An England Youth international midfielder, who in May 1972 scored his country’s winner in the final of the ‘Little World Cup’ in Brazil, Mick Buckley seemed destined for a glittering career. Two months earlier, aged 18, he had been given his Everton debut by Harry Catterick and shown much promise in the closing stages of the 1971/72 season. A goal against Southampton in April 1972 brought Everton their first league victory in three months.
Born in Manchester in 1953, Buckley spurned the advances of his home city’s clubs to join the formidable youth set-up at Goodison. With the likes of David Johnson, Gary Jones and Ronnie Goodlass he was part of a talented generation to emerge during this period, but like so many of his contemporaries he would ultimately fail to live up to his lofty potential.
After the arrival of Billy Bingham in the summer of 1973 he cemented a regular starting position, in place of the oft-injured Colin Harvey. A slight figure who strutted around the middle of the field, Buckley was a fine ball player, technically accomplished, always willing and alert to attacking opportunities. Nevertheless, a lack of genuine pace and aggression along with a poor strike rate prevented him from matching some of his illustrious predecessors.
Indeed the football writer Ivan Ponting described Buckley as a ‘less inspired’ version of Harvey – but the comparison is somewhat unfair. When Harvey was a 20-year-old staking his first-team claim a decade earlier, he played alongside Goodison immortals such as Alex Young and Brian Labone. Buckley, on the other hand, had to make his name with players like the unlamented Mike Bernard and Terry Darracott.
Despite being a regular through Bingham’s first years at the club, it was Buckley who initiated the beginning of the end of his manager’s reign. Having been genuine title contenders during the 1974/75 season, Everton slipped considerably the following year. Things came to a head after a 0-3 away defeat at Manchester City on 21 February 1976, which left Everton 15th. After the game a number of fans protested outside the players’ entrance. Inside the dressing room a furious argument broke out which ended with Gary Jones and Mike Buckley demanding transfers. It was, according to the Liverpool Echo’s Michael Charters, ‘as poor a performance as I can recall from an Everton team’, the dressing room revolt ‘unprecedented in my knowledge of Goodison affairs’.
Buckley declined to comment, but speculation linked him with a move to Leeds. After dropping Buckley for a game, Bingham held clear-the-air talks a few days later, but the dispute was the first clear sign of the growing dressing room disenchantment, from which the Everton manager never recovered.
Injuries and discord made Buckley a peripheral figure for the remainder of Bingham’s reign and he slipped down the pecking order under Gordon Lee. In August 1978 Everton accepted an £80,000 bid from Sunderland, and the midfielder continued to provide spirited service for a succession of northern clubs before his retirement in 1985.
More recently he has returned to the spotlight as an eloquent and moving spokesman for the Everton Former Player’s Foundation, which helped him after he fell on hard times.