Dave Hickson: Rugged striker who served three Merseyside clubs

 

Dave Hickson was an archetypal warrior centre-forward of the post-war era who rampaged across the Merseyside football scene, becoming an Everton cult idol through two rumbustious spells at Goodison Park and also putting in spirited stints with Liverpool and Tranmere Rovers.

A tendency towards scrapes with defenders and authority alike earned him the tag of the English game's stormy petrel, and another nickname, "Cannonball Kid", derived from his explosive demeanour in the heat of battle as much as his high-velocity shooting. But for all his raw-in-tooth-and-claw image, his predilection for argument and his hatred of losing, the oft-provoked Lancastrian was renowned also for his integrity and modesty, and away from the pitch he was an engagingly equable companion.

Hickson's gladiatorial persona was symbolised vividly on one tempestuous afternoon in February 1953 when he scored the winner in an FA Cup fifth-round tie against Manchester United, having earlier left the action for stitches to a gashed eyebrow. Showing characteristic disregard for his own physical well-being, he reopened the wound with a bullet header that rapped the frame of the visitors' goal, and when he left the field to a thunderous ovation at the final whistle, the face below his distinctive blond mane was a bloody mask.

The 18-year-old Hickson had joined Everton from non-League Ellesmere Port in May 1948, having benefited from the most appropriate of all mentors for any budding spearhead. While playing for Cheshire Army Cadets he had been coached by the incomparable Bill "Dixie" Dean, the most illustrious figure in Goodison history, who scored 60 League goals in 1927-28 – a top-flight record which it is hard to imagine being broken.

The rookie's potential was clearly immense, but his momentum was halted temporarily by two years of national service, after which he rejoined a dismal side freshly demoted to the second tier. During 1951-52 he emerged as a courageous dasher dedicated to demolishing opposing defences; he was magnificently potent in aerial combat and ready to run ceaselessly, often pounding after passes which were hopelessly out of reach. But he won the hearts of the Goodison faithful, especially the vociferous Gwladys Street regulars, with his endless enthusiasm.

Meshing effectively with the more subtle John Willie Parker – although he was capable of the occasional deft flick, delicacy on the ball was not a notable Hickson attribute – he showcased his merits persuasively in the Toffees' run to the last four of the FA Cup in 1953. He followed his heroics against United with the sixth-round strike which toppled Aston Villa, before being knocked unconscious in the semi-final against Bolton Wanderers. Typically, he stayed on the pitch as Everton fought back rousingly from a 4-0 deficit before losing 4-3.

His rise continued apace with 25 goals as Everton were promoted in 1953-54, but after he helped to consolidate their place among the elite, manager Cliff Britton dismayed fans by selling him to First Division rivals Aston Villa for £17,500 in September 1955.

However, Hickson failed to settle in Birmingham, moving to Huddersfield Town after only two months – this time for a fee of £16,000 – but he found little joy at Leeds Road, either, as the Yorkshiremen slipped into the Second Division at season's end. After averaging better than a goal every two games for Huddersfield, Hickson delighted his old Everton admirers by returning to Goodison for £7,500 in August 1957 – the reduced fee a tad puzzling as he remained prolific, with his zest and aggression intact.

Though Everton languished in the wrong half of the table, Hickson continued to hit the target regularly and supporters were outraged in November 1959 when the 30-year-old crossed Stanley Park to join Liverpool, then in the Second Division, in a shock £10,500 deal. The furore was colossal, with some Everton fans swearing that they would defect to Anfield in their hero's wake, while a contingent of Kopites vowed that they would forsake their beloved Reds in protest at the signing of the man they had so recently relished despising as "Dirty Dave".

In the event, Phil Taylor's final acquisition as Liverpool manager before the arrival of his messianic successor, Bill Shankly, proved an instant favourite with the denizens of Anfield. Before his Liverpool debut, at home to Villa, one fellow raced across the grass to embrace the newcomer and plant a kiss on his cheek, Hickson responding with both goals in a 2-1 victory – one of them a trademark diving header.

Thereafter he scored 37 times in 60 matches over the next two campaigns, in both of which the Reds narrowly missed promotion. He played a major role, too, in the development of fellow striker Roger Hunt, who would go on to become a Liverpool legend and a World Cup winner with England in 1966, the youngster learning avidly from the shrewd veteran.

However, the arrival of the Scotland international Ian St John spelt the end for Hickson, who was released to join Cambridge City in the summer of 1961. He was not finished with the Football League, though, bouncing back briefly with Second Division Bury early in 1962, then completing his hat-trick of Merseyside employers by spending two seasons with Tranmere Rovers in the Fourth Division, still scoring regularly, before going on to two seasons as player-manager of Ballymena United in Northern Ireland.

For the rest of his life, though, Hickson remained an indefatigable Everton loyalist, working for them as a match-day host and stadium tour guide, and stating famously that while he would have broken every bone in his body for any of his clubs, for Everton he would have died.

Ivan Ponting

David Hickson, footballer: born Salford 30 October 1929; played for Everton 1948-55 and 1957-59, Aston Villa 1955, Huddersfield Town 1955-57, Liverpool 1959-61, Cambridge City 1961-62, Bury 1962, Tranmere Rovers 1962-64; player-manager, Ballymena United 1964-66; married twice (two sons and one stepdaughter); died Chester 8 July 2013.

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