DAVE HICKSON, HERO
Mickey Blue Eyes
Imagine this: Everton V Manchester United, 1953 FA Cup, fifth round at Goodison Park. The ground is packed with almost 78,000 fans. Everton are in the Second Division. Manchester United are League Champions. It looks a walk over, a foregone conclusion.
The visitors score just under the half hour mark after dominating the game and looking like runaway winners. But seven minutes later, outside left Tommy Eglington - universally, "Eggo" - finds space and knocks in an equaliser. The game turns on its head. So does Everton's bullish young centre forward, Dave Hickson, who has been giving United's England international veteran centre half Allenby Chilton a torrid time; it gets so rough, Chilton feels obliged to flatten the eager youngster and his floppy quiff. Dave has to go off, blood streaming from a head gash, the crowd furious but oblivious to the fact Dave is doing the same thing to Chilton. Harry Cook the "trainer" dashes some cold water on the cut, wraps a broad white bandage around his head and sends Dave back on with blood staining the wrapping. Twenty minutes to go, Eggo gets in a cross, Dave dives in and bullets home a header into the Street End goal. It's the winner.
Think Duncan Ferguson's winning header against the same team into the same goal a few years ago. Remember the scenes and sounds that followed? Well, multiply by ten and you might get an inkling of how Goodison's terraces surged; but you still wouldn't get near it. From that moment on Dave Hickson was a crowd hero, a true football legend. Evertonians loved him. In the next round of the Cup he scored the winner at First Division Aston Villa to send us into the semi final against Bolton Wanderers. Alas, we lost 4-3 after being 4-0 down at half time...and missed a penalty into the bargain.
The following season we were promoted and Dave scored twenty five goals in League and Cup. Two seasons later he transferred to Aston Villa before moving on to Huddersfield Town and then back to Goodison in 1957. He left for the last time in 1959 and went to, of all places, Anfield Road. At the time it caused ructions both sides of the park, much like the nonsense you get now when somebody in football blows their nose the wrong way or uses a word out of context. The script hardly varies, only the speed at which it is delivered. Since Dave was my school days hero I went to see his first match at Anfield, then a wretched excuse even for a Second Division ground. The gate was over 50,000. Dave scored both their goals in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa. He left a couple of years later and then drifted down the League until he retired in 1964 after a spell with Tranmere Rovers.
Fast forward to recent years, to a few games when I was a corporate guest of Chris and Michelle in the Dixie Dean Suite. Dave was a greeter, still loved by everybody, still with the same inimitable quiff, advanced in years but unbowed, gentle and still enthused by The Beautiful Game. You met him and you realised that he was worth any twenty thousand of the poisonous haters and cynics who currently bedevil the game on and off the field. He was treated like royalty. Every time you looked at him you saw him battling it out with Chisholm of Plymouth, Wright of Wolves, Ewing of Manchester City, and Barrass of Bolton, in fact anybody and everybody who played for the opposition. As we all know, football does that to you. You cannot forget the players and how they affect your emotions, how you felt at the time, and how you want the present lot to make you feel the same way. Nobody who saw Dave play ever forgot what they saw. It was like trying to stop a large coil of barbed wire rolling down Everton Valley and along Scotland Road.
Naturally his bull-at-a-gate style was loved by his fans and deplored by the enemy. One way or another, furore was never far from Dave. For instance his first match on his return of 1957 was against Wolves in the opening game of the season. The Midlanders were then a great team and expected to win the title, which they did eventually and with ease, and the season after too. The previous season we finished 15th. Again it looked a no-contest. Then Dave returned to Goodison and drew a crowd over 58,000. Everton won 1-0 after Jimmy Harris ran through the entire Wolves left side defence and stuck the only goal past Malcolm Finlayson in the Street End. Previously, Dave had gone for a cross with Finlayson and in the collision the 'keeper dropped like a stunned bird; he claimed he was still groggy when Harris broke through. Dave always got the blame. Or the credit, depending on your bias. Naturally, we were always biased in his favour. We loved him mightily. He was One of Us.
It is always tempting to say, "We will never see his like again" when a much-loved former player is lost. This is true in the sense that every human individual is unique, players no more or less than anyone else. The difference is of course they perform on a very large stage indeed and their strengths and weaknesses are there for everyone to see. With Dave you knew, just knew, you were going to get one hundred percent effort every time...win, lose or draw. Even when he was below his own par he always left you with something to talk about. He wore his heart on his sleeve.
And that is why we loved him so much. We will miss him badly.