Rob Sawyer’s ‘Broken Dreams’ is a ‘worthy addition to ever-expanding Everton library’

The story of a team of English champions denied reaching its full potential by war is captured in a new book reviewed by Eric Brown…


Storm clouds of political menace gathered over Europe while sport pretended everything was fine and dandy.

For months, rumblings of intent from newly-resurgent Germany cast a shadow of fear among those still affected by memories of the First World War.

Down at The Valley, the vast and fairly basic concrete-bowl south London home of Charlton Athletic, a Football League title race of many twists and turns was about to be decided.

It was April 22, 1939. The year had begun with Liverpool, Derby and Everton engaged in a three-horse race for the League crown but Liverpool fell away to be replaced by Wolves, who had thrashed Everton 7-0 at Molineux.

Everton brushed aside this setback on a boggy pitch they claimed had been over-watered by Wolves to arrive at The Valley requiring a single point for their second title of the 1930s.

By this time, many heroes of their earlier success such as club legend Dixie Dean had been replaced by younger men such as Tommy Lawton whose cannonball shot and heading ability made him an ideal successor to the goal master.

Charlton were a major force at this time under Jimmy Seed and stormed up the First Division table with a strong second-half run to the season which might just have challenged Everton had it started a few weeks earlier.

Eventually, they finished third – but not before giving Everton a shock. Within seconds, Harold Hobbis headed in a Cyril Blott cross and moments before halftime George Robinson made it 2-0 for the Londoners.

Torry Gillick cut the arrears after the break but Everton could not stop Charlton becoming the only team to complete the double over them that season.

As the Everton players trooped off, heads down, secretary-manager Theo Kelly gave them a tonic – nearest challengers Wolves had been held to a draw by Bolton and Everton were champions.

That was just the climax to a dramatic and traumatic season described in detail by Rob Sawyer in his book “Broken Dreams: Everton, The War and Goodison’s Lost Generation.”

Football literature is not blessed with books focussing on pre-war events but the author has researched Everton history both on and off the pitch to produce one of the outstanding publications dealing with the era.

Generously punctuated by anecdotes and analysis, the book begins with Dean’s team relegated, charts the rapid rebuild and eventually the glory Everton achieved against a build-up of military hostility from across the channel.

Their success was constructed around long-serving goalkeeper Ted Sagar, probably the first ball-playing central defender T.G. Jones, known as “The Prince of centre halves,” strong wing half Joe Mercer and goal chief Tommy Lawton. Many others contributed significantly but this quartet were the stars.

The author takes readers through the season month-by-month until arriving for their day of destiny at The Valley. Perhaps even more interesting is the second half of the book which outlines what happened afterwards.

With such a strong squad, Everton rightly expected to construct a dynasty from their triumph. Yet they were denied an opportunity to defend their title when England declared war on Germany after Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.

Just three games into the next season, the Football League abandoned all fixtures and clubs paid off players to uncertain futures. Those with engineering qualifications found work in factories engaged in the War effort while most who enlisted were engaged by the services as physical training instructors.

This brought criticism from those who thought they should take their turn at the front like everyone else. Indeed it seemed almost like business as usual for players who competed in wartime leagues and cup competitions, often guesting for several clubs.

When peacetime football finally resumed, the sparkle had dimmed in this Everton team which broke up before recapturing the dizzy heights of pre-war form.

The author describes the varied fortunes of all the squad which eventually included pub management, newspaper columns, shopkeeping and other assorted employment. Before that, there were controversial management decisions involving T.G. Jones, Lawton and Joe Mercer.

Mercer, for example, had to threaten retirement before extricating himself from the club who wrote him off because of a knee injury. When Arsenal paid Everton to lure him out of retirement, he went on to win two League titles with them.

Lawton, who had lucrative advertising contracts cancelled due to the war, embarked on a downward path which would lead to a self-confessed if brief flirtation with suicide due to financial and marital troubles.

This book records all the pain and anguish suffered by players and a club who have had to deal with more than their fair share of rotten luck.

They won the League in 1915, only to be denied the chance of defending it by the first World War. They won it in 1939 with what was acknowledged to be one of their finest teams, only to be denied defending it by war once more.

To cap it all, their magnificent side of the 1980s was denied a tilt at the European Cup by a ban on English clubs following crowd violence at a European Cup Final.

Rob Sawyer, a descendant of the club’s secretary-manager Bill Sawyer, has produced a worthy addition to an ever-expanding Everton library.

There are a few errors such as Tommy Docherty being described as Tommy Doherty, Alec Stock morphing into Alex Stock and a couple of repeated lines and phrases but they do not affect enjoyment of the story of a fantastic team which never fulfilled its destiny.

Broken Dreams: Everton, The war and Goodison’s Lost Generation’ by Rob Sawyer is published by Toffeopolis, price £22.

The SJA is interested in your sports media industry news and views. Keen to reach an engaged audience, including over 70,000 followers across social media? We welcome your enquiries – contact us here. We also offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

For information on how to apply as a Full or Associate Member of the SJA, plus details of our free-to-enter SJA Academy, click here.