Otago Daily Times
Unlikely hero of England’s cup triumph
OF all the players who contributed to England’s World Cup victory in 1966, Nobby Stiles, who died on October 30, aged 78, after suffering from prostate cancer and dementia, was the most unlikely of heroes.
But, with his socks round his ankles and his false front teeth left in the dressing room, he was a formidable opponent, a robust tackler and an implacable marker, as he showed in a memorable and crucial performance in the semifinal against Portugal, when he comprehensively — and fairly — squeezed the life out of the great Eusebio.
Eusebio had been a glittering star of the tournament, a gloriously talented and incisive attacker who had scored four of Portugal’s five goals in the quarterfinal against North Korea. But in the semifinal, Stiles manmarked him into ineffectiveness, enabling England to win 21.
When Alf Ramsey had instructed him during the prematch briefing to take Eusebio “out of the game”, Stiles had asked: “Do you mean for life, Alf ?” However, his shepherding of the Portuguese star was not only beyond reproach but, in the estimation of his colleague George Cohen, “technically and morally brilliant”.
It was a superbly intelligent performance, indicative of the role that Stiles had played throughout that World Cup as a shrewd, unselfish coverer of defenders and an economical user of the ball. He appeared in every game of the 1966 tournament and was part of the backbone of the side.
Though he had no manmarking job to perform in the 42 win against West Germany in the final, he put in another strong performance, and on the final whistle was the most enthusiastic of celebrators, kissing anyone within close range and essaying a comical jig with the trophy that has passed into folk memory.
Though quiet and even shy off the field, Stiles was voluble on it, constantly advising and exhorting his teammates.
Two years after England’s World Cup victory, Stiles was at Wembley again to help Manchester United become the first English team to win the European Cup final. Again Eusebio was one of his opponents, playing for
Benfica, and again Stiles was detailed to keep him quiet. Although he was not as comprehensively successful in damping down his man the second time around, he still did a perfectly satisfactory job — and United won 41.
As a result, Stiles is one of only three Englishmen — the others being Bobby Charlton and Ian Callaghan — to have won both a European Cup and a World Cup.
Born in Collyhurst, Manchester, the son of Charlie, manager of an undertaker’s, and Kitty, Stiles joined Manchester United straight from school.
He made his debut for
United as an insideforward in the 196061 season, playing 26 league matches and scoring twice.
When United reached the FA Cup final in 1963, and Stiles had missed just one cup tie besides playing 31 league games, he was, to his deep disappointment, dropped. The following season he was picked for just 17 league games, but fought his way back into the regular side in the 196465 season, missing only one league match in that First Division titlewinning season.
At only 167cm tall, prematurely balding, with few teeth and severe shortsightedness that required him to wear contact lenses during matches and thick glasses off the field, Stiles was an unusuallooking footballing specimen. But whatever he lacked in classical good looks and physique, he made up for with intelligence and a highly competitive, even intimidating, demeanour.
As he did for England, at United he stifled the activity of opposing sides’ key players, won the ball and then gave it to his team’s creative talents, such as Charlton and George Best. That formula once more proved irresistible in the 196667 season, when United again won the First Division title, and was decisive in the 1968 European Cup final against Benfica.
He joined Middlesbrough in 1971 before moving for a couple of seasons to Preston North
End, returning there for a fouryear spell as manager, taking the club up from Division Three to Division Two in 1978.
He moved to Canada for a threeyear period as manager at Vancouver Whitecaps, and in 1985 he succeeded his brotherinlaw, Johnny Giles, as manager at West Bromwich Albion, lasting in the job just four months.
Subsequently, he returned to Old Trafford as a youth coach, nurturing players such as David Beckham and Paul Scholes, but in later years he moved away from the footballing frontline to become a successful afterdinner speaker.
He is survived by his wife, Kay, his childhood sweetheart, and their three sons, one of whom, John, was a professional footballer for Leeds United. — Guardian News and Media