Dennis Stevens: The Players’ Player

Two members of the same family left Dudley for Lancashire to pursue careers in the top echelon of English football. One sadly died in the Munich air disaster; the other would play an integral part in bringing silverware to Bolton Wanderers and Everton

Rob Sawyer 02/06/2020 28comments  |  Jump to last

Two members of the same family left Dudley for Lancashire to pursue careers in the top echelon of English football.

Duncan Edwards joined Manchester United as an amateur in 1952, making his debut at 16, the following year. He won 18 England caps and two League titles as a star of the Busby Babes but lost his life as a result of the Munich Air Disaster in February 1958 at the tender age of 20. It is one of football’s great ‘what ifs’ – could he have inspired the England team to World Cup glory before 1966?

Less heralded is Dennis Stevens, three years his second cousin’s senior (another relation of Edwards was Ray Westwood who, like Dennis, enjoyed success at Bolton Wanderers). Dennis merits a higher profile for his ability and enthusiasm which were integral to silverware being won at both Burnden Park and Goodison Park.

Born on 30 November 1933, Dennis was the 12th, and youngest, child of James (a coal miner) and Beatrice. They lived on Bradford Road in the Woodside district of Dudley. Although several of the Stevens brothers displayed footballing ability, only Dennis had the determination to make it his profession. He’d play for Dudley Town FC alongside Duncan Edwards and also represented Worcestershire schoolboys. This is how he came under the spotlight of Bolton Wanderers’ scout in the area. At just 15 he left his family behind and joined the Trotters.

The young hopeful was fortunate to be assigned digs with Arthur and Mary Nash – Arthur was a club scout. They always had Dennis’s best interests at heart – giving his sage advice about avoiding the pitfalls that had undermined other promising players’ careers. In spite of the kindness shown by the Nash family, Dennis – a quiet lad – missed his family and homesickness took its toll to the extent that he pleaded to be taken home. His mother duly came up to Bolton and brought him back to Dudley and he worked for a brief time as a farm-hand.

It is here where Mr Davies, a local sports teacher, stepped in and convinced the teenager not to give up on his dream and pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. His elder brother, Derek, talked him round and practically bundled him onto a train headed north.

Fortunately, on his return to Bolton, Dennis settled down, aided by the arrival of new lodger and fellow youth player, Tommy Neil, and focused on his sporting progression. Both of Dennis’s parents would pass away before the end of the 1950s, so Arthur and Mary became something akin to adopted parents to him. He would never forget their kindness and in their retirement he was always there for them. He’d visit their home every Thursday, taking a box of chocolates, running errands and doing odd-jobs.

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Dudley Town FC 1948 featuring Dennis Stevens and Duncan Edwards

Dudley Town FC, 1948, featuring Dennis Stevens and Duncan Edwards

His Trotters first-team debut came at the age of 19 in a fixture at local rivals Preston North End on 26 September 1953. Playing at inside-left forward he was powerless to prevent a 3-1 defeat. After several months back in the reserves, he established himself early in the New Year wearing the Number 10 shirt, marking his first goal in an away win at Anfield.

He’d be in and out of the side for a couple of seasons before nailing down a place at inside-right early in the 1955-56 season, in succession to Harold Hassall whose career was ended prematurely by injury. Although mild-mannered off the pitch, Dennis was ready for battle on it. Although he was not one to back away from trouble, his stamina and speed would keep him away from some of the cloggers. Tommy Banks, the team’s left-back would later say: ‘They used to queue up to clobber Stevie – but they had to catch him first!’

Dennis met his future wife, Eileen, at Bolton’s Palais de Danse. She recalls:

‘I was there with a group of girls and he was there with his friends. Someone said: “Oh, Dennis Stevens has come in!” But I wasn’t a football person so I said: “Who is Dennis Stevens?” They explained that he played for Bolton. My sister was going out with one of his friends and he’d told her that he’d like to take me out. So he got me up to dance – and that was that – we were married for nearly 60 years!’

After four years of courtship, the couple married in 1960, once Eileen had turned 21. At this point, Dennis moved out of digs and the newlyweds moved into a house in Astley Bridge, Bolton.

So what was life like with Dennis? Eileen still smiles about some of Dennis’s Black Country turns of phrase and remembers his good sense of humour – he was very adept at teasing – especially when it came to his sister. However, she also recalls how Dennis, a non-smoker, took his sporting responsibilities seriously. ‘He loved his football and that came before going out and partying and anything like that. He would never go out on a Friday night. He was dedicated to it. We’d go to the odd gathering and they’d think he was miserable because he was quiet and maybe just had a couple of lagers. All the other ones were swigging it but for him football was his job and there was no way that he was going to jeopardise that.’ 

As a match approached, he could become taciturn, sat quietly in the armchair ruminating about the game to come. These would be the only times that the couple might argue – often over something trivial – because of the tension that Dennis was feeling. After the match, it was all forgotten by him.

Dennis was twice selected for the England Under-23 side in the spring of 1957. He faced Romania and, four days later, Czechoslovakia – England won both of these matches on foreign soil. Unlike many of his teammates in those matches – which included Duncan Edwards plus Johnny Haynes, Jimmy Armfield, Bryan Douglas and Ronnie Clayton – Dennis never attained full-international honours. If he resented that, being the modest man that he was, he never shared those feelings, even with those closest to him.

Dennis Stevens and Duncan Edwards represent England Under-23s in May 1957

Dennis and Duncan represent England Under-23s in May 1957

A memorable game, in several ways, was the League encounter with champions Manchester United at Burnden Park in September 1957. The Trotters won 4-0 but the match also demonstrated the deep on-pitch rivalry between cousins. Dennis had put the hosts ahead with a superb goal within five minutes of the start but then became embroiled in a running battle with Duncan. After one ‘exchange’, Dennis was carried off the field with, what those on the terraces thought might be a broken leg. He returned to the fray 10 minutes later to rapturous applause after the injury was diagnosed as a ‘bruised nerve’ which had temporarily paralysed his leg.

Duncan did not relent and there were angry exchanges between the pair in the second half when the Manchester United man went in hard again, sending Dennis tumbling. Dennis would confront Duncan after incidents like this but it was merely a case of family rivalry with no quarter being asked or given. Beyond these flare-ups, there was deep affection between the two – so the tragic events of 6 February 1958, and Duncan’s death 15 days later, after a brave battle for life, hit Dennis hard. Later in life, whenever the family visited Dudley and visited the Stevens grave in the cemetery, Dennis would always encourage his sons to go over to Duncan’s grave, which was just a short distance away.

It was a cruel irony that the hastily rebuilt Manchester United side should meet Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup Final that May. There would be no happy ending for United as the Boltonians went about their business efficiently. They were already a goal to the good when Dennis had a hard shot from the left of the penalty area parried by Harry Gregg. Following up, Nat Lofthouse shoulder-charged the goalkeeper and forced the ball (and Gregg) into the net. Wanderers won 2-0.

Dennis’s closest friend at Wanderers was Ralph Gubbins who lived just around the corner. He was an unsung hero of Bolton. When Bolton got to the 1958 semi-final, Nat Lofthouse was injured so Ralph was called into the team and scored two goals. But he didn’t get picked for the final and never got a Cup winner’s medal.

Dennis Stevens 1958 FA Cup final

Left: Tempers flare in the 1958 FA Cup final; Right: Dennis watches on as Harry Gregg collects the ball in the same game

Dennis would continue in the Number 8 shirt and his goal output increased over the time – he could be relied upon to get into double figures in support of Nat Lofthouse. When the talismanic ‘Lion of Vienna’ was injured in 1959, Dennis switched to the Number 9 shirt. Although lacking the height and physical presence expected of a centre-forward, he went about his business with vim, hitting the back of the net 15 times in the 1959-60 season. He continued to be asked to switch to centre-forward as and when Lofthouse was unavailable and never let anyone down.

However, during a tough run in early 1962, he was booed off the pitch – something he had never experienced before. It hurt him and made him consider his future at the club he held in such deep affection. It was at this time that word started to first reach him via Arthur Nash that there was interest from Everton. With his goal tally at exactly 100 for Bolton, he made his 311th and final appearance for the Whites at home to Blackpool on 3 March 1962.

Harry Catterick had been in-situ since April 1961 at Goodison Park and had used his time to assess the squad he had inherited from John Carey. Come March 1962, he started to bring in his own players to strengthen and re-shape the team. In came Dennis Stevens, Gordon West and George Heslop. At the time of his arrival from Bolton, Leslie Edwards wrote for the Liverpool Echo about a bit of ‘history’ Dennis had at Everton:

Stevens, latest of Mr Catterick's buys, is a man who has always struck me as being one of the hardest working and most courageous in the game. In one very hot Everton - Bolton Wanderers reserve match at Goodison Park in which Stevens took part, an Everton player was sent off and the game was held up for some ten minutes while the pitch was cleared of spectators. They included, I am told, an irate lady brandishing an umbrella. All that has been forgotten and forgiven, of course, and Stevens is sure of a welcome when he makes his League debut.

His first outing in royal blue came in a friendly match in Edinburgh against Hibs with the Echo reporting:

Dennis Stevens, Everton's new inside forward, gave a business-like display on his debut in Saturday's friendly with Hibernian, at Easter Road, Edinburgh. He seemed physically equipped to withstand the hardest shock tackles of the Scots, and his occasional excursions into goalmouth shooting positions only broke down when the lively ball beamed awkwardly for the stockily-built ex-Bolton forward. Stevens should be able to give more purpose to the Everton attack if it is decided to play him in the support berth.

His Toffees Football League debut came a few days later against Chelsea – the win was convincing but, to the sceptical fans, Dennis’s performance was less so. Frank Keegan, then an Everton-obsessed schoolboy, recalls his first impressions: ‘I looked forward to seeing the new signing. It was a hard-working performance but his shooting was not good with chances missed.’

In mitigation for a low-key debut, Dennis was lining up with unfamiliar teammates and a fellow debutant in young Mick Gannon. The real issue for Evertonians such as Frank Keegan was who was not on the pitch. ‘The consensus in school was that Dennis was okay but he was not Bobby Collins. This was true. Bobby was our leader. He wasn’t much taller than us, but there he was playing for Everton demanding the ball, tackling, scoring goals and what we liked best: he would fight anyone. Dennis got stuck in and worked hard but... he was not Bobby.’

Since his signing in 1958, Bobby Collins had been the team’s talisman and was adored by the supporters for his spirit, skills, goals and inspirational qualities. However, at 31, and having picked up a couple of injuries, Catterick felt that the star was on the wane. A couple of disagreements between the Scot and Catterick and John Moores had also marked his card. Therefore, the manager moved with characteristic stealth and speed to tie up a £32,500 deal for Dennis. Within days of the new arrival, the wheels were in motion for Bobby Collins to move to Leeds United and play a key role in revitalising the club under Don Revie (bizarrely, one obstacle to the transfer was that Collins owned a pig farm near Aintree so he had to get his business matters in order before moving across the Pennines).

It is arguable that Catterick let Collins go too soon and he did voice some regret later when penning his memoir. However, Gavin Buckland, in his study of Everton in the 1960s (Money Can’t Buy Us Love) argues convincingly that Collins no longer had the legs and stamina to perform the role demanded of him – which was to do a lot of the donkeywork to allow his forward-line colleagues, Alex Young and Roy Vernon, to focus on offensive duties. Dennis Stevens, by contrast, had what you’d describe nowadays as a great engine – he could run for 90 minutes and still be ready for more. This, coupled with his and professionalism and unselfishness, made him an ideal player for Catterick.

Derek Temple, who became a life-long friend, reflected on the differences between Dennis and the person he replaced at Everton: ‘He was a little bit unfortunate in that he followed Bobby Collins, who was the best player I have played with. Dennis didn’t have that little touch of finesse that Bobby had but he could hold his own in most company. There were no lost causes and that’s why Harry bought him. We had some players who shone at home but not necessarily away and Harry wanted to stiffen the side up. Bobby used to do that job, he went round kicking anybody. Dennis wasn’t shy in putting his foot in – he could look after himself. But the crowd didn’t really take to him or see what he was giving.’

Frank Keegan agrees with Derek’s observations: ‘What we didn’t see at the time was what Harry Catterick had seen and what he had planned. Catterick had inherited a good team at home but a poor one away. Having made his signings, Catterick set about using the remaining games to try a variety of tactical changes and Dennis was key to these.’

Whilst supporters may have had reservations about the new arrival, Derek Temple says that there were no such doubts for the Everton squad and management team. ‘Dennis was a footballer’s footballer – with tremendous will-power and will to win. He had the backing of the players – we had played against him and admired him as a player – and we accepted him. He was a manager’s dream – especially for someone like Harry. Soon after Everton had bought him, there was a five-a-side game at Bellefield. The ball went up the other end – it was an open goal with the other side’s player about to tap it in – when out of nowhere Dennis appeared and took it off his foot. Harry was there on the touchline rubbing his hands together, he was made up!’

Mick Meagan and Dennis Stevens on coach

Mick Meagan and Dennis Stevens on the coach

Mick Meagan, who, like Derek, became a pal of Dennis's, concurs: ‘It’s amazing how birds of a feather flew together. Dennis was no sooner in the place than the lads decided: “He’s one of us.” He did not get the credit he deserved but the players loved him.’ Naturally, that respect did not let Dennis off a ribbing, as Mick recalls: ‘We always took the mickey out of him, as in the 1958 FA Cup final, after the Lofthouse goal, Dennis ran towards Nat to get his arms around him but Nat ran right past him without stopping. So all the lads would say: “We thought you were a big name, but Lofthouse didn't bother with you!”’

The dissent from the terraces in those early weeks at Goodison was hard to ignore and caused Dennis some self-doubt as to whether he was of the required standard for Everton. It was here, Eileen recalls, that the manager played an important role: ‘Harry Catterick got him into the office, as he must have understood that Dennis was feeling a bit inferior to these big name players. And Harry said, “You are just as good as they are.” He gave him back his confidence and overcame this feeling of not being as good as the others. He soon felt a part of the team and loved it there.’

Dennis recalled this period 30 years later: ‘Harry Catterick was a hard manager but also very fair. If you worked hard for him and caused no problems, he was very good to you. He certainly helped me settle in and always stressed that I should believe in myself.’

Slowly but surely, Dennis won the crowd around. In his sixth match, away to Blackburn, he scored his first goal and also demonstrated versatility by dropping back to wing-half when Brian Harris went in goal to replace the injured Gordon West. Frank Keegan recalls: ‘He scored again in the next game against West Ham and was now winning the crowd over. Another goal followed away at Man Utd making it three goals in four games. The season ended in spectacular fashion in a game I remember well, not least for the 8-3 scoreline. Dennis scored one of the goals but in reality he could and should have scored four. His value to the team was now there for all to see. Prior to his arrival, Everton had lost eight of their 14 away games and another in the cup. Following his arrival, we lost just one at Spurs.’ Derek Temple adds: ‘He was accepted by the fans in time as they recognised that he never gave anything less than 100%.’

The Stevens family was provided with a semi-detached club house, at 1 Nantwich Close in Arrowe Park, Birkenhead. Sons Gary and Julian became used to star players calling round – perhaps not appreciating at the time just how privileged they were. Not being one of the ‘Goodison Rat Pack’ who frequented the Royal Tiger, Dennis would socialise with Brian Labone, Brian Harris, Derek Temple and Mick Meagan. The latter, nick-named Dermot by Dennis after an Irish tramp character in the Arthur Haynes TV series, recalls fondly: ‘I enjoyed his company and he was a wonderful person. We'd sneak out after matches for a good little time with Brain Labone and Brian Harris. Dennis wouldn't let you do anything bold – he'd keep you in line! He'd just have one or two little drinks and a laugh – taking the mickey. And he loved a game of golf with me, Derek and Brian making up the fourball.’

Dennis’s physical prowess, coupled with the high-esteem in which he was held by Harry Catterick, meant that he was an ever-present from joining the club in March 1962 through to September 1964 – a remarkable 112 consecutive appearances (the 5th longest run for an Everton outfield player to date). His desire and capacity to get around the pitch and cover for others might not have always been seen by some supporters but was appreciated by the likes of Mick Meagan: ‘He was a great player. He was up and down, up and down, and he enjoyed that was the great thing about him. I was very slow and he'd say: “Now listen, Dermot... I'll be there to help you out.” And, sure enough, he was.’

Celebrating the League title win

Celebrating the League title win in the changing rooms in 1963

With the steel provided by Dennis, Jimmy Gabriel and Tony Kay (replacing Brian Harris mid-season), Everton were able to win their first post-war league title in 1963. The side was crowned the champions of England on the final day of the season – a 4-1 defeat of Fulham. Eileen was not there to see it, however: ‘John Moores had promised the lads that if they won that day he’d take us all to Torremolinos as a treat. So foolishly I headed into town to buy some clothes. So it’s one of the biggest times in Dennis’s sporting life, and he’d be doing a lap of honour after winning – and there I am going to the shops that were empty as everyone was at the match! I can’t believe that I did it – but I was young and foolish!’

Perhaps Dennis’s finest 90 minutes for Everton came in the 4-0 demolition of Manchester United in December 1963 (sweet revenge for a 5-1 defeat in August). Dennis scored one of the goals – and could have had more – but his all-action display was near-faultless. Leslie Edwards’s match summary purred with praise for the Dudley man:

It was inspired, inspiring stuff... And through the general pattern ran the gold strand of Stevens’s accomplishment in every facet of the forward game. An astonishing display of the forward arts by Dennis Stevens was instrumental in one of their most notable victories for years at Goodison Park. They not only beat Manchester United, they almost literally pulverised them. Stevens... put on the game of his life. He started with two big shots and continued with a performance which took him to all parts of the field. He capped it all with a remarkable solo run which brought the house down and left me in no doubt that here is a player who not only has the answer to a massed defence but the answer, too, to the off-side trap. In short, when the place is cluttered with defenders and it is hard to find anyone with a pass, the only counter is a do-it-yourself gambit. Stevens did just this... Foulkes and company were completely out-maneuvered.

Everton's 1963-64 team

Everton's 1963-64 squad

Left: Getting on a plane bound for Torremolinos in May 1963; Right: Enjoying a BBQ on the Australian tour of 1964

By the 1964-65 season, Dennis was starting to feel the challenge of Colin Harvey for his inside-forward berth and switched to the half-back line (Harvey was a different type of footballer but shared Dennis’s dedication and will to win). His season ended with a cartilage operation in March. The following season, he was a bit-part player as the team evolved. His final two appearances came at inside-left in November 1965. Over the festive period, Everton accepted a £20,000 bid for the 32-year-old from Oldham Athletic of Third Division. Eileen and Dennis reluctantly packed their bags and moved east. Eileen recalls: ‘He loved it at Everton and they were great people. We didn’t really want to move back but he was transferred to Oldham, so that’s what we did.’ Their vacated house on Nantwich Close was soon occupied by Brian Labone and his partner, Pat.

Dennis had been a model of consistency for the Blues, scoring 23 times in 143 appearances. He’d fulfilled the slightly unsung hero role in a Championship-winning team previously performed by Stan Bentham in 1938-39. Frank Keegan gives his fan’s eye view: ‘Dennis never became Bobby Collins. He was Dennis – and a favourite. A great player in a great team, who developed a great understanding with those around him and adapted seamlessly in other positions when called upon. He was a remarkably consistent player.’

Dennis brought his customary experience and professionalism to the Latics. In January 1966, they took West Ham to an FA Cup replay at Upton Park. The Daily Mirror noted: ‘The experience of former First Division players like Dennis Stevens and lan Towers has given Oldham football authority. It was a match for most of what West Ham could produce on this morass of a pitch.’ The visitors finally succumbed to a late Hammers winner from Peter Brabrook. After 38 appearances for the Boundary Park outfit, he was back on the move again – ironically to a club in close proximity to his previous home.

Dennis Stevens  with Derek Temple and Mick Meagan

Dennis looking dapper with his good friends Derek Temple and Mick Meagan

A free transfer took him to play for Tranmere Rovers in March 1967 (he’d commute from Bolton rather than relocate the family again). His nous at right-half helped to get to them into the Third Division promotion places at the end of the season. He was also a regular in the 1967-68 season in his more traditional inside-right berth. The football gods decreed that his final game should be at Goodison Park – an FA Cup 5th Round defeat to Everton in March 1968. Although the ‘engine’ probably had a few seasons left in it, a disc injury brought his playing days to a close.

Dennis then embarked on a completely new career as a gents’ outfitter. Although he was not a flash person, he’d had a life-long interest in clothing and looking smart (he kept 22 suits when he was a player). Derek Temple was always impressed: ‘His dress sense was always immaculate – extremely smart with good co-ordination.’ The shop, in the Harwood area, focused on high-quality Odermark suits imported from Germany – people would come from distance to purchase them. Alan Ball, one of Bolton’s greatest sons, came to open the shop (Dennis would make an effort to take his sons to watch Ball play in the 1970s).

The business was originally a partnership but when Dennis and the other businessman decided to go their separate ways, they left it to the toss of a coin to see who would keep the shop. Fortunately for Dennis, he called it right. For a brief period there was some competition when Frank Worthington opened a clothing emporium nearby – however, the fashions Frank offered were more, shall we say, flamboyant? The business was successful, allowing Dennis to retire at 58 to enjoy more family time (with some golf and football watching thrown in, of course).

Dennis Stevens's new menswear store

Left: Alan Ball opens Dennis's new menswear store; Right: Dennis outside his shop

Dennis would get over to midweek matches at Burnden Park and Gigg Lane or, occasionally, Goodison Park – a place he loved to revisit and have a chance to rekindle old friendships. In 2002, on the opening day of the season, there was an amusing incident there, as Gary recalls: ‘A client of mine, a mad Evertonian, invited me to the first home game of the season. I never even spoke to my dad to say that I was going, I just went. We were there in the eating area and Brian Labone came past so I introduced myself as Dennis’s son. And he said, “Oh yes, I’ve just been with your dad.” And said, “What do you mean?” to which Brian said, “He’s here at the ground.” It turns out that it was the celebration of 100 years in the top flight so the older players all got shirts to celebrate and went round the pitch. So when I went down and saw him he couldn't believe it: “What are you doing here?!”’

Dennis always kept in touch with Mick Meagan and Derek Temple – with Eileen, he’d go to stay with them in Ireland. When they arrived at Dublin Airport to visit the Meagans, true to comic form, Mick saw to it that his partner held aloft a large sign in the arrivals hall with NAT LOFTHOUSE written on it.

Dennis Stevens in 1991

Dennis in his shop in 1991

Although a post-playing career in professional football had not appealed to Dennis, he did coach a local team, Silcoms, for many years. He also tried to watch or be involved with his son’s teams, although it was always difficult until he retired. Gary and Julian would follow in his footsteps; they both played local football and ran kids and adult teams in the locality. Monday was golf day for Dennis – when he was still running his business, Eileen would come down to mind the shop in order to free him up to enjoy a four-ball. The stamina that made him a great player was still there – he’d play 36 holes punctuated by lunch.

Several years after retiring, Dennis noticed the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but, with medication, he was able to lead a normal life and still play golf – only late in life did the symptoms become more severe. The toll on his body of 20 years as a professional footballer necessitated two back operations plus hip and knee surgery (with the PFA and Everton Former Players’ Foundation both assisting financially). Eileen recalls: ‘I asked him, once, if he would have his time in football all over again – in spite of all the troubles with knees and his back. And he said, “Oh yes, absolutely. I’d do it all again.”’ In retirement, they’d watch football on TV together and Eileen would come to appreciate the sport better: ‘I got to learn more about football from watching it, especially when Dennis was retired from playing and we used to sit and watch the matches on TV on Saturday night. He’d explain things clearly to me and we’d listen to the analysis – and you get to appreciate it more.  It is a great game, really.’

Dennis passed away on 20 December 2012 at the age of 79. He had also been affected by Alzheimer’s in his final two years. A well-attended funeral service was held at St Maxentius Church. Phil Brown, John Byrom, Tommy Banks, Roy Hartle, Billy Bingham, Jimmy Harris, Tony Kay and Mark Higgins were among the ex-players paying their respects. Heartfelt eulogies were delivered by his friends Derek Temple and Dr Kieran Moriarty (for whom Dennis had done much fundraising work). Dr Moriarty said: “The qualities a player shows on the sports field are virtually always the same qualities that he displays in life. Reading the tributes to Dennis shows just how true this is. The words shone through — modest, selfless, honesty, unobtrusive, gem, perpetual motion, didn’t believe in lost causes and unsung hero.’

L-R: Harry Leyland, Dennis Stevens, Brian Labone, and Tommy Eglington at Goodison in the mid-1990s

My thanks to:

The Stevens family
Frank Keegan
Mick Meagan
Derek Temple

Photos are taken from the Stevens family collection except the colour image of Dennis in his shop (taken from the Everton matchday programme) and the image of him with Mick Meagan which is from Roy Vernon's family collection.


The Bolton News
The Liverpool Echo
Daily Post
The Independent (obituary by Ivan Ponting)
Everton matchday programme
Money Can’t Buy Us Love: Everton in the 1960s (Gavin Buckland)
The Everton Encyclopedia (James Corbett) (Billy Smith) (Steve Johnson)

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Reader Comments (28)

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Bob Parrington
1 Posted 02/06/2020 at 07:48:25
Rob, a fantastic article that is so well written and supported with illustrations and pictures. Well done and thanks for presenting it.

This would be a good read for many who are critical of young players, like Moise Kean, who leave the shelter of home to follow their dream or sense of adventure. I left home in Moreton, just after my 17th birthday, to go to UMIST in Manchester and then straight on to Wallsend in Geordie land 3 years later. So I have some degree of empathy for this aspect of Dennis's early football adventure.

Thank you.

Danny ONeill
2 Posted 02/06/2020 at 09:28:05
Fascinating article Rob. As always, meticulously written & backed up with comprehensive research, although I suspect much of this is also your own impressive knowledge!

I took so many things from that to mention but the insights that fascinated me most are below. I have to caveat, I'm commenting way out of my own historical area here as this is my father's period, so please excuse any slight inaccuracies!

1. The importance of having the right players, not just the best players. As per a previous threads, you don't necessarily need the 11 best players to make the best team. Players who are effective & fit the manager's intent can make a great team. Catterick's decision to replace Bobby Collins with Stevens appears to demonstrate that he thought Stevens better fitted in his plans even though Collins was apparently the better player at the time.

2. In line with above, Catterick clearly wasn't shy of making big & unpopular (at the time) decisions. Didn't he do this with Alex Young - Joe Royle? On both occasions he was rewarded with a League Title.

3. Dennis Stevens sounds like the type of unsung player every great team needs. As mentioned, he had the engine and done the type of work that freed up Catterick's front line to be more offensive and not have to worry so much about defensive responsibilities. God, I'd take Gueye back tomorrow.

Thanks again Rob; a fine read to wake up to.

Derek Thomas
3 Posted 02/06/2020 at 09:54:09
Rob, another masterpiece about a vastly under rated 'unsung hero' whose only sin/problem was...He Wasn't Bobby Collins.

Dennis, Brian Harris, Sandy Brown and a few others were a managers dream, they could and did, play anywhere they were asked to...and do it well.

I well remember him playing at Harrys orders the, for then, avant garde, position of 'man marker' on Blackburn's Bryan Douglas, who had ran riot pulling all the strings the last time we played them.

Another memory is of him having an absolute blinder playing Man U. almost on his own, but couldn't hit the target. One instance scooping a difficult bobbling ball over the crossbar from about 6ft. and laughing like a drain at the absurdity of how it just wouldnt go in for him.

The Manager of the 1970 Brazil team stated 'for every maestro to perform, there has to be somebody to push the piano on stage'

Dennis - as your piece states, was much more than
just a piano pusher, but when asked he did it very well.

No marmite opinion from me, as I grew older and a little bit wiser I soon belatedly twigged what he brought to a team. Loved him.

Dave Abrahams
4 Posted 02/06/2020 at 09:58:44
Rob, you’ve made my day with this wonderful tribute to one of my favourite players Dennis Stevens.

Bobby Collins was my favourite Everton player and was missed by us fans when he left, but not as much as many Everton fans thought he would be, because of Dennis Stevens, loved him, and I knew what we were getting. Nat Lofthouse, Bolton’s and England’s centre forward, had written while Dennis was at Bolton, “ I would score a goal and receive the acclaim of the crowd, while on the floor would be the man who did all the donkey work and made the goal”

When Everton played away it never bothered me if the “star” men were missing, we never really missed them if Dennis, Mogsy ( Johnny Morrissey ) and later Tony Kay were playing. Dennis was, like the man he replaced, Bobby Collins, a 100% team player. A genuine fella off the pitch as well he fitted in quickly and easily to Everton’s style, scoring and making goals as well as giving plenty of graft,possibly one of Catterick’s greatest signing.

I think when Dennis passed away a coach load of Everton fans went to his funeral, not sure if it that’s true, but if it is I regret I wasn’t on it. A great player and a lovely man.

On a personal note Rob, thanks for including that bit about the lady with the umbrella assailing the Bolton players, it confirmed a post I remitted a couple of years ago.

Bob Parrington
5 Posted 02/06/2020 at 10:22:36
Sandy Brown, Brian Harris, Bobby Collins, Dennis Stevens, Tony Kay, Alex Young, Roy Vernon and Alex Scott. Oh, those were the days!

I have a picture in my mind of a Tony Kay tackle, on the left of midfield, running back towards goal, where he slid in (cleanly), from the inside, took the ball and set up an attack. OMG, he was a great player, too, before the "authorities" took him to one side!

Ken Kneale
6 Posted 02/06/2020 at 10:47:52

As ever, a very enjoyable article as always. Thank you.

John McFarlane Snr
7 Posted 02/06/2020 at 14:34:20
Hi Rob, another great article, I think that you'll know by now that I wallow in nostalgia, and despite the successes of the 80s, I'm stuck in a time warp of the 60s. I can only agree with those who say that Dennis wasn't accepted by the majority of supporters initially, because he replaced Bobby Collins, who many considered was irreplaceable. Dennis however proved to the doubters, of which I was one, that he had everything to succeed at Goodison.

I can recall one amusing incident, when I travelled alone to Burnden Park in the early 60s, surrounded by Bolton fans who were giving Dennis stick, I expressed my pleasure following a superb pass, I shouted, "Good ball, Dennis," when one burly middle-aged Bolton fan retorted, "Aye, lad, there's now't wrong with the ball." [I have substituted the original colourful comment.]

I was delighted to read that Brian Harris deputised in goal for Gordon West, this is something I have maintained for a long time, but couldn't find anyone to confirm it. On another occasion, I believe that Sandy Brown deputised for Andy Rankin, but I can't recall the opponents; however, both incidents took place at Goodison.

Once again, Rob, thank you for a much-appreciated trip down Memory Lane.

Tony Hill
8 Posted 02/06/2020 at 16:49:16
A lovely piece on a fine player from my favourite Everton era. They had a quality about them those players, on and off the pitch. Manliness perhaps.
Brian Garside
9 Posted 02/06/2020 at 20:01:15
So much brilliant reading on this site. A thank you from me to all who have taken the time and effort to contribute.
Mike Berry
10 Posted 02/06/2020 at 20:35:04
Great piece – thanks, mate. Always in my memory as a hard-tackling box-to-box player.
Robert Workman
11 Posted 03/06/2020 at 09:46:12
Dennis Stevens was in the Everton side when I first started watching them with friends, via the ferry cross the Mersey or the train from New Brighton under the Mersey.

He played in a great forward line of Scott, Stevens, Young, Vernon and Temple. Jimmy Gabriel and Roy Vernon were my favourite players.

Oddly, Stevens was the first player that I heard the Goodison crowd groan at. Maybe it did have something to do with the sale of Bobby Collins. Don't think I appreciated the amount of work that Stevens did.

In those days, you turned up expecting to see the same eleven players each week. I don't remember there being so many injuries. Yet the tackling was much stronger than nowadays. With today's refereeing, the games would have ended up as 5-a-side!

George Carroll
12 Posted 03/06/2020 at 12:02:27
This lockdown is doing me no good. As usual, reading all the football news and thinking why hasn't someone written about Denis Stevens... and, lo and behold, a brilliant nostalgia piece by Rob Sawyer. The effort he puts in is tremendous and much appreciated by oldies like me, it brings back wonderful memories. Thanks, Rob.
John McFarlane Snr
13 Posted 03/06/2020 at 12:41:37
Hi Robert [11], I was demobbed in July 1959 and I've just done a quick check and it appears that the top League appearances for the following few seasons were:

1959-60. Bobby Collins 42, Alex Parker 38, Albert Dunlop 37, Jimmy Harris 36, Tommy Jones 35, Brian Harris 32, Brian Labone 31.

1960-61. Albert Dunlop 42, Brian Labone 42, Alex Parker 41, Bobby Collins 40, Jimmy Gabriel 40, Roy Vernon 39, Brian Harris 30.

1961-62. Jimmy Gabriel 42, Brian Labone 41, Alex Young 40, Billy Bingham 37, Roy Vernon 37, Brian Harris 33, George Thomson 32, Alex Parker 31, Albert Dunlop 30.

1962-63. Dennis Stevens, 42, Alex Young 42, Roy Vernon 41, Jimmy Gabriel 40, Brian Labone 40, Gordon West 38, Alex Parker 33, Mick Meagan 32.

I made 30 the cut-off point because it represents a sizeable chunk of the season.

I also think that, if Fred Pickering hadn't enjoyed a hat-trick debut, he too may have come in for some stick, because replacing Alex Young was a formidable challenge.

Tom Bowers
14 Posted 03/06/2020 at 12:51:00
Harry Catterick was a no-nonsense manager who brought the best out of players. This squad was excellent with great leaders and discipline and we awaited every game (especially at home) with eager anticipation. Young and Vernon had a great understanding and Vernon didn't have a pick on him but was so quick around the box.
Tom Bowers
15 Posted 03/06/2020 at 14:28:47
Harry Catterick was a no-nonsense manager who brought the best out of players. This squad was excellent with great leaders and discipline and we awaited every game (especially at home) with eager anticipation. Young and Vernon had a great understanding and Vernon didn't have a pick on him but was so quick around the box.
Alasdair Jones
16 Posted 03/06/2020 at 16:07:44

A superb article and an excellent read.

I saw Dennis Stevens's last home league appearance for the Blues in a 0-0 draw with Leeds Utd in November 1965. He looked a bit off the pace and clearly the knee op was holding him back. His final game I believe was away to West Ham the following week.

As many have commented, he was a solid unfussy player who Catterick could rely on either in a traditional wing-half role or as an inside-forward.

John @ 7. I hope I'm right on this; the introduction of Sandy Brown as sub for the injured Andy Rankin was in the home game against Stoke City at Goodison on 12 December 1964. A 1-1 draw was played out in a downpour.

Ian Pilkington
17 Posted 03/06/2020 at 17:26:13
Thank you, Rob, for yet another most interesting and enjoyable article.

Dennis was undoubtedly a key member of our great 1962-63 team, playing, with Alex Young, in all 42 matches as noted by John @13.

I started to go to Goodison on a regular basis shortly after Dennis arrived and he became one of my favourite players. He was described in those days as a “link man” and he did the job very well indeed. Looking back now, he was certainly one of Harry Catterick's most astute signings.

Jay Harris
18 Posted 03/06/2020 at 17:52:05
Rob, I love reading your articles which are so well researched and thorough.

My overriding memory of Dennis Stevens was his propensity for missing goals. I remember many occasions when he would be almost on the goal line and scoop it over the bar.

Having said that, he was a real player's player with the ground he covered, mopping up for everyone else.

A fine man, player and a credit to the club.

John McFarlane Snr
19 Posted 03/06/2020 at 18:52:10
Hi Alasdair [16] I did think that the opposing team was Stoke City, but I was wary of committing myself, which was just as well because I do try to be precise in my claims. The one thing I can recall is that, in both instances, Gordon West and Andy Rankin played on the left wing, attacking the Park End. Thanks for ensuring that I can rest easy tonight.
Michael Kenrick
20 Posted 03/06/2020 at 21:54:43
Alasdair, I just want to offer up one minor correction. I'm pretty sure Sandy Brown did not come on as a substitute in that Stoke CIty match. Substitutions during matches in the English Football League were not permitted until the 1965–66 season.

But Rankin was injured in that game and did not play again that season. I believe Sandy Brown started the game at right back and took Rankin's place in goal.

John McFarlane Snr
21 Posted 03/06/2020 at 23:07:42
Hi Michael [20],

You're correct in saying that Sandy Brown didn't come on as a substitute, he replaced the injured Andy Rankin in goal, hence my reference to the fact that Gordon West and Andy Rankin played on the left-wing, in what we termed 'nuisance value' on both occasions. I missed Alasdair's reference to Sandy coming on as substitute.

Alasdair Jones
22 Posted 04/06/2020 at 11:15:33
John @19 and Michael @20

I'm not having a good June so far. Got David Smallman's name wrong in Comings and Goings as well as crediting Harry Catterick with the introduction of Brian Labone into the team when I really meant he cemented his position as centre-half.

Now I'm in trouble over subs. Mike, John you are both correct. I should have known better as I was at the game vs Stoke and yes I do recall Andy trying to attack the Park End goal as a hobbling left-winger. Sandy defended the Gwladys Street End goal and I think he did pull off one or two good saves.

John McFarlane Snr
23 Posted 04/06/2020 at 12:18:24
Hi Alasdair [22],

Don't worry about it, it happens to us all from time to time, and I've come to the conclusion that 'the more you know the more you're likely to forget'.

Peter Mills
24 Posted 05/06/2020 at 22:49:05
Your customary excellent piece of writing, Rob, thank you.

Denis was just a bit before my time, but I did attend the 1967-68 5th round FA Cup tie at Goodison against Tranmere. I had no idea he played for the opposition that day.

Rick Tarleton
25 Posted 07/06/2020 at 17:08:02
A hugely under-rated player. He won the ball and Brian Labone told me and some friends when we were playing cricket with him in Walton Hall Park, that as a defender Dennis Stevens was the most valuable player in the team.

His role at Everton was far more defensive than the role he'd had at Bolton, but he adjusted to it and gave Young and Vernon the space they needed to work their magic.

A really valuable team player.

Brendan Connolly
26 Posted 08/06/2020 at 22:33:27
It's all been said really, Rob.

Great to read all the comments from fans who saw Dennis play and see how accurate your piece is. I didn't have that privilege, but feel like I know him really well after your latest excellent offering.

Keep them coming. Thanks.

Vin McFarlane
27 Posted 11/06/2020 at 19:05:11
Another great piece, Rob; makes me wish I'd been around to see these great players.
Gerry Morrison
28 Posted 14/06/2020 at 02:29:07
A great read and a trip down memory lane to my childhood. Much appreciated, thanks.

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