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Perhaps no greater compliment can be paid to Nobby Stiles MBE than to be described by Sir Bobby Charlton as ‘A dog of war’, to be depended on at all times to shut down danger on the pitch for his club and his country.
Nobby was born at home, in the cellar, during an air-raid, on May 18th 1942, in Collyhurst and is known for being on the pitch for every minute of every game in England’s route to winning the 1966 World Cup Final. The circumstances of his birth somehow fit the man’s character and attitude to life on and off the pitch beautifully.
A Manchester United player between 1960 and 1971, Nobby won the European Cup and two league titles with his club. He played for England Schoolboys at the age of fifteen and joined United as an apprentice in 1959, making his debut for the club early in the 1960-61 season against Bolton.
Stiles the ‘half-back’, as his position was known then, was unusual in the amount of ground he covered, the extent to which he protected the defenders behind him and to which his stamina and drive enabled players such as Bobby Charlton to spend time in opponents’ halves creating and scoring goals.
In 1964-65 Manchester United won the league title and Stiles’ role in the Manchester United and England sides was examined by England manager Alf Ramsey from his debut against Scotland in April 1965 - over a year before the World Cup was due to start - and by the time the 1966 World Cup Finals began, against Uruguay, Stiles had confirmed his place in Ramsey’s first eleven.
Wins against Mexico, France and Argentina followed, in which Stiles showed his true colours, especially in the Quarter Final against the physical Argentines. Nobby’s single-most-famous performance came against Portugal, and Eusebio, in the Semi-Final, which England won 2-1 and in which Nobby man-marked his highly-skilful opposite number out of the game. England were world champions by the weekend, following the 4-2 win over West Germany in the Final.
Stiles played in England’s 1967 Home Championship defeat to Scotland, in the same season that Manchester United won their second title in three seasons. The 1967-68 season brought more silverware, and an English club’s first such in European competition, when United beat Benfica 4-1 in the European Cup Final at Wembley. He was selected for the Third Place play-off victory in the 1968 European Championships against the Soviet Union and three further caps followed in 1969 and 1970, ending his international career with twenty eight caps.
Stiles was reunited with former team mate Bobby Charlton at Preston North End, via Middlesbrough, where he spent two seasons, 1971 to 1973. He joined Preston as player-coach, resigned soon after Charlton had and returned to the club as manager for four seasons.
Three seasons at the Vancouver Whitecaps in the NASL followed, until his return to England at the start of 1985-86, when he joined West Bromwich Albion as manager.
Many are convinced that it was no coincidence that Nobby’s time back at Old Trafford, as youth team coach, beginning in 1989, when Sir Alex Ferguson was one of several who could see the potential benefits to the club, overlapped the time of the development and graduation to the United first eleven of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phil Neville. Stiles was awarded the MBE in 2000, along with Roger Hunt, Alan Ball, Ray Wilson and George Cohen.
He left the club in 1993. Since 2002 he has suffered serious health problems, including Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia and cancer.
Sir Bobby Charlton has remained a regular visitor to the Stiles’ household. The two of them have been close since they, Shay Brennan and David Herd ironically referred to themselves the as ‘The Big Four’ in their time at Manchester United.
Perhaps most important to Nobby has been the re-naming of the street next to his school, St Patrick’s Primary in Collyhurst, as Nobby Stiles Drive. His primary school friends, Danny Cooney and Tony Kennedy, ensured that this happened, following discussions with Manchester City Council and the city’s Lord Mayor.
Stiles personifies the qualities which football fans value in the players of their clubs, notably passion, loyalty, determination and humility. A true great.
Capture a piece of Nobby's legacy with this signed shirt from VintageSports.com