Hundreds of tributes have been paid following the death of one of the Chester sporting scene’s most beloved characters.
Mickey Clifford, described as a ‘legend’, a ‘true gentleman’ and one of the ‘biggest cheerleaders’ of Chester sport, passed away on Tuesday(November 18), aged 71, at the Countess of Chester Hospital following a battle with cancer.
A well known and hugely popular figure in sporting circles in the city, Mickey, a born and bred Cestrian who lived in Hoole, was a regular figure in the stands at Chester Football Club and a devoted volunteer at Cheshire Phoenix Basketball Club and was part of the group that helped keep professional basketball in the city following the demise of the Cheshire Jets.
He was also part of the group that fought to save Chester City Football Club and the fans-led campaign that saw the birth of Chester FC in 2010.
Chester’s sporting fraternity became extended family to Mickey, who in his 39-year working career spent 20 years in the accounts department at Cheshire County Council, where he sat on the sports and social committee for the entire duration.
He represented the county council and County Officers Club in five-a-side football, table tennis, badminton, hockey and volleyball and also had a period as manager of Chester Ladies football team, where he won the FA award for outstanding services to football 20 years ago, which was presented to him by Sir Trevor Brooking.
In more recent years his devotion to the Phoenix had seen him become one of the club’s most recognisable faces, travelling the length and breadth of the country to watch them play.
Despite his recent illness, he funded a mini-bus for Phoenix fans to make the long trip to watch the team play the Glasgow Rocks last month, a game which was won by the Nix and dedicated to Mickey.
Current Phoenix players and staff even made trips to visit Mickey while he was in the Countess.
Nix volunteer and close friend of Mickey, Debbie Donaldson, said: “Mickey was my darling, sweet, energetic, upbeat, gracious, humble and wise friend. He was many things to so many people; sporting partner, karaoke star, cheerleader fan, volunteer, work colleague.
“To me his was simply my wonderful friend. I will miss him tremendously and his passing has left a void in our Cheshire Phoenix family.”
Cheshire Phoenix head coach John Coffino paid tribute on the club’s Facebook page, writing: “You only get one first impression and Mickey grabbed my attention the day I met him.
“ I had heard about him but that was totally an understatement. He was so positive with me and everyone said: "Oh Mickey is going to bend your ear and you will never get away from him".
“Well that is true and will always be true. Someone like Mickey only comes around so rarely in our lives and leaves a lasting mark on you is truly what he has done. A legacy that we as a team will carry all season and dedicate it to Mickey Clifford.
“For all that had the privilege and honour of knowing him, consider yourself extremely fortunate. My only regret is not talking and listening to him more.
“We have a play called “Quick”. I am going to suggest we change it to “Mick” Even the opposing teams adored him.
“Here’s to you Mickey Clifford our number one fan. We will all miss you so very much, but honestly you never left us.”
Comments were also left by opposing British Basketball League teams and coaches, with Leicester Riders head coach Rob Paternostro recalling his encounters with Mickey with great fondness.
He wrote: “When we played away in Chester it was a must for me to find Mickey and see how he was doing , he always made me smile.
“I really enjoyed the conversations we had. People like Mickey are what makes being part of the BBL special.”
Former Cheshire Phoenix point guard Reggie Middleton, now back in his native America, wrote: “RIP Mickey. You always kept a positive attitude and no matter how tough things get there is always something to smile about I learned that from you.”
The Phoenix are planning to honour Mickey at their next home game against Glasgow Rocks on December 7 (5.30pm).
Funeral details are yet to be confirmed.