John Hickton goes down as one of the greatest ever players in the history of Middlesbrough Football Club. Hickton is the club’s fourth all-time top scorer, with 192 goals, and is third in the all-time appearances list, pulling on the Boro shirt an incredible, 499 times.
Born on 24 September 1944, in Brimington near Chesterfield, Hickton grew up a Manchester United fan.
As a talented young footballer, he had the choice to sign for Arsenal and United but opted for nearby Sheffield Wednesday, who were second in the First Division and had several England Internationals in the side, at the time.
Between 1963 and 1966 Hickton, who started out earning £5 per week, went on to appear 53 times for Wednesday, scoring 21 goals.
Often playing in defence or attack, he scored a hat-trick against Arsenal in December 1965, but requested a transfer, after being overlooked for the 1966 FA Cup Final, against Everton.
Middlesbrough manager Stan Anderson beat Norwich City in the race to sign Hickton, when he paid £20,000, in September 1966. Hickton signed on his 22nd birthday, on a contract worth £28 per week and moved into a club house in Acklam.
He made his debut a week later at home to Workington in front of 8,813 supporters, at centre half, wearing the no.5 shirt. Two goals down, Boro won a penalty, and Hickton stepped forward, taking his signature run up, from 25 yards out.
Head down, running, eyes on the ball, he smashed it past the helpless Workington Keeper.
A legend was born.
Boro eventually won the game 3-2, with Arthur Horsfield scoring the other two.
After an indifferent start to the season, results began to improve, and Boro were soon climbing the table. With an impressive 11 game unbeaten run, stretching from the beginning of December 1966 to late February 1967, Boro were starting to look like genuine promotion contenders.
By April they were seventh in the table, and a 2-1 win away to Peterborough started a thrilling run of four wins in five games, Anderson's men were fourth in the league, with one game to play.
OXFORD UNITED 1967…
The final game of the season was on Tuesday 16th May 1967, at home to Oxford United. With all other teams fixtures completed, Boro needed a win to finish in 2nd place and join already crowned Champions, Queens Park Rangers, in promotion to the Second Division.
With 40,000 supporters crammed into Ayresome Park, hundreds sat on the perimeter of the pitch, and many more were locked outside, the atmosphere was intoxicating, a wall of sound roaring the team to promotion.
Hickton scored a header ten minutes into the second half, and goal machine John O’Rourke scored a hat-trick, fans spilled onto the pitch after every goal, Ayresome Park was at fever pitch.
Boro ran out 4-1 winners and were promoted back to the Second Division, Stan Anderson’s team had gained promotion at the first attempt.
The game would go down as one of the greatest nights in the clubs history, still remembered and talked about today.
John Hickton appeared 45 times during the 1966-67 promotion season, scoring 17 goals in all competitions. John O’Rourke was the club’s top scorer with 30 goals, followed by Arthur Horsfield with 23.
Boro’s first season back in the Second Division saw Hickton in what was to become his trademark centre forward role, finishing top scorer with 29 goals.
With his gusto performances and a keen eye for goal, Hickton soon became a crowd favourite amongst Boro fans.
Combining well with other formidable attacking favourites O’Rourke, Horsfield, McMordie, and Downing, Boro finished 6th in the 1967-68 season.
The following season saw Boro finish 4th in the Second Division table, missing out on promotion by seven points.
One of Big John’s standout games, came in March 1969, in a thrilling 5-3 win against Hull City at Ayresome Park, where he scored four goals, with McMordie getting the other.
Hickton finished the 1968-69 season as top scorer with 18 goals, as the season also saw the first appearances of future Boro Captain Willie Maddren.
The 1969-70 season, saw Hickton with a new strike partner, as Hugh McIlmoyle was signed from Carlisle United. October 1969 saw Hickton go on a remarkable run of 11 goals in 11 games, which saw Boro win five in a row, as they challenged for promotion.
They also reached the Quarter-Final of the FA Cup in February 1970, with Hickton scoring at Ayresome Park, in a 1-1 draw against Manchester United.
Hickton was on target again four days later, as Boro got beat 2-1 in the replay at Old Trafford.
Middlesbrough ended the 1969-70 season in 4th place for the second season running, narrowingly missing out on promotion by three points. McIlmoyle helped Big John finish top scorer, with 28 goals.
After two 4th placed finishes, Boro were hoping that 1970-71 would be their year for promotion, with Hickton scoring on the opening day, in a 2-1 win against Carlisle.
Following only one win in their next six games, September saw the visit of Queens Park Rangers, a game that would go down as an Ayresome Park classic.
Boro won the game 6-2, and Hickton would take the match ball, scoring a hat-trick, but the game is also remembered for Hughie McIlmoyle, who set up three, scored two, and won a penalty. Both McIlmoyle and Hickton were said to be unplayable that day.
Despite Boro’s inconsistency, Hickton couldn't stop scoring, bagging 19 goals by the new year.
By the end of February Boro were starting to look like they could make a surge for promotion, and were climbing the table. Hickton was again in fine form scoring 11 goals in 13 games, including two in the 5-0 demolition of Norwich City, at Ayresome Park.
Following this impressive run, they would only win two out of their last twelve games, incredibly drawing the last eight, again missing out on promotion finishing 7th, eight points off an automatic spot.
John Hickton was to finish the 1970-71 season top scorer, for the fourth season running, with a personal best of 27 goals, in 46 appearances, missing only one game.
The summer of 1971 saw Boro boss Stan Anderson bring in World Cup winner and ex-Manchester United midfielder Nobby Stiles, along with Stuart Boam, John Craggs, and goalkeeper Jim Platt.
Boro’s inconsistent form continued into the 1971-72 season, twice winning four in a row, followed by one win in nine, in a run stretching from November until January.
The new year saw them pick up, winning six out of seven league games while reaching the 5th round of the FA Cup in the process.
For the third season in a row Boro were drawn against Manchester United in the cup, and following a goalless draw at Old Trafford, Boro were thumped 0-3 in the replay at Ayresome Park.
From mid-March until the end of the season, Boro won only two in the last eleven, picking up 8 points to slip to 9th placed finish, in the Second Division table.
Hickton was a virtual ever present and top scorer again with 16 goals.
John Hickton missed the first three games of the 1972-73 season through injury, and again Boro’s inconsistent form continued, as they struggled to find the net.
October saw the arrival of ex-Newcastle frontman Alan Foggon from Cardiff and in December midfielder Graeme Souness joined Boro from Tottenham Hotspur
January 1973 saw Boro lose at 3rd Division Plymouth 1-0, in the FA Cup 3rd round, this was followed by a 0-0 draw with QPR at Ayresome Park. Boro Manager Stan Anderson had seen enough and handed in his resignation.
Harold Shepherdson took over as caretaker manager until the end of the season, finishing 4th in the table. Meanwhile, the prolific Hickton was the top scorer for the sixth season running, with 15 goals.
England World Cup winner and ex-Leeds United Centre half Jack Charlton was installed as Boro manager, in the summer of 1973.
Big Jack got to work by signing European Cup winner and Celtic legend Bobby Murdoch, on a free transfer, the only addition to Anderson’s team. He also introduced the now famous, white chest band on the front of the Boro shirt.
Hickton and his teammates would go on a record breaking season, on their way to promotion to Division One, during 1973-74.
After starting with a victory away to Portsmouth, followed by a 2-0 defeat at home to Fulham, Charlton famously said: “do it my way or not at all.”
Charlton's team then went on a 24 game unbeaten run stretching until February, topping the table in October and staying there for the rest of the season.
Promotion was secured on 23rd March, with eight games still to play, with Boro winning the Second Division Championship in a 1-0 away win at Luton Town, on March 30th. The second Division Championship trophy was presented to Jack Charlton and the Boro team, at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, April 20th.
Boro went on to thrash Wednesday 8-0 with Hickton again on the score sheet, along with Graeme Souness who bagged a hat-trick.
The promotion team of 1974, dubbed Charlton's Champions, was to go down in history as one of the greatest Middlesbrough teams of all-time. The club was back in the top-flight, following a 20-year absence.
Hickton wore the number nine shirt during the 73-74 season, scoring 11 goals in 44 appearances, while Alan Foggon finished top scorer with 20 goals.
BORO ARE BACK...
John Hickton kicked off Boro’s First Division season in style, getting on the scoresheet in a 3-0 opening day victory at Birmingham City, with Alan Foggon getting the other two.
Manager Jack Charlton opted to go into the new season keeping faith in the players who had earned promotion, making no additions to the Boro squad.
Middlesbrough and Hickton quickly proved they could cut it in the top flight, with Hickton scoring five before Christmas with Boro in the top half of the table.
The FA Cup fourth-round brought neighbours Sunderland to Ayresome Park, on a muddy Saturday afternoon, in January 1975.
Boro playing in their famous black and blue striped away kit, won the game 3-1 after Hickton scored two second half penalties to clinch it.
Following a 2-0 victory over Peterborough United, Boro were drawn away to Birmingham City in the Quarter-Final of the FA Cup, a game which would go down in Boro folklore.
After being talked about as potential winners, Boro lost the game at St Andrews, when number 10, Bob Hatton popped up unmarked to score a header, from two yards out.
Hickton's goals and Boro’s excellent form saw the club finish 7th in the First Division, the highest league placing since the 1950-51 season.
Striker Alan Foggon who led the Boro frontline finished the season as top scorer with 18 in all competitions, with John Hickton scoring 16 goals.
Hickton got on the goal trail early in the 1975-76 campaign, scoring three in the first six games, followed by only two more goals before Christmas, as Boro struggled for consistency, which continued throughout the season.
Despite Boro’s inconsistent league form, they reached the Semi-Final of the League Cup, playing Manchester City, in the first leg at Ayresome Park, where Hickton scored in a 1-0 win.
The impressive City ran out 4-0 winners, in the second leg at Maine Road, cruelly ending another Wembley dream for Hickton and Middlesbrough.
The 1975-76 season also saw Middlesbrough enter the Anglo-Scottish Cup, which they won after beating Fulham over two legs. Captain Stuart Boam lifted the trophy at Craven Cottage in December 1975. John Hickton scored five goals along the way, two coming in a 5-2 victory away to Aberdeen.
Boro's in different form left them finishing 13th in the First Division table, with Hickton top scorer with 18 goals in all competitions.
The 1976-77 season was John Hicktons Testimonial season, but with Jack Charlton opting to bring in striker Alf Wood and give Alan Willey and Peter Brine a chance in the Boro attack, Hicktons playing time was limited.
He made ten appearances for Middlesbrough, five coming off the bench, before a short loan spell at Hull City, where he played six games, scoring one goal for the Tigers.
Middlesbrough celebrated Hickton’s ten years at the club, with a midweek testimonial game against Sunderland in April 1977, Hickton scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win, in front of 10,500 supporters at Ayresome Park.
It was also around this time that manager Jack Charlton departed Middlesbrough after four years in charge, he was replaced by former Wrexham manager John Neal.
The 1977-78 season would be the last season on Teesside for Boro Legend John Hickton,
the thirty-three year old striker was to make only three starts all season.
His last appearance was coming off the bench in a 1-2 defeat against West Ham United, at Ayresome Park in April 1978, as Middlesbrough finished the season in 14th position.
The summer of 1978 saw John Hickton leave Middlesbrough, for Fort Lauderdale Strikers, where George Best, Gordon Banks, and Ian Callaghan, were amongst his new teammates, at the Florida, MLS side.
He went on to make three appearances scoring one before a cruel leg break put an end to his playing career.
Hickton joined Boro in the Third Division in 1966, and after making 499 appearances and scoring 192 goals, he left them as an established First Division side.
He goes down the clubs fourth highest goal scorer, behind Camsell, Elliot and Clough and third in the all-time appearance list.
He was the clubs leading scorer for seven seasons, six seasons running from 1968-1973, bagging six hat tricks in a Boro shirt, helping the club to two promotions.
Middlesbrough FC: 1966-1978