It’s a unique insight into the life and times of a man who was both an Everton FC great and a colossus of Merseyside football.
Dave Hickson will be best remembered for inspiring a generation of young Evertonians with his swash-buckling centre-forward play in the 1950s, and his heart-felt admissions of devotion to the club.
But Hickson, who died in July last year aged 83, was one of only two men to play for Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere, and now his remarkable career has been detailed in a new book called The Cannonball Kid.
Author James Corbett began working on the book with his friend Hickson as an authorised biography, and after his passing it became a labour of love for the writer who had compiled a treasure trove of memorabilia from the Blues legend’s fascinating career.
From being coached by the great Dixie Dean, playing in front of 70,000-plus crowds and vanquishing the mighty Manchester United, to being kicked out of an FA Cup semi-final and playing under Bill Shankly, it is a compelling and evocative tale of a bygone time.
It also recalls a lost era in which heroes lived alongside their fans and gave everything – in Hickson’s case, blood, sweat and more blood, to bring them pride.
Of course Hickson’s story is most closely associated with a club he once avowed to have been willing to die for.
The back cover features the quote: “Everton is my football life. When I go out into the middle I do not play for directors, managers, spectators or myself. I play for Everton.
“The only thing that worries me in this business is the feeling that somewhere, somehow, I am not wanted any longer at Goodison Park.”
Hickson’s career exploits have been well-documented and Blues of a certain vintage need little prompting to recall them, but The Cannonball Kid artfully fills in the gaps from periods of his career which are lesser known.
Born in Salford but raised in Ellesmere Port, Hickson began his career at his hometown club playing alongside some revered figures including one of the finest centre-forwards of the inter-war years in Tom ‘Pongo’ Waring.
Pongo had been Dixie Dean’s successor as Tranmere Rovers’ centre-forward in the mid-1920s and his goalscoring feats, while not quite the equal of Dean, were not far off.
Hickson recalled: ‘As a kid, I was fairly oblivious to this, but Pongo had a reputation throughout football as a bit of a strange character.
‘Looking back, it was a great honour to play at such a young age with an England international but, like a lot of things, I never really thought too much about it at the time. I was just interested in playing as much as my work hours at Bowater’s would permit.
‘Getting paid expenses for doing what I loved at Ellesmere Port Town was just an unexpected bonus, although we never got anything more than that’.
The young Hickson’s performances generated much interest from the Merseyside clubs and although he went on to join Everton, history may have been different with Liverpool also keen on the strapping schoolboy.
‘My career and the face of Merseyside football might have taken a different complexion had Liverpool had their way,’ he recalled.
‘In my heart I knew where I wanted to play, but I was still only a lad and I deferred to my Dad on all significant matters in my life.
‘Although he was from Salford and had taken me to see United, like all the best people I think there was a bit of Evertonian in him, and he told me to sign for the Blues’.
Hickson’s exploits during two spells at Everton are the stuff of legend.
But it is the candid reflections of life as a professional footballer in the 1950s, and the contrast with today’s millionaire players, which enthralls.
Hickson, who enjoyed playing a one-off charity match at Bootle Cricket Club every summer, did not decamp to the Maldives or embark on sojourns to Ibiza like some players these days.
‘During the summer we had loads of time off, getting on for three months in some years,’ he recalls. ‘There wasn’t a lot to do and it was long and boring.
‘You’d go on holiday, but our wages used to drop during the summer time as well, so that was a factor.
‘The days were long and sometimes you’d struggle to fill them. I used to meet up with one of the Wolves players, Len Gibbons, who lived nearby and together we’d head down to the Ellesmere Port swimming baths at Overpool’.
Hickson famously left Everton for Liverpool, but he reveals how he advised a modern Blue hero never to stray from Goodison.
‘When David Moyes came in, he described it as ‘The People’s Club of Merseyside’, he writes.
‘He emphasised then what I’d known for 60-odd years. It’s all true.
‘Look at Leighton Baines.
‘To me he’s man-of-the-match nearly every week at Everton – he’s a fantastic player.
‘I have a little chat with him now, tell him what I think. A lot of people now, I think you get to a stage if you get so much money, you’ve got enough really. They don’t need to become greedy.
‘I tell Leighton: ‘You’re going to be rich anyway, and you’re at the club that you want to be at, and playing for the club you love. Why go anywhere else?’
‘I think it’s the family ethos of a club like Everton that appeals to these players’.
Throughout he goes on to offer insights into his thwarted move to Torino, the truth about his departure from Liverpool, which was not to go into business with Kevin Lewis as was reported at the time, and the debate over his physical style of play is played out from newspaper excerpts.
For any Blue, or indeed any fan of football, The Cannonball Kid is an absorbing read.
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