Will of the pint-sized Nobby Stiles

One of the prime figures in shaping England's World Cup triumph in 1966 was the diminutive right-half Nobby Stiles.

Published : May 05, 2018 00:55 IST

Nobby Stiles, during a Manchester United game having a go at the referee.
Nobby Stiles, during a Manchester United game having a go at the referee.

Nobby Stiles, during a Manchester United game having a go at the referee.

England 1966. Crowds, delirious with delight at the scene of triumph, Wembley and the entire nation bubbling with joy..... Could there be any rejoicing as much as a National team winning a coveted International trophy, doubly so when it is achieved at home! The World Cup that Bobby Moore received from the hands of Queen Elizabeth herself was the consummation of the devout wish nurtured by the nation for 36 long years. Britain, the orginator of the game, for'all its desire to get its hands on the most glittering prize in football, could only see it changing hands from Uruguay (1930) to Italy, to Brazil, through Germany and even Argentina.

She pined like patience in a monument. Then at last success crowned its efforts and a very accomplished side shaped by Alf Ramsey finally made it at the lush turf at Wembley. And one of the prime figures in shaping the home team's triumph was the diminutive right-half Nobby Stiles. Has there ever been any player or rather any British footballer who represented the Churchilian never-say-die spirit better than this pocket dynamo who challenged and worsted opponents twice his size?


It is said that the more deficient you are physically, the greater is the grit and determination and pugnacity you develop. Standing barely 5 ft 6 ins and weighing a mere 66.7 kgs in his prime were not exactly physical assets for an aspiring footballer. Add to this, a high degree of myopia, which without lenses could not call a spade from a shovel and a toothless mouth (a memento from a match injury) which made him wear a false set of teeth. The handicap is complete. But Nobby with the love for the game at heart and a fighting spirit to back it up was keen to be part of it all. He always loved to be in the thick of it. He developed into a terrific little battler with a tigerish tackle. He became an aggressive wing-half in a classical English mould, going back probably even before Will Copping to whom every one playing the get-stuck-in game is compared. In post-war years, Manchester United always had a reputation for including a hard-tackling, driving, middle-line player in its team and back in December 1963, Stiles himself replaced another of his type in Maurice Setters.

Born Survivor

Nobby was born in Collyhurst, one of the less salubrious districts of Manchester, the son of an undertaker. One can imagine the plight of a little fellow with that kind of a background. But the doughty youngster, braved his physical deficiencies-and social constraints, spurred only by a burning desire to make good in sport and in life. He was soon drawn to Manchester United like iron to magnet, and joined the club as a groundstaff boy at the age of 15.

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The plucky boy came under the notice of the great manager Matt Busby. Though Stiles kept his short-sightedness (a carry-over from his being knocked down by a bus as a boy) a secret, especially from Busby for fear of being kept out, Busby learnt about it. It was typical of the great man that he made every attempt to make the lad overcome the handicap. Contact lenses were the answer on the field and black horn-rim specs were used off the field. And when in 1965, he had the front-plate of his false-teeth broken in a Cup tie, he decided to play without the teeth, which brought the other trade-mark: the gruesome looking two-fanged grin.


When Nobby gets off the field and puts his false teeth in and his specs on, he is the Mr. Hyde reverting again to Dr. Jekyll. The "little demon" is first and foremost a man who obeys instructions. This made him invaluable in a position in which hard work, hard running and beligerence in both defence and attack were essential and where team-spirit of the Stiles kind overcomes many individual deficiencies. Team-mate Billy Foulkes, his mentor was to comment. "He'll do any job he is told. If you have got his confidence, he'll run through a brick-wall for you."

There were many even in England, who doubted the value of Stiles, with his torrid tackles and unbridled aggression, in the English team and wanted to have him dropped. But the shrewd Ramsey, knew his man and the tremendous worth of his wing-half and, only told him, rather advised him "Play it cool, son, don't get ruffled. Do your job". Stiles duly responded. Ask Eusebio and he will own how much Nobby shackled him, rarely giving him (the Portuguese star with dynamic feet) the chance to execute one of his lightning thrusts and shots at Gordon Banks. That enabled the home team to edge out Portugal in the semi-final. Later the trophy itself was in their bag. Stiles' contribution in it was as much as Hurst's or Ball's or Charlton's or Banks'. Nobby had fulfilled his mission.

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