Mick Lyons and the tragedy of Everton's lion-hearted legend

The tragedy of Everton’s lion-hearted legend: MICK LYONS is a towering presence who exudes love for the game, but Alzheimer’s has left him struggling to remember details of his stellar career

  • Mick Lyons is a bona fide Everton legend and a boyhood supporter of the club
  • However, the former defender was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s back in 2020
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off!

Mick Lyons is every inch the Everton legend as he ducks through the door. A towering presence with a warm smile, firm handshake and the club crest on his rain jacket, quickly immersed in stories of how he fell in love with the club.

He and his brother Joseph would catch the 44D bus on matchdays to make sure they were at Goodison Park when the gates opened so they could dash to the old scoreboard.

‘We’d be in there dead early, and we’d run to sit in the old box where they changed the scores,’ Lyons tells Mail Sport. ‘We’d watch the game from there. They won the league 1962-63. Alex Young, great player.’

Some of the details are as precise as if it was yesterday. It’s the same with the World Cup in 1966. His father bought tickets to games in Liverpool and Manchester. This was Group 3, featuring Pele’s Brazil and Eusebio’s Portugal.

Lyons, 71, became captivated by the tournament. So much so that he couldn’t resist taking himself off to London, unaccompanied at the age of 14, with a ticket to the final at Wembley. ‘Got the train down from Lime Street. Ray Wilson at left back, Alan Ball in midfield. It’s special winning the World Cup, isn’t it?’

Mick Lyons is a boyhood Everton fan and club legend, playing almost 500 times for the Toffees

Lyons (left) was a combative and courageous centre half who is still loved at Goodison Park

These are some of the events etched in his memory. Others flicker, too, like Bonfire Night as a boy in Croxteth and winning the Echo Cup with his school De La Salle. ‘Wayne Rooney, he went to the same school. He was from Croxteth, same as me. Great player, Wayne.’

He remembers Don Revie’s Leeds United. ‘Dirty Leeds,’ Lyons laughs, instinctively, like so many ex-pros of that time. ‘Jack was there, wasn’t he?’ That’s Jack Charlton, the manager who signed him for Sheffield Wednesday after 11 years at the heart of Everton’s defence.

‘We had great respect for Jack because of what he did as a player. And because he was a real nice guy. Always fair to us, Jack, never big time. Jack was great.’

Lyons recalls rooming with Lee Chapman at Wednesday and mingling with Liverpool players such as Phil Thompson on post-match nights on the town, back in the 1970s. ‘We’d go to a club called Ugly’s, that suited us.’

Fondly, he lingers on the names of old friends, some of them no longer with us, such as Andy King and Terry Darracott, and bursts into song at the mention of Bob Latchford. ‘Bobby Latchford walks on water, tralalalala,’ sings Lyons.

Some things are less clear. Everton’s title win in 1969-70 has faded from his memory but he takes his cue and recites the Holy Trinity of Everton’s midfield. ‘Alan Ball, Howard Kendall, Colin Harvey, great players.’

Nor can he remember leading out the club he loves at Wembley in the epic League Cup final trilogy of 1977 against Aston Villa, when his header took the second replay into extra-time.

‘Nah, too much heading the ball,’ he smiles, apologetically. ‘You forget so much. Every time you headed the ball you’d go wooaahh…’ Lyons wobbles his head and shivers for comic effect. He doesn’t want to be morbid and he doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression, he loved his football career. He wouldn’t change a thing but it is terribly sad.

However, he has Alzheimer’s and struggles to remember some details from his stellar career

We meet in Perth, Western Australia, in July. Lyons and his daughter Francesca are on the way to see West Ham play in a pre-season friendly against Tottenham, with tickets kindly provided by the Hammers.

But for the white hair, Lyons looks much as I remembered from his heyday when he was a byword for combative centre halves of the era — courageous to a fault, attacking the high ball, hurling themselves headfirst through the mud and studs of the six-yard boxes.

Lyons started out as a striker so if Everton needed a goal they would send him up front and he would perform the same heroics at the other end of the pitch.

One of his most famous goals came in a 3-2 win over Leeds, diving past the flying studs of Norman Hunter to score with his head. He scored 59 in 473 appearances before leaving Merseyside in his 30s to join Wednesday, where he led them back to the top flight as captain in 1984.

Physically, he looks strong and healthy, a tribute to the outdoor lifestyle Down Under, where he put down roots more than a quarter of a century ago during a nomadic coaching career which also included spells in Canada, Singapore and Brunei.

Mail Sport met Lyons and his daughter Francesca in Perth, where the 71-year-old is now based 

He invites a closer inspection of his eyebrows, an intricate cross-stitch of scar tissue. There’s a well-known photograph of him playing for the Owls with his face covered in blood from a head wound. ‘He ran off, had it stitched without anaesthetic and ran straight back out,’ recalls former Wednesday goalkeeper Martin Hodge.

‘Absolutely fearless, I don’t think I ever saw anyone head the ball as well as Mick,’ says Hodge, who made the same switch from Goodison Park thanks to Lyons, who recommended him to Charlton’s successor Howard Wilkinson. ‘He was an unbelievably good bloke. He trained like a Trojan and when he led us out on to the pitch, we knew he’d run through walls for us.

‘Mick was a great player and a great captain. He had heart, he had soul, he lived life to the full and it’s a shame to think his debilitating illness means he can’t remember exactly what an incredible career he had.’

It was late in 2019 when the Lyons family grew more concerned about his health and, by autumn of the following year, they had a diagnosis. There were early signs of Alzheimer’s, they were told, probably caused by repetitive blows to the head.

‘We looked back and saw there were times when he was forgetful,’ says Francesca. ‘He knows so many people, we put it down to that. I suppose we were hoping it was something else. And he was a typical man about it so it was difficult to get him to a doctor.

‘At first, I couldn’t talk about it without getting upset. I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word. His mind was always so sharp. He loved quizzes. He was renowned for it, and loved to be the quizmaster. He could turn a train journey into a big quiz, and he would get the entire carriage involved. He loves being sociable.’

Lyons (right) challenges England legend Martin Peters (left) during a First Division clash in 1972

Lyons lives in Perth’s northern suburbs with his son Michael and a network of friends. The huge distance, however, presents obvious challenges with the rest of his family still in Merseyside and, they’ve been told, he has lived abroad for so long that he would not be eligible for NHS care if he returned permanently to the UK. It complicates matters at a stressful time.

Earlier this year, he came back for three months. His flights were paid for by Everton chairman Bill Kenwright and he was invited to Goodison Park, where he was besieged by crowds of well-wishers on the way into the stadium and afforded a rapturous ovation from the crowd when presented on the pitch.

‘He came to life as soon as he stepped back inside,’ says Francesca. ‘He recognised everyone, old faces and former players. It was like flicking a switch.’

A legend among his people. It is a powerful force.

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