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Old Trafford Legends – Nobby Stiles 1960-1971

For many years he had the most famous toothless gums in England. 68 year old World Cup winner Nobby Stiles suffered a minor stroke last week and spent two days in hospital but is now recovering at home according to his agent Terry Baker. The  Manchester United sixties legend suffered disorientation which was diagnosed as a Transient Ischaemic Attack and is expected to undergo surgery in a few weeks.

Doctors described the incident as a “very minor stroke and nowhere near as serious as some strokes can be” Mr Baker said. “When I spoke to him this morning he told me he had suffered a moment of disorientation. He’s in good spirits, joking that both of us have been having moments of disorientation for the last 30 years” Stiles has also insisted on watching England’s World Cup second round clash with Algeria. Mr Baker went on to say that Stretford based Stiles had recently seen a cardiovascular consultant and was expected to undergo surgery in the next few weeks. “There is going to be a small operation to put it right” the agent added “in the meantime, he’s at home and in good spirits but he’s had to cancel a number of engagements for the time being”.

Stiles spent 11 years at Old Trafford from 1960 to 1971 making his debut in October 1960 against Bolton in a total of 397 appearances and 19 goals before being transferred to Middlesbrough for £20,000 at the age of 29. The little midfield dynamo won two League Championship and a European Cup winners medals as well as winning the World Cup with England in 1966. He was awarded the MBE in 2000 for his part in the 4-2 victory over West Germany in that Wembley final

The uncompromising midfield enforcer became something of a cult figure after England’s World Cup victory. His post match celebration has become one of the most famous images in English sporting history. The sight of him doing an involuntary,  spontaneous jig on the Wembley pitch, holding the Jules Rimet Trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other has lived in the memory for decades.

Thirty two years later the moment was referred to in the lyrics of  “Three Lions”, the England theme song for the ‘98 World Cup. A list of English football memories had a line of “We can dance Nobby’s dance, we can dance it in France”.

While Stiles never had the elegance of a Bobby Moore, the explosive shooting of  Bobby Charlton or the technique of  Martin Peters he did his job to perfection. His dogged performance in the semi final against Portugal resulted in him practically nullifying the brilliant Eusebio for practically the entire game.

On being asked by a journalist about the way he had instructed Stiles to “deal with” Eusébio, England manager Sir Alf Ramsey objected to the terminology used although he knew exactly why the reporter had referred to Stiles’ display in such a manner. The tactics, despite the criticism they provoked, were effective. Eusébio’s only major contribution was a late penalty and allowed England to progress to the final.

Stiles’ simple passing game and fearless ball winning skills saw his swift conversion into a “holding” midfield player of a type now featured by all top teams. At a time when forward lines consisted of five players and the midfield was restricted to covering half backs it was still a rare tactic to use. Stiles was used in the middle of the park to snuff out the opponents creativity and he did that with determined tenacity. His ability to gain and retain possession also allowed his more skilled team mates like Bobby Charlton and, later, George Best more space on the park to utilize their flair.

Stiles was always very clear about his role in the team whether it was with England or Manchester United “You can’t play if you haven’t got the ball” he says “my job was simple, conquer the ball, give it to Bobby Charlton and let him do his thing”. Football was always that simple for good old Nobby.

As for the World Cup Final all those years ago “It changed my life” he admits “It’s the biggest thing that happened to me. Everyone still wants a piece of you because of it. Wherever you go, what we did back then means so much to people. Not just lads of my age, you’d expect that, but kids of my grandkids age. They come up to me and go ‘Hey, you’re the fellow with no teeth who danced round Wembley aren’t you?’ In a way, you end up belonging to everyone”

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