Enigmatic, taciturn, unsmiling; outwardly Mike Pejic resembled less a professional footballer than the hero of a spaghetti western. On the field he possessed many of the attributes synonymous with a rugged outsider: hardness, resolve, and an unflinching desire not to let his opponents win. His arrival at Goodison in February 1977 strengthened a shaky back four whose waywardness had brought Everton to the brink of a relegation battle and he was crucial to Everton’s subsequent renaissance under Gordon Lee.
Born in Staffordshire, the son of a Serbian father and English mother and elder brother of Mel – a lower-league full back of the 1980s – Pejic started out at Stoke City. Under Tony Waddington’s management the left back was an important part of one of the Potters’ greatest teams, in 1972 winning the League Cup – Stoke’s only major honour. In 1974 his Stoke form earned him an England call-up, but he was allegedly dropped by Joe Mercer because he did not smile enough. Perhaps this is an apocryphal story, but it has lingered.
His £150,000 Goodison switch came in the midst of crippling financial problems at the Victoria Ground. Pejic settled in straight away to a position that had proved problematic through the 1970s. A supremely fit and mobile player, Pejic added much needed steel to the Goodison back line, his ferocious tackles still recalled with relish by fans of the era. With the arrival of Dave Thomas at the start of the 1977/78 season he formed a formidable left-sided partnership, and was always quick and willing on the overlap and a reliable crosser of the ball.
By the 1978/79 season there was talk of an England recall as Pejic and Everton flourished, but a pelvic injury had started to trouble him. In a home fixture against Leeds United in December 1978 the ailment caused his breakdown and he never played for Everton again. Perhaps it was no coincidence that Everton’s title challenge faded after his withdrawal.
Pejic recovered to play in Everton’s 1979/80 pre-season tour of Egypt, but Gordon Lee, perhaps sensing what the injury had taken out of him, accepted a £250,000 bid from Aston Villa. Pejic played just 10 games for Villa before the pelvic injury forced his retirement in 1981. Subsequently he turned to youth coaching, although there was a spell as Chester City manager in the mid-1990s.