in that early Sixties team and always had something extra in the Derby matches. Tough as nails, unlike these present day wingers/wing backs who go down faking injury when they get tackled.
Dick Fearon
32 Posted 17/05/2018 at 08:05:57
I hope you are not referring to Baines or Coleman with your claim about fake injuries. Nor, for that matter, Martina or Kenny.

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