When writing about a legend these days it has become necessary to first discuss what exactly constitutes one. In fact, such is the way the word has been over-used and devalued by breathless Radio 1 DJs and dewy-eyed sports sentimentalists it is perhaps now imperative to find a new term to describe the rare breed who walk amongst us, the true greats who achieved infinitely more than a catchy single or the odd nutmeg. Immortal maybe?
In 1953 during a FA Cup Fifth Round game against Manchester United Dave Hickson flung himself at the ball in trademark fashion and was caught above the eye by a flailing boot. With his Everton shirt now matching the colour of his opponents he was forced to leave the field of play in the days when no substitutes were permitted. After being roughly patched up he returned to the utter astonishment of the 78,000 crowd and promptly poked home the winner. Minutes later the wound opened up again, his blonde hair matted red, his shirt soaked with blood. Both the referee and his own captain implored Dave to head down the tunnel but he refused, somehow seeing out the rest of the game.
Six years later he crossed the Stanley Park divide. A crowd of 35,000 was expected for his Anfield debut but close to 50,000 turned up, giving a reception that a newspaper at the time described as ‘a roar which only Liddell could previously command’. A supporter ran onto the pitch and embraced his new hero with a kiss on the cheek. Dave returned the compliment by notching two spectacular goals.
Here is a player who, with his towering quiff and swashbuckling football defined the era in which he played. Here is a player who was nicknamed the Cannonball Kid. Here is a man who once said “I would have broken any bone in my body for any other club but I would have died for Everton”. Here is a man who described his heart attack in 2007 as a “bit of a wobble”.
These stories were passed on to me by my dad who, despite being a United fan, regards Dave Hickson as his favourite ever player. After meeting the kindly and lovely 83 year old prior to the recent Sunderland game at Goodison Park I will now pass these same stories on to my own children.
Dave Hickson is a legend of that there’s no doubt. But this also makes him immortal.
Sitting in the office of Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman and long-time friend of Dave’s, we were joined by John Drew. Having regularly attended games since 1953 and been a season ticket holder for as long as he can remember you suspect that if John was caught above the eye by a flailing boot his shirt would remain blue. He epitomises the passion and loyalty that makes Everton such a special club and I requested his presence for this one simple reason – call me a dewy-eyed sports sentimentalist but there are few things finer than two men of a certain vintage talking about the old days, a time when goal-fests were commonplace, boots weighed more than a modern player’s pay packet, and the packed terraces were a thick mist of Woodbine.
Here is a player and supporter who have lived and witnessed football’s evolution or decline (depending on your view), who have seen cloth caps become replica shirts and in doing so have themselves become a part of the very fabric of the game. Halfway through the conversation my questions became irrelevant and I simply leant in mesmerised. I hope you do too.
The Cutter – John, what do you remember of Dave playing?
JD – I can remember things about Dave better because I was 7, 8 and 9 than I can in the seventies and eighties because I was more impressionable then. Over the other side of the park they had Billy Liddell and he was a marvellous player…
DH – He was Billy. I played with Billy.
JD – They used to say that Billy had the hardest shot in football. But we used to say that Dave’s was harder. In fact we used to sing a little ditty about Dave.
DH – Oh ‘Born, born on the mountain top….’
(Both sing) ‘He came from a little place called Ellesmore Port, football was his favourite sport, came to Goodison for half a crown, then went to the Villa for twenty thousand pounds, Daviiee…’
DH – Fantastic times. I think people remember most when we won promotion. That was my favourite time because we never lost at Goodison that year. And we needed to win at Oldham to go up. We did 4-0 but if we had won 6-0 we’d have won the league.
JD – I remember that day – although I didn’t go to the match, my uncles and my dad went. I saw you all getting your photograph taken here outside the ground as you were boarding the coach and you all had these Gabardine macs…they must have been the style of the day because you all had them on.,…Petter Farrell and yourself. But that was the day when my dad said there was so many Evertonians there they painted the walls black with paint and the fans put newspaper up against the walls to get over.
DH – There was over 40,000. They never used to get that at Boundary Park.
The Cutter – You scored the first that day Dave.
DH – I did aye, and I hit the post and all.
JD – Can you remember the 10-4 game when we got beat at Spurs? Jimmy Harris scored a hat-trick. But the three games before that we won 3-1, 3-2, 3-1 and Dave scored about four or five goals in them games. And the next week after the Tottenham game we had Manchester United here and we had 64,000. How many clubs after being beat 10-4 the week earlier would get 64,000?
DH – And we beat Man U.
JD – We did. We had lots of seventy thousands back then didn’t we.
The Cutter – How does it feel to play in front of such crowds?
DH – Ah brilliant. I mean the thing was, you forgot when you went out there but you knew they were there behind you. It was a fantastic feeling.
The Cutter – You must have loved playing in front of so many Evertonians because you came back for a second spell…
DH – I had the chance to go anywhere you know but I had to come back here. This is home. And when I retired Bill (Kenwright) said to me ‘How would you like to come back home?’ and that was everything. So I came back and I’ve enjoyed it ever since I’ve retired.
JD – And every game he’s here and I think everyone who comes wants to meet Dave before they meet anyone.
The Cutter – And it’s not just with Everton of course. Liverpool fans think the world of you too and so you’re loved by the city.
DH – I enjoyed playing at Liverpool.
JD – There’s not many people who played twice under Bill Shankly
DH – At Huddersfield as well yeah. I played with Denis Law actually, on his debut. And Ray Wilson was there then.
The Cutter – What was it like to work under Shankly?
DH – He was just one of the lads but he was a winner, oh crikey, you could tell that. After just a few months he’d got St John and Ron Yates to take over the centre half and centre forward positions. We finished third twice and had every chance of going up both years. We scored a lot of goals. I played with Roger Hunt and Ian Callaghan. Great players. I could tell Roger was going to be really good.
JD – The two of them, Hunt and Hickson together, you couldn’t distinguish between them because they both had lots of blonde hair.
DH – A good lad is Roge. I enjoyed it there but this was my place here.
The Cutter – Has football completely changed today from how it was or are there aspects that will always be the same?
JD – I think personally football has changed. There will always be the joy of winning of course but Dave will tell you back then every weekend you couldn’t wait for the next game. Sheffield United…Jimmy Hagen’s playing…
DH – That’s right yeah. Tom Finney’s playing. Names that will never be forgotten. Stan Matthews and all that. I was lucky enough to play against all those. Man United, I played against the Busby Babes. We drew 3-3- here, it was a great game, and they died a couple of months after.
JD – Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor…
DH – Tommy Taylor was great, a good centre-forward was Tommy.
The Cutter – So how has the game changed on the pitch these days compared to back then?
DH – I think they play more of a possession game now whereas I think we tried to sort it out early doors.
JD – If they tried all that passing years ago in the fifties someone would shout “Get it forward! Get it up to Davie.”
DH – I think you’re right there. We played our football but we had a way of doing it.
(A couple of hours later, as I watch the Everton v Sunderland match, I hear a man behind me scream out ‘Bloody pass the ball!’ and have a wry smile)
The Cutter – With regards to how physical it was back then…you were sent off a few times…how would you have coped today Dave considering you can barely touch an opponent these days without him rolling around in ‘agony’?
DH – I’d have adapted. You have to adapt and I think I would.
The Cutter – So which player of today would have suited the style of football back then?
JD – I would have thought Cahill would have been the type of fella.
DH – Ah Cahill, now he’s a good player.
The Cutter – How has the game changed off the pitch?
JD – If was different back then because just around the corner was Bellefield Avenue and players used to live in those houses. And we’d go around for their autographs. Jackie Grant and all that. And they’d get the bus just like we did.
DH – I used to get the bus over and then the boat when I first started. I left school at fourteen then. Not like today where it’s sixteen isn’t it. I got here by bus from Ellesmere Port to Birkenhead, then the boat over and then the tram. And I used to hand over my 5p and he’d say ‘Go on. Put it back in your pocket lad’. That’s how they are Liverpool people. You can’t beat them. I mean, there’s good and bad everywhere you go but there is more good than bad in Liverpool without any doubt. They’ve been great to me.
JD – Even though Dave went to Liverpool he was still revered by Evertonians. There was no animosity.
The Cutter – How did your switch across Stanley Park come about?
DH – I was left out for one game by one of the directors here and I thought ‘What are you trying to do to me? I want to play for this club’ and Phil Taylor (the then Liverpool manager) came in for me and said he could guarantee I’d play every week…
JD – You were signed to get them promoted
DH – Well we came so close in the two years I was there and the year after that…well that’s history…they went right through. They won the second division and then the lot.
The Cutter – You mentioned earlier Dave about your wage of twenty pounds a week. How did that equate to the average wage back then?
DH – My father was on sixteen pounds a week. He worked at Bowaters and I got twenty so I thought ‘Well, I’m doing okay’. I used to give my mum some for keep. In fact I’ve got something here for you.
Dave pulls out a photocopied wage bill from Liverpool FC from 1960. It’s an amazing artefact that shows the weekly wages and bonuses of each player and employee.
DH – You see the whole club, Liverpool…five hundred odd pound. That’s all it cost them. One player would get that now per hour.
JD – When you were sold Dave for £20,000…how much would that be worth today with inflation?
The Cutter – So what do you miss most?
DH – What do I miss? I miss football. Bill getting me back here and working with the club has kept me going really. Honestly, it’s kept me going. Because I’m not one of these people….there are a lot of ex-players who fall out with the game but I don’t. I look for the best things in the game and Everton, for the last six months, has played the best football I’ve seen them play since Howard Kendall. I really mean that, fantastic football. And I’m made up for that.
The Cutter – You still love the game
DH – Well that’s right. I like to see 100% and we’ve got that at the moment. The spirit is great and I really think we’re going to give someone a tanking soon.
The Cutter – My final question to you both….Goodison Park is so entwined with all of your memories…
DH – We’re going to stay here. Oh aye.
JD – I hope, however long I’ve got on this earth, I hope we’re still here.
DH – And me. I hope as well. Stay here and build a bit.