The Career of Mick Lyons - An Everton Legend
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The Career of Mick Lyons – A Stalwart Evertonian

Here at the Dixie Dean hotel we like to celebrate our club and its heroes. Our restaurant is called No. 9’s in honour of those who have worn the famous shirt and over time we shall highlight some of these players via a series of articles. One such individual- although not ostensibly associated with scoring goals as much as preventing them, did indeed wear the number 9. He also personified this club through the majority of the period from Alan Ball’s departure until the arrival of Howard Kendall as manager. He played in most positions on the park for the Toffees- including in goal and heartbreakingly would end his St. Domingo service without a winner’s medal although would come very close. In addition to the pure statistics as regards undying commitment at all times few representatives over the years have merited the title Mr. Everton as much as has Mike Lyons.

Throughout my teens and formulative – specifically away-match attending years, Mike (or Mick) Lyons whom I now call a friend, was our captain. Our leader. He was the man entrusted with the task, thankless as it was of providing the vanguard against the seemingly irrepressible force of our neighbours during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. He accepted the role with pride and his pre-match routine would include heading the wall in preparation for the task ahead and would regularly bleed on and for the shirt. I personally would have followed him anywhere.

An Evertonian from the Beginning

Mike Lyons was born into a family of Evertonians on 8th December 1951 in Liverpool, Merseyside. Educated at De la Salle School where he signed Schoolboy forms and would begin his apprenticeship at Everton FC upon his graduation. His duties included sweeping the terraces of Goodison Park and cleaning the boots of players such as Harvey, Kendall and Ball. For a Toffee like himself it was literally a dream come true. When I first interviewed Mike I asked him to give me a flavour of his experience of being an Evertonian. Of being a fan at the game. He advised me that both he and his brother were Season Ticket holders in the Gwladys Street and would usually be in the ground from about 1.30 pm for a 3 o’clock kick-off. As a method of avoiding the cold weather they would often climb over the railings and into the Paddock to get inside the storage box for the letters-numbers for the half-time scores which would be placed along the length of the Bullens Road. For a man whom would later captain the club it is unique in my experience.

Many theories abound as to why the 1969/70 championship team did not go on to create a dynastic legacy for the next decade. Alan Ball’s post Mexico World Cup form- Bally was a phenomenon but still just one individual in a side of eleven players, Harry Catterick’s failure to augment and build from a position of strength allied to long-term injuries to first-team regulars on top of simply bad performances. Whatever the truth, the upshot was that the manager’s health and the team’s form were failing- Catterick would leave the club in April 1973 meanwhile he maintained his policy of promotion of youth with Lyons, David Johnson and Terry Darracott regularly included in first-team squads. Mick Lyons scored on debut for his boyhood club in a 3-2 defeat at Nottingham Forest in March 1971. The club had initially viewed him as a striker however with the emergence of his contemporary Johnson allied to Mick’s large physique they began to consider converting him into a defender.

While his inaugural campaign would see only sporadic opportunities during his sophomore year of 1971-72 he would play approximately 50% of the team’s matches and three-quarters of those in attack where in 24 games he scored three times. It would be with Catterick’s departure and replacement by ex-Evertonian Billy Bingham however that “Big Mick” would establish himself as not simply a first-team regular but a long-term stalwart of the club. The under-performance of forward signings meant that Mick Lyons would again make the majority of his 20 appearances during 1972-73 attempting to score goals rather than prevent them. The major flaw of the side had been putting the ball into the net therefore this policy was persisted with even after Bingham broke the British transfer record in signing Bob Latchford from Birmingham City for £350,000 in February 1974. Given that the team was under new management and in transition a 7th placed finish- the side having ended in 17th a year earlier, was deemed as progress. Mick Lyons ended the campaign as leading goal-scorer with 9 goals in 43 matches and in doing so joined an elite list of players whom would top the Everton goal scoring charts for a single season.

In a decade of general disappointment 1974-75 was a veritable high point. Billy Bingham’s team started the season reasonably- a single loss in the opening 13 matches. With Joe Royle dropped and about to make his Goodison exit he was replaced in attack by Mick Lyons- indeed he scored perhaps his most famous goal for Everton when diving amongst Norman Hunter’s flying boot for a diving header in a victory over champions Leeds United during this campaign. Meanwhile the side went to the top of division 1 in January and would remain in contention for the title until a series of bad results particularly on the run-in allied to too many drawn games, led to a 4th placed finish and qualification for Europe via the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the modern-day UEFA Cup.) Even with Bob Latchford now unequivocally main striker Mick Lyons would find the net 11 times in 42 matches as an auxiliary forward. It would represent his highest total as an Everton player.

“Doing a Mick Lyons”

For the 1975-76 campaign Mick Lyons was now established as Everton’s first choice centre half. One unusual fixture occurred on 22nd December during a game versus Manchester United at Goodison Park. With the match tied 1-1 in the 65th minute there was a power cut- a common occurrence during the mid-1970’s and the floodlights failed. Basically, the ground was in darkness. After initially allowing the players to continue the referee eventually removed both sides from the pitch. The situation was rectified after 15 minutes following which the game was played to a conclusion with no addition to the score. Mick would still be used intermittently up front- usually in the last 10 minutes of matches where we needed a goal, which was quite often. I fact this occurred so regularly over the years that it in such circumstances the idiom “doing a Mick Lyons” entered the club’s vernacular and which persists to date.

Results were less kind – particularly a defeat in Milan in the Fairs Cup via a penalty awarded for handball against Mick Lyons. He left the ground with a gash over his eye and strenuously denies the decision to this day meanwhile the side ended the campaign in mid-table. Another incident of note was the signing of Andy King from Luton Town in April 1976. He along with Mick Lyons, Bob Latchford and midfielder Martin Dobson would comprise the vanguard of this team. Mick Lyons completed the season making 50 appearances scoring 6 goals.

With Roger Kenyon succumbing to injury Billy Bingham made Mick Lyons Everton captain in Summer 1976. It was an honour that he would relinquish only at the point of his departure. On the pitch, if 1975 had illustrated the potential then 1976-77 ought to have been the year of fruition certainly in the knockout competitions. The campaign began well- the side were in 3rd place in October although fell off badly thereafter to the point of Bingham living in fear of losing his job, indeed erstwhile chairman John Moores threatened to resign from the board so frustrated and helpless did he feel under the fans’ criticism of results.
It would only be with the double signings of Duncan McKenzie from Anderlecht and Bruce Rioch from Derby County in early December that results began to improve- alas for Billy Bingham he would not be in office to experience it as he was replaced by erstwhile Newcastle United manager Gordon Lee in January 1977. One of Lee’s first acts was to secure Everton’s first trip to Wembley in 11 years as the team overcame Bolton Wanderers over two-legs to face Aston Villa in the League Cup final. Mick Lyons would lead the team out in his proudest on-field Toffee moment although the match itself underwhelmed indeed is notorious in that, aside from the sheer amount of Evertonians in the ground the second half was delayed. The referee had discovered a spur which had fallen from the boot of a marching Bandsman during half-time thus all 22 players as well as staff from both teams combed the Wembley to ensure that there were no other examples.

The replay- the first of its kind in the competition was held at Hillsborough the home of Sheffield Wednesday and Mick Lyons says it is the best atmosphere he has ever played in. I was in the ground with my father and concur that it was indeed electric. Having gone behind via a Roger Kenyon own goal as the remaining minutes turned to seconds the Toffees were still needed a goal. With the fans roaring the team on and Bill Shankly providing radio commentary- it was the same night as our neighbours European Cup tie versus Saint Etienne. The evening of the infamous, “Joey ate the Frog’s legs…” banner; meanwhile in Sheffield Bob Latchford would eventually smash one into the net from close range to the ecstasy of all from Merseyside. Yet another replay would be required.

Meanwhile in the other domestic knock-out tournament a quarter final victory over Derby County meant qualification for an F.A. Cup semi-final to face Liverpool. The second replay in the League Cup meanwhile was held at Old Trafford, Manchester where in a classic game Everton were leading 2-1 with goals from Bob Latchford and Mick Lyons with 5 minutes remaining. Alas, Nicholl- the Aston Villa captain rifled one in from what seemed like miles away before, in the final seconds of extra-time a defensive howler presented Brian Little with an unmissable chance to win it for the Midlanders. If that was difficult to take- and I assure you that it was, then we hadn’t gotten to the Merseyside Derby F.A. Cup semi-final yet.

Injuries to Bob Latchford and Andy King meant that an under-strength Toffees side was second favourites to a side whom were about to be crowned champions of England and indeed Europe however events on the pitch didn’t quite play out that way. In a downpour and on that huge a fantastic cup tie ensued. Liverpool took the lead as McDermott chipped Toffees goalkeeper Lawson- it would go on to win MotD Goal of the Season which was of little comfort. Duncan McKenzie, whom would be the best player on the park equalized before Case headed our crimson cousins ahead. Good work from both McKenzie and Jim Pearson then helped Bruce Rioch equalize from close range in the last ten minutes. With time running down Everton broke away. Goodlass crossed the ball which struck on-running substitute Bryan Hamilton on the hip and drifted into the corner of the net, to the delight of the fans in blue. Rhapsody would soon turn to tragedy however as referee Clive Thomas disallowed the goal- initially for offside although Hamilton was clearly on-side. Later Thomas stated that handball was why he disallowed the strike although the ball patently struck the Irishman’s hip. To this day no concrete reason has ever been given as to why the goal was ruled out. As someone whom was in the ground I would only add that if you ever get the chance to review the footage watch Liverpool’s goalkeeper and defenders once the ball goes in. Internationals all yet not one appeals for an offence. The tie ended in a draw and Everton were defeated in the replay. For Mick Lyons and this side it was an undeserved body-blow which would mark the last hurrah for many of the squad. The season concluded without a trophy and in 9th position in division one with Big Mick having made 55 appearances scoring 7 times.

Looking Back at 1977-78

1977-78 began with two defeats as Toffees feared a hangover from the end of the previous campaign however the side then went on an unbeaten 22 match run- 18 of which were in the league as the side found themselves 2nd at New Year. A quirky fact was that on Bonfire Night during a fixture at the Baseball Ground, Derby- similarly to the Manchester United match at Goodison Park two years earlier (Tommy Docherty was the opposing manager for both games) the floodlights failed and once more the players were removed from the pitch although would later return and complete the match. The upside being on this occasion that the only goal following the resumption was scored by Mick Lyons. The tale of the wider campaign however was undoubtedly Bob Latchford whom in a modern-day homage to the ghost of Dixie Dean was aiming to be the first striker in England to finish a season with 30 league goals for six years. The Daily Express had put up a £10,000 prize to that end. He still required two goals in the final fixture at home to Chelsea.

The match was memorable for many things, one of which Mick Lyons told me later was the only goal he scored at Goodison Park which never elicited a cheer as all the crowd wanted was for Bob to reach the 30. Latchford did indeed score once in the first-half before, in the 78th minute Mick Lyons was bundled over in the penalty box. The referee immediately awarded a spot-kick and there would be only one taker. The strike was despatched with force as the stands erupted in celebration. I was told recently by the owner of Signature Living, Lawrence Kenwright that he was in the boys-pen watching everything unfold. The team finished in 3rd place in division 1 having scored 78 goals during the season. Champions Nottingham Forest scored 69 in total meanwhile Mike Lyons’ and the Toffees years of what might have been continued. Big Mick made 49 appearances scoring 8 times during 1977-78.

Manager Gordon Lee continued to make changes to the squad although the excellent form from the end of the previous campaign spilled over into the start of its’ successor as the team went undefeated in their opening 19 matches. One notable success during this run was the 1-0 victory in the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park in October 1978. The match was settled by a single strike from Andy King although ironically having played in the previous 15 Derbies without success Mick Lyons was injured and missed the game. Having been eliminated from the UEFA Cup by Feyenoord the good league form did not continue into the New Year. The Toffees faded into 4th place managing only two victories in the final 13 games as the goals dried up. Mick Lyons played 43 matches scoring 6 times throughout the campaign.

In a juxtaposition to the beginning of the previous season 1979-80 started with just 5 victories in the opening 23 games leaving Everton 17th in division one. The Anfield Derby in October was notable for both for Mick Lyons scoring one of the all-time great own goals if that is not a misnomer, when attempting to pass back to goalkeeper George Wood he managed only to lob the ball perfectly over the Scotsman’s head and into the net from 22 yards. The second reason was that a mass brawl broke out amongst the players of both sides after which Terry McDermott of Liverpool and Everton’s Garry Stanley were dismissed from the field of play thus becoming the first players sent off in a Merseyside Derby in the modern era. The fact that the television cameramen were on strike that weekend has fortunately ensured that it has not been endlessly replayed ever since.

The domestic campaign disappointed nevertheless the F.A. Cup provided a modicum of optimism as the Toffees once more found themselves in the semi final of the competition this time facing West Ham United at Villa Park. In an underwhelming tie blues striker Brian Kidd first scored from the penalty spot but then struck a West Ham defender and was summarily dismissed from the field. West Ham scored to level, thus with 10 men the blues were grateful of a replay at Elland Road. The second match in terms of quality was better than its predecessor with both sides having chances. West Ham took the lead through Cross only for Bob Latchford to draw the scores level with a header and famously end up on the bars behind the goal in celebration. Alas a Frank Lampard Snr goal in the final minutes would settle the tie as big Mick’s final bid for a trophy at Everton sadly evaporated. The remainder of the campaign saw form dwindle in consequence as the side ended in 19th place. Serious action was now required. Mike made 48 appearances throughout 1979-80 season.

1980-81 began with Gordon Lee realizing that he was in “the last chance saloon” as regards remaining in situ’ as Everton manager and with a paucity of transfer funds sought to introduce youth. Kevin Ratcliffe, Brian Borrows, Gary Stevens, Graeme Sharp would all make appearances and they would provide the bulwark to the team that would win honours. The campaign began with defeat at Roker Park, Sunderland although after having achieved a 5-0 triumph over Coventry City at the end of September the Toffees lay in 3rd place in division one. Alas domestic form dipped into the New Year and the side dropped down the table as Gordon Lee’s squad looked tired and which, to nobody’s surprise would necessitate a change of manager during the coming summer. One notable highlight was a 2-1 F.A. Cup 4th round victory over Liverpool at Goodison Park. The first triumph over our neighbours of Mick Lyons’ career. Mike would end the campaign having played 38 matches and scored 3 goals.

Inevitably Lee was replaced by ex-Toffee alumni, League title winner and member of the Holy Trinity, Howard Kendall in May 1981. Mick Lyons was retained as captain and was still first choice centre back. With its myriad of new faces the team, including Howard’s famous magnificent 7- only one of which Neville Southall would be remembered outside quiz questions began decently with a home triumph over Birmingham City. With a combination of Lee’s players plus youth and Howard Kendall’s buys the progress was legitimate although incremental. Big Mick was an ever-present until losing his place through injury in February whence despite still being club captain he would make just 3 further appearances for the Toffees. One of which was notable for statisticians as during a 3-3 draw with Manchester United at Goodison Park. Neville Southall was concussed and had to leave the field. Having already registered his final goal for the Toffees, then having secured an assist, Mick Lyons deputized in goal. Mike therefore scored a goal, made a goal and went in goal in the same match eventually completing the campaign having played 31 matches and scored 3 times.

Signing for Sheffield

In July 1982 Howard Kendall informed Mick that Jack Charlton had made a bid to sign him for Sheffield Wednesday. Realizing that the writing was on the wall as regards his Toffee career he went to meet the Yorkshire club. Having agreed in principle to join the Owls he travelled back to Merseyside in tears. Mick departed Goodison Park as a player having made 473 appearances for the club and scoring 59 goals over 11 years- six of them as captain and undoubted leader of Everton Football Club. He went on to play 129 matches and scored 12 times for the Sheffield outfit over three years captaining the side to promotion before accepting an invitation to become Grimsby Town’s player-manager and playing 50 matches scoring 4 goals in 2 years for the Mariners. He would later return to the Toffees for a coaching spell under Colin Harvey before emigrating to Australia where he has undertaken a variety of coaching and management roles and where he remains resident to date.

A couple of stories to complete this piece. Upon Bill Shankly’s retirement and given that the ex-Liverpool FC manager’s house literally overlooked Everton’s Bellefield training ground, the Scot would be a regular visitor. Mick Lyons ran a Boys football team whilst an Everton player and usually on a Monday morning Shankly would enquire as to their results as well as offering advice on the performances of the Toffees first team. The captain of Mick’s Kids team during the mid-1970’s was future Liverpool player Sammy Lee. Finally, in an unrelated tale, having travelled to Blackpool to watch Everton in 1966 Mike went for a walk along the beach prior to the game. In the opposite direction came Alan Ball. They exchanged greetings before continuing their respective ways. Both would ultimately become fine Everton captains and stalwarts. Furthermore, Mick Lyons went to every game played at Goodison during the 1966 World Cup and secured a ticket for the final via a ballot. Following the victory, on the train he was joined in the carriage by Alan Ball Snr whom proceeded to talk football with him all the way home. It was as if the Universe had intended it all along.

During this compilation of those who have worn the number 9 jersey for our club in the stead of Dixie Dean we shall highlight the careers of players whose primary role was as a striker. In the case of Mike Lyons he is without doubt known firstly as a defender. As a stopper of goals nevertheless he warrants inclusion in this series on the basis that he did indeed wear the 9 indeed was the top scorer for Everton in division 1. In addition, the tactic of pushing a defender upfield to grab a late goal is still known as “doing a Mick Lyons.” These aspects are augmented by the fact that his love for the club, obvious during his playing career and which remains undiminished to this day. Despite his residency in Perth Australia we hope to make him our guest at the Dixie Dean Hotel, Number 9 restaurant and the Football Quarter in the future.
Mike “Mick” Lyons. He literally bled for and often on the shirt. A stopper and scorer of goals. His honour to wear the shirt and his commitment to do it justice it once worn is a paradigm.

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