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Manchester United and England legend Nobby Stiles (78) dies

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Nobby Stiles was a mentor to a new generation of Manchester United stars (Dave Thompson/PA)

Nobby Stiles was a mentor to a new generation of Manchester United stars (Dave Thompson/PA)

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Stiles jumps with Eusebio during England’s 1966 World Cup semi-final win over Portugal (PA Archive)

Stiles jumps with Eusebio during England’s 1966 World Cup semi-final win over Portugal (PA Archive)

PA

Nobby Stiles was a mentor to a new generation of Manchester United stars (Dave Thompson/PA)

Nobby Stiles, part of the England team which won the World Cup in 1966, has died aged 78 after a long illness.

Stiles was also part of the Manchester United side which became the first English club to win the European Cup two years later, when they beat Benfica in the final at Wembley.

A statement issued by the Stiles family read: "The Stiles family are sad to announce that Nobby Stiles passed away peacefully today (30/10/2020) surrounded by his family after a long illness.

"The family kindly ask for privacy at this sad time."

In 2008, he spoke to the Belfast Telegraph's Sport Editor Jim Gracey - you can read the interview below.

Could it have been the wine?

There we were, gone midnight on Thursday in the Hilton Hotel, listening to Big Jack Charlton spin uproarious yarns about wee Nobby Stiles, the 1966 World Cup and all that.

First thing Friday morning, across town in the Europa, Nobby himself is pouring me a reviving cup of coffee and cheerfully admitting Jack's tales of his toothless terror reign across the playing fields of Europe were all true.

World Cup winners were never meant to be like buses - you don't see one for ages, then two arrive at once.

Big Jack did the honours at the Milk Cup 21st anniversary dinner.

Then Nobby of Manchester United and England fame breezed in to promote his belated but wonderfully well-written autobiography 'After The Ball' on The Kelly Show.

I remarked on the likelihood of running across two World Cup winning team-mates in the space of 12 hours.

"Ah," said Nobby, seizing the chance to finally get one up on his old England pal and Leeds adversary, who's been dining out on Stiles stories for years, "but there are only two British Isles footballers left with World Cup AND European Cup medals to show. That's me and Jackie's kid brother Bobby!"

Those medals, by the way, are now in a bank vault after years hanging up in a moth-balled suit.

And that unique distinction was the persuasive tool employed by Nobby's son John, named after his equally revered brother-in-law, Johnny Giles, to finally badger the little warrior into print over 30 years after the height of his England and Old Trafford fame.

That was during the World Cup in Japan last summer as Nobby lay attached to hospital monitors, recovering from a heart attack no-one saw coming.

"I think they were worried I was going to pop my clogs," confides Nobby.

Seventeen months on, he's a fit-looking, livewire 61, leaping out of his chair to graphically re-enact crunching long-ago tackles that would still make you wince.

If Nobby was an unlikely looking hardman - the Roy Keane of his day - with his thick-rimmed specs and diminutive frame, he was, on the surface, an even more unlikely candidate for a cardiac.

When it happened last June, he was 10 stone 4, the exact weight he tipped the scales at on the day after England won the '66 World Cup.

His fitness regime included 350 sit-ups a day but the stresses of his earlier life after Man U - when he plunged into a trough so deep he admits in his book he thought of ending it all - had taken a heavy toll.

"It was the fags that done it," he says candidly.

"I was on 40 a day and the funny thing is I didn't take them up until I became a manager. A lot of players smoked in my day, even Bobby Charlton.

"But while most of them kicked the habit by the time they retired, I picked it up to try and ease the pressure of managing at West Brom."

One way or another that job nearly killed the former Busby Babe and 1968 European Cup winner as he quickly found legendary status on the pitch counted for little when he came to paddle his own canoe.

Cast adrift, more like.

By no means financially comfortable, never mind wealthy, despite his achievements - 'my top wage in football was £130 a week' - he plunged into a downward spiral.

A motorway crash on his grinding daily journey from West Brom in the Midlands to his Manchester base almost almost claimed his life.

Chillingly he admits: "That was a depressing time. Money was so scarce. The job wasn't paying - it was actually costing me in petrol money - and the final straw came when a cash machine rejected my card. I hadn't a penny in my account.

"The crash was an accident but I can tell you there were days on those long motorway journeys when I did think about things."

The way he said it required no clarification.

To bounce back in any walk of life, you must first touch the bottom.

That, for Nobby, came after his dismissal by West Brom and a night drowning his sorrows in brandy and coke.

"Two days later Alex Ferguson came on the phone totally unexpected, inviting me back to Old Trafford to help with the School of Excellence," he beams.

For a Manchester lad born and bred, and United through and through - he still lives one tram stop up from the stadium at Stretford - it was more than a lifeline.

That School produced such Excellence as the Nevilles, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and you-know-who.

And a man who won World and European Cups derived more magical memories from famously leading that Class of '91 to a still talked-about Milk Cup victory.

I was there when it happened but Nobby still insisted on testing my memory as he related with pride how his team, due to a clash of red shirts for the semi-final with Liverpool, turned out in green Northern Ireland jerseys.

"They had Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. We had Becks, Butt, Scholesy and Gary Neville.

"The support for the two teams were out in equal numbers but when we ran out in the Northern Ireland jerseys, the neutrals also got behind us and we walloped them 5-1.

"Keith Gillespie got a hat-trick."

Nobby loves Ireland and the Irish - and not just through his Giles family ties.

Harry Gregg, he reveals, noticed his worsening short-sightedness during a game of cards and saved his career by urging boss Matt Busby to have him fitted with contact lenses.

George Best, he quite simply declares 'a genius.'

Pretty is not a word you would normally see in the same sentence as Nobby Stiles.

But the tale he has to tell is like the wee man himself - pretty damn good!

Belfast Telegraph


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