Nobby Stiles

Nobby Stiles: An obituary

Everyone at Manchester United was desperately sad to receive the news that legendary midfielder Nobby Stiles, has passed away, aged 78.

A Manchester lad through and through, he personified the spirit and determination of his native city, but he will be mourned across the footballing community far beyond the streets where he was born and brought up.

The sight of an ecstatic – and toothless – Nobby Stiles dancing on the Wembley turf after the World Cup victory of 1966 is one of English football’s most iconic images, but the Collyhurst lad was arguably even more of a hero in the red of United than he was the red of England.

The local boy made good was the pulsing heartbeat of Sir Matt Busby’s side for over a decade, playing nearly 400 games, winning the league title twice and capping it off with the crowning glory – of his club career at least – the 1968 European Cup.

A hero for club and countryVideo

The tenacious half-back made his league debut in October 1960 against Bolton Wanderers and the raw 18-year-old made an instant impact, making 31 appearances in his first season. He was in and out of the first team over the next few seasons and missed out on an FA Cup winners’ medal in 1963 but picked up his first senior honour when the Reds clinched the league two years later. By that point he was established as a tough-tackling midfield competitor with the ability to break up the play and give the ball to any number of his more extravagantly-gifted team-mates. But this isn’t to categorise Stiles as purely a no-nonsense enforcer, and his vision set up plenty of goals for the likes of Best, Law and Charlton, as well as weighing in with 19 of his own for United.

He was handed his England debut by Sir Alf Ramsey against Scotland in 1964 and played all of his country’s World Cup games in 1966 – despite calls to drop him following a typically no-holds barred performance against France in the group stages that saw Stiles lucky to stay on the field. Ramsey stuck by his man and the rest is history.
Sir Matt used to give Stiles a simple instruction at the start of games –
“Norrie, let him know you’re there in the first five minutes”
– and invariably the opposition did. His heroic performance in the 1968 European Cup final victory over Benfica is a classic example, and once again led to joyous scenes of celebration on the Wembley turf, Busby embracing Stiles after the final whistle.

His United career came to an end in 1971 when he moved to Middlesbrough, and he was later reunited with Sir Bobby Charlton at Preston North End where he was player-coach and then manager. After a spell as boss of West Bromwich Albion he finally returned to Old Trafford in 1989 when he took up a post as youth-team coach. 

During this spell he worked with many of the lads who would be central to United's success throughout the 1990s, players such as Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville. He spent four years as part of United's coaching staff before leaving in 1993. And while his performances may have contributed to two of his managers receiving knighthoods, he was given his own gong in 1990 when he was presented with the MBE by the Queen in recognition of his services to football.

Manchester United extends its deepest condolences to Nobby’s family and friends at this extremely sad time.

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