Dennis Stevens: Footballer who won the League and the FA Cup

Illogically, some people compared him to the incomparable – his cousin Duncan Edwards

Dennis Stevens was one of the most widely underrated footballers of his generation, but not by the people who mattered most, his fellow professionals. They knew that the prodigiously industrious, deceptively skilful inside-forward, who helped Bolton Wanders to FA Cup glory in 1958 and Everton to the League title five years later, was a veritable gem.

Many who knew him best categorise his lack of international recognition as, in sporting terms, an absolute outrage, but that never seemed to bother one of the most modest men in the business. He just got on with his job, unobtrusively but effectively, first as a feisty front-runner for the Trotters, then as a midfield workhorse at Goodison Park, forever ready to rescue a hard-pressed team-mate from trouble.

Maybe one reason for Stevens' lack of universal acclaim was that some people, illogically, compared him to the incomparable, his cousin Duncan Edwards, the young Manchester United leviathan who looked set to conquer the football world until his life was snuffed out by the Munich air disaster of 1958.

Stevens was recruited by Bolton when he was 15 and playing for Worcestershire Boys in 1948. He turned professional in 1950, made his senior entrance three years later and pinned down a regular place in the Trotters' top-flight line-up during 1955-56, when the England international Harold Hassall retired through injury.

As a tough and dashing secondary striker to that ultimate example of a bustling centre-forward, Nat Lofthouse, Stevens contributed 13 League goals in each of four successive seasons as Bolton rose as high as fourth in the table, and he was called into the England squad in April 1957 but was not awarded a cap.

However, his FA Cup exploits in 1958 earned him some headlines. First there were goals against Preston North End and Stoke City, then Wolverhampton Wanderers in the quarter-final, before he added another key contribution in the Wembley final against a Manchester United crippled by the depredations of the recent calamity.

With Bolton already a goal to the good, Stevens hit a typically rasping drive which the United keeper Harry Gregg could only palm skywards. As the ball dropped into the Irishman's waiting arms, he and it were barged unceremoniously into the net by the charging Lofthouse. Today any referee would blow for a foul, but in 1958 it was allowed and Bolton had won the trophy, deservedly enough on the run of play despite the controversial circumstances.

Stevens continued to prosper, and when Lofthouse was sidelined in 1959-60 he switched to centre-forward and was leading scorer with 15 goals. By the spring of 1962, just as he was achieving much-merited appreciation from the stands and terraces of Burnden Park, he was sold to Everton for £35,000, a club record for Bolton but still judged as inadequate by Trotters fans who reckoned a 28-year-old in the form of his life was worth plenty more.

Not that the Goodison faithful greeted him with open arms, as he was drafted in to replace local hero Bobby Collins, who had been transferred to Leeds United. Soon, though, Stevens won them round with his combination of expertise, honesty and sweat, playing the first 112 games after his arrival without a break, and proving the perfect foil for more exotic attacking talents such as Alex Young and Roy Vernon.

Stevens did most of his work in a much deeper position than the two illustrious marksmen, proving a study in perpetual motion, tearing around the pitch chasing, tackling and occasionally shooting, as if his very existence depended on it. Standing only 5ft 7in but exceedingly strong, he didn't believe in lost causes and for all his assurance on the ball, it was often his sheer vigour which left the deepest impression on opponents. Stevens didn't major in moments of magic, but the cumulative effect of his relentless but perceptive labour in the engine room of Harry Catterick's well organised team was a colossal factor in Everton's League championship triumph in 1962-63, his first full season as a Toffee.

In 1964-65 Stevens moved back from inside-forward to wing-half as Catterick reshuffled following the arrival of centre-forward Fred Pickering from Blackburn Rovers, and soon the ageing Midlander was having difficulty in resisting the high-quality challenge of the thrusting young Merseysider, Colin Harvey.

Accordingly, in December 1965, the 32-year-old Stevens joined Third Division Oldham Athletic in a £30,000 deal, and applied himself with typical practicality in aiding the Latics' escape from relegation to the bottom division that season.

In March 1967 he switched to Tranmere Rovers, whom he helped to secure promotion to the Third Division that spring, only for a back injury to end his career during the following campaign.

Thus Stevens left the game without a full cap, his representative honours being limited to a pair of England under-23 appearances and an outing for the Football League, all during his Bolton days. But when this delightfully unassuming fellow left football to set up a gents' outfitters in the Harwood area of Bolton, he could do so with the admiring words of an old Burnden Park colleague, the forthright Tommy Banks, ringing in his ears. Said the indefatigable England full-back: "They used to queue up to clobber Stevie – but they had to catch him first!"

Dennis Stevens, footballer: born Dudley, Worcestershire 30 November 1933; played for Bolton Wanderers 1950-62, Everton 1962-65, Oldham Athletic 1965-67, Tranmere Rovers 1967-68; married (two sons); died Bolton 20 December 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas