To anyone who was present at Roker Park on May 12 1980, Mick Buckley* was a hero, one of 12 (starting line-up plus substitute) who secured the win over West Ham United in a delayed final game – the Hammers had won the cup 48 hours earlier – that clinched promotion. Mick also scored a winner, a cracking shot against Manchester City in another last game of the season, keeping us up two years later. Now, far too young, he has died. Pete Sixsmith offers a tribute to a player with the ability to do what was expected of battling midfielders of his times …
Amid all the speculation about the arrival of Uruguayan Gus Poyet at the Stadium of Light, there was a post on RTG about the death of Mick Buckley, a tenacious midfield player who joined us from Everton in September 1978 and left in May 1983 for Hartlepool, later playing for Carlisle and Middlesbrough.
The Everton official site says that “later in life, he fell on hard times and had a long standing battle with alcoholism” which he lost at the relatively young age of 59.
A number of players of his generation, though well rewarded at the time, appear to have taken to drink, possibly finding it difficult to look at the talented players of later years earning fortunes but giving little in return in the way of effort.
Buckley was a hard tackler and a player who rarely stood out – a bit of a 70s Craig Gardner. He was signed by Jimmy Adamson for £60,000 (another version says £80,000 – ed) to add some steel to the midfield and settled into the team well, playing regularly in a season that saw us miss out on promotion to everyone’s least favourite team, Crystal Palace.
The next season, under Ken Knighton, his presence was less frequent, although he did play in the promotion run-in and was a strong presence in midfield as goals from Kevin Arnott and Stan Cummins took us back to the top flight.
Knighton didn’t seem to fancy him as a First Division player (although he had made 158 top flight appearances for Everton) and he spent a fair amount of time playing for the Reserves in the North Midlands League, a competition of spectacular awfulness.
When Alan Durban came to the club, Buckley fitted in well and was a regular in the tennis-playing Welshman’s first season. He scored the goal that kept us up, a 20-yard shot against Manchester City which flew past Joe Corrigan to send Leeds United down. And that was about as good as it got for him in a red and white striped shirt.
His Roker career slipped away after that and his last game was against Brighton and Hove Albion in April 1983 in front of a crowd of 13,414. It may well be that he was drinking at the time – strict diets were virtually unknown 30 years ago and the mantra “win or lose, we’re on the booze” would ring around most professional clubs.
He had made a good start to his pro career, being part of the England Youth team that won the European Championships in Spain in 1972, playing alongside Trevor Francis, Kevin Beattie and John Gidman, and he also had a couple of Under 23 games while at Goodison.
Mick was one of those players that was there when you needed someone to shore up the midfield. He could pass and run and he could tackle. I suspect that the likes of Howard Webb and Martin Atkinson would have quickly sent him packing.
A sad time for his family and we extend our sympathies to them.
* Mick Buckley was born in Manchester and interested both United and City as a schoolboy but started his professional career with Everton, scoring 12 goals in 158 appearances according to the official Everton site. His Goodison debut was in March 1972 and the manager, Harry Catterick, evidently saw him as a long-term replacement for Colin Harvey. A regular under Billy Bingham, he then ran into some bad luck with injuries and, failing to regaining a first-team place, moved to Sunderland where he made 121 league appearances, scoring seven times.
** Salut! Sunderland offers its customary thanks to all associated with the Sunderland Former Players Association – www.therokerend.com – for permission, previously granted, to reproduce images from its gallery.
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