A playing career in football is, by nature, short. Though there are notable exceptions - the evergreen Sir Stanley Matthews for instance, or more recently, the indefatigable Ryan Giggs - the vast majority of players will manage less than fifteen seasons at the highest level before they lose the sharpness of their youth, succumb to injury or simply make the decision to retire.
To spend over twenty years as a top-flight player is an exceptional achievement then, and to do so at just one club is even more so. Today's Everton legend however, managed just that.
In January 1930, a talented nineteen-year-old goalkeeper named Edward Sagar made his debut in a 4-0 win for Everton over Derby County. Twenty-three years later, he would conclude a remarkable career that spanned four decades, two league championships, an FA Cup and a world war.
Born in 1910 to a working class family in South Yorkshire, ‘Ted' Sagar as he would come to be known, spent his early years working in the coalmines of Thorne, acting as the chief breadwinner after his father was tragically killed at the Somme during the First World War. After work, the young Sagar would play football for Thorne Colliery, and representatives of both Hull City and Everton subsequently noticed him, although it was the Toffees who would move first to secure his signature.
Sagar quickly made a name for himself at Everton, and he would play eight times in the 1929/30 season in which he made his senior debut. Unfortunately, that campaign would end with the Blues relegated to the Second Division for the first time in their history, and the teenage goalkeeper wouldn't play a part in the team's successful promotion charge the following year. Sagar's quality was undeniable though, and he was restored to the first team the next season, as Everton swept to the league title upon their return to the First Division.
Firmly established as the side's number one choice now, Sagar added another winner's medal to his collection in 1933, as Everton beat Manchester City 3-0 to win the FA Cup. The cup final was famously the first match in which players wore numbers on their shirts, and so in addition to keeping a clean sheet, Sagar became football's first ever number 1 - an apt title for the man who many regarded as the best keeper in the country.
Throughout the 1930s, the Yorkshireman continued his excellent run between the sticks for Everton. Hailed by fans and the press alike, he had a slight build, unusual for a goalkeeper at the time, but more than compensated for his physique with his excellent athleticism. He became renowned for his ability to claim crosses in his penalty area - a technique that he called his ‘life's work' - as well as his fiery temper. Off the field, Sagar was genial and mild-mannered, but on it he was famously demanding of his defenders, demonstrating an intensity that is so often the hallmark of the game's great goalkeepers.
Sagar was capped four times by England during the decade, and won his second league winners medal in 1939, as Everton were again crowned champions. The Toffees would have to wait eight years to defend their title however, as the outbreak of the Second World War put a halt to the football league during the 1940s. When the First Division did resume, many things had changed, but Sagar remained as a constant in the Everton goal, and he would go on to play for another seven seasons despite missing arguably his best years during the war.
Although Everton suffered a second relegation in 1950/51, Sagar continued to play a smaller but still significant role well into his fourth decade at the club. By the time he decided to finally hang up his gloves at the close of the 1952/53 season he had amassed an incredible 497 appearances for the Blues, a record that would only be broken by another iconic Everton stopper, Neville Southall, many years later.
After retiring from football, Sagar would go on to run the Blue Anchor pub in Aintree, where he stayed for many years before sadly passing away in 1986 at the age of seventy-six. A gentleman, a superb footballer and one of the greatest Evertonians of all time, he was described at his funeral by former teammate Joe Mercer as ‘a spectacular player who was truly out on his own'. In the end it was only fitting that his ashes should be laid at Goodison Park, the site of so many of his successes in what was an illustrious, eventful and fantastically enduring career.
Below are the highlights from Everton's 1933 FA Cup win, in which Sagar played. Watch out for a brilliantly bludgeoned Dixie Dean header.
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