'sir' bill nicholson  

26.01.1919 - 23.10.2004


An 18-year Spurs playing career 1936-1954 (making his debut in 1938), winning Second and First Division Championship medals in 1950 and 1951.  
Bill even served with the Durham Light Infantry in World War Two during his time at Spurs.

318 League appearances - 6 goals
12 Football League South appearances 
27 FA cup appearances
38 other appearances - 1 goal
Total = 395 appearances - 7 goals

One England cap - one goal (scored with his first kick of the match)
Three England 'B' caps
One appearance representing the Football League

Bill also coached the Cambridge University team and the England Under-23s in 1954 and then became Spurs assistant manager in 1955, until Jimmy Anderson resigned with health problems, when he moved into the manager's office in October 1958, memorably winning his first game in charge 10-4 at home to Everton. 

In 16 years in charge of Tottenham Hotspur, he had taken Spurs to become the first club to achieve the double in the 20th Century, the first to win the League Cup twice (1970 and 1972), the first British club to win a European trophy (European Cup Winners Cup 1963) and, with a UEFA Cup victory in 1972, the first British team to win two different European competitions.  That was in addition to two more FA Cups and three Charity Shields.  And another UEFA Cup Final reached in 1974.

But what the statistics don't tell you is what a great human being Sir Bill was.

My only meeting with him came when I was about 18 and was watching the youth side at the old Cheshunt training ground one sunny Saturday.  

Stood on the earth bank alongside the small stand there, I was engrossed in the match and a voice asked me "What's the score, son ?"

Turning around while saying we were winning 1-0, I was faced with Bill Nick.

I was a little bit lost for words and even more so when he asked "How are we playing ?"

What was I to say ?  Me, a mere watcher of the game trying to tell a man who had managed a team to the Double, won European trophies and been in charge of two great Spurs side, as well as playing for one in the 1950s.

Well, I mumbled a few callow observations and he thanked me for that, telling me he liked this player and that.

But I never felt that he was talking down to me.  It was more like chatting to an uncle than talking to a legend of the game, who you had revered for years.

And that was his abiding charm.  His humility.  No airs and graces.  No big "I am".  Yes, just plain Bill Nicholson.

When managers nowadays appear to be bigger than the team and some bigger than the game, Bill viewed his job as just that.  Something to be done and left behind him.  Except he never could leave it behind, as he was 24 hours a day Tottenham Hotspur.  Even when Spurs showed him the door and he moved to West Ham as a scout, his one and only love was Spurs and when they called him back, he bore no grudge and came back home.

Sir Bill made a rod for the back of every Spurs manager that followed him, but that success is what they should try and emulate with the club.

What they might not be able to copy is the way he conducted his life.

Our sympathy is with his relatives at this time as they have lost a loving member of that family.

Spurs have lost their most favoured son of all those who have been associated with the club.

But the world has lost a wonderful human being.


In times when the coverage of football and the hype was no so great, a man achieved what others nowadays would find impossible to do.

Because he was not flamboyant nor outgoing nor political, he did not gain favour among those within the corridors of power.

He said what had to be said.  Nothing more, nothing less.

He did his job and went home.

He did his job well.

He did his job better than most.

And he was 'Sir' Bill Nicholson.

Maybe not in the Honours List, but in our hearts.

May you Rest In Peace and reap the rewards of the joy you gave to many.

Benny The Ball

I was shocked to tune into the radio and hear that Sir Bill Nicholson had died.  Although I had not seen him this season, apparently he had been to some games, but his illness had got worse over the last few months and he had entered a nursing home.  Bill had been very frail for some years, but was always happy and humble and I think it was this that makes him more of a human being than some of today's supposed "character" managers.

The atmosphere at the game was odd.  Like a family member had died, but wanting the team to do well to show him that the Spurs spirit will carry on.  The result was not important and the whole day was all very sad.

Shame his achievements were in a day and age when they were not recognised as being out of the ordinary rather than those of today, which are commonplace.  Arsenal fans say that we won the Championship in black and white (there being no colour TV back then), but that was when it was a proper game and when it really meant something ... not like today.

Bill, if there is a heaven, I am sure you will find success with a team up there.
If not, you will be eternally remembered for what you did for Tottenham Hotspur on Earth.

Barry Levington

Here was a man who had few equals in the history of the game.


Actually that is not true.  In 1961 he had no equals in the game in the 20th century.  The Double, which was then the holy grail of English domestic football had eluded all the best teams England had yet produced and was considered by many to be near impossible.  Spurs under Nicholson not only won it, they cantered to the title with such style and swagger that all those old enough to have seen them still rate them as one of the very best English sides of all time.  43 years later.


Yet when Nicholson’s side had won the FA Cup Final in 1961 to complete this ground breaking achievement, this particular manager was not overcome with joy.  He felt they had not won it in the style they were capable of.  This reaction, confirmed by the man himself in his rare interviews, explains why he never again won the League Championship.  As the pragmatic ‘win at all costs’ approach took hold later in the decade, Nicholson found himself up against more ruthless, less principled managers who scorned the more attacking theories and were not afraid to send teams out to stop the opposition playing, rather than picking a team to beat the opposition.  Football, like life as the 60’s wore on, became less innocent and more cynical and the likes of Revie’s Leeds United prospered while Spurs became more a ‘Cup Team’, capable of beating anyone on their day, but lacking the necessary ruthlessness to kill off teams week in week out.


When the great Double achievement was emulated a decade later, even the most avid Arsenal supporter could not claim that Bertie Mee’s team had achieved it with anything like the style of Nicholson’s.  But it was in the record books.  Just like the teams that have achieved it since.  But Nicholson got there first and that is something that cannot be taken away.


His amazing long link with Tottenham, which dated back to 1936, is unlikely to ever be repeated.  The very fabric of all the club stands for and the vast majority of all of its finest hours had Nicholson’s involvement either directly or indirectly stamped on them.  This is a club that has only ever won the title twice.  Nicholson played in the team that landed the first title on 1951 and after retiring to become coach and then manager in 1958, was of course at the helm in that history making season of 1960-1.  The lack of adequate TV coverage at the time makes it hard for those not old enough to make an objective judgment on just how good this team was.  Although comparisons between era’s are often pointless, there is no doubt that this was a magical collection of players blended together by Nicholson through a mixture of shrewdness and intelligence rarely seen before or since.


The following season Spurs retained the FA Cup having by now added Jimmy Greaves to the great double team, but consider how close Nicholson came to an achievement that would, to this day, have probably earned him the title of the greatest British manager of all time.  A highly unexpected defeat to eventual champions Ipswich in Easter 1962 was all the stood between them and a second consecutive double.  In the same month, Nicholson's team came within a whisker of beating Benfica and claiming a place in the European Cup Final.  The Treble, not achieved until 1999 by Ferguson’s Manchester United, was almost within Tottenham's grasp 37 years earlier.  Football is a game of if onlys.


The next season, 1962-3, did though see another memorable first - no British team had won a European trophy until Tottenham carried of the European Cup Winners Cup that year.  A dynasty, like the one’s built at Liverpool and Manchester United, should have been built.  It was not to be.  Injuries (Dave Mackay being the most obvious), retirements (Blanchflower), tragedies (John White’s death) and complacency from the Spurs directors meant that the standards set could not be maintained.


New heroes were signed, and in most cases they would be excellent signings (Gilzean, England, Mullery, Chivers, Jennings etc), but the new players and their manager had an almost impossible legacy to live up to.


Throughout the 60’s Spurs remained a force, but they were never able to mount a realistic challenge again for the title.  The FA Cup was won again in 1967, although this was the last trophy of that decade.  The early 70’s saw the cabinet doors open again three years in succession, but whilst the success was welcome, League Cup wins over Aston Villa and Norwich City in 1971 and 1973 were a long way short of the triumphs of before.  Even a record breaking second European Trophy in 1972 – the UEFA Cup – had some of the gloss taken off as it was an all English affair against Wolves.


The game had well and truly changed and it wasn’t just opposing managers that had sacrificed principles that Nicholson was now up against.  The culture of the ‘celebrity footballer’ was taking hold, although it was a long way short of the situation we know today.  All the same, Nicholson found it hard to get the best out of players who did not always show the respect he deserved.  Added to that was the well known culture of ‘under the counter’ payments in the transfer market.  Rightly or wrongly, Spurs refused to be involved in such antics and it is therefore no coincidence that the ‘star’ signings started to dry up at Spurs.  The name of Tottenham and Nicholson were no longer enough to attract the best.


Spurs were in decline by the time Nicholson conceded defeat to this new era.  He still guided Spurs to the UEFA Cup Final in 1974, but the subsequent defeat and the violence on the terraces during that game rather summed up just how things have moved on.  He finally resigned in September of that year after 16 years in charge and eight trophies won.  Whilst he may have left behind a team that took several years to rebuild, there is no escaping the harsh facts for Spurs fans - in the 30 years since his retirement, the club has won only five trophies.


Quite why the Tottenham board chose to ignore Nicholson’s advice that a ‘dream team’ of Danny Blanchflower and Johnny Giles was the best way of regenerating the club in 1974 is something the fans were never told.  Quite how Nicholson’s ties with the club were allowed to be severed and he ended up at West Ham as a scout is another question these men were unable to answer.  The fact that they ignored his advice and appointed ex-Arsenal player Terry Neill speaks volumes for their judgment at the time.


Neill’s successor, Keith Burkinshaw ensured Nicholson returned to the club in a scouting/advisory capacity in 1976 and although he remained behind the scenes, Nicholson was responsible for identifying and brokering some of Burkinshaw's key signings.  Burkinshaw’s Spurs of the early 80’s remain the only team to have come consistently close to matching the achievements and style of Nicholson's great teams of the past.


The mis-management of Spurs since the true glory days of the 60’s by various boards of directors and ill suited managers is a tragic collection of self inflicted wounds that Nicholson must have found hard to stomach.  His comment ‘if we are not in Europe we are nothing’ remains true to this day. 


The story recounted by Hunter Davies at the weekend of Nicholson modestly struggling to take his seat at Wembley amongst the ordinary fans (and not in the royal box) before the 1999 League Cup Final rather sums up how the clubs traditions and pride were eroded over too many years by men who had no feel for the true spirit of the club.  Here was the greatest man in the club’s history fighting his way into the dilapidated old stadium like the other mere mortals, whilst directors and a chairman not fit to clean his boots, let alone lace them, were enjoying the pomp and glory in the royal box.  The clubs President, it's greatest manager, not to mention it's most loyal servant, was apparently not worthy of VIP invitation.  A shocking and shaming story that those responsible for should be ashamed of.


The great man lived long enough to be the first to be inducted into the Spurs Hall of Fame in March 2004.  Just in time.  Without Bill Nicholson, a Spurs Hall of Fame would have had few candidates worthy of the title.  Thanks to him the name Tottenham Hotspur is famous the world over.


Now that the man has passed away, it is up to the current custodians of the club to never forget Bill Nicholson.  Never forget the standards that he set.  Never forget the way he wanted the game to be played.   And therefore never be satisfied with anything but the best.


It is one hell of a legacy.  It’s been a legacy few have been able to live up to since 1974.  Many have failed to even understand it.


But it’s a legacy Spurs fans can be proud and if Nicholson is watching from somewhere else, one he would not want to see squandered forever.


Chris Sadler

I’d just like to tell you about one Summer Holiday morning, me and my pal (we were about 11-12), were at Cheshunt hoping to see various first team players in for pre season training.  

This day I will never forget, as it was the day that Bill Nicholson took time out of his busy schedule to cast a glance at us two, and say something so profound and meaningful, I can still hear his words now ……………………………….  


Magic, I’ve never forgot it and and treasure the moment, I really do.

Martin Holleyoake

The day I met Bill Nicholson is one I will never forget. 

I was only an eight-year-old boy, but already I knew who he was and had an idea of the incredibly high esteem in which he was held.  The reason I knew this was my school mate continuously bragged about living next door to him, told me all about him, what he had achieved and most of all what a lovely man he was. 

I asked if I could meet him one day when I was playing at my mate’s house and Mr. Nicholson was more than happy to oblige.  

It was at that moment that I truly understood what supporting Tottenham Hotspur was all about. 

I hung on his every word, as I imagine all the great players who played under him did.  He told me what a great club Spurs was and how proud I should be to support them and he did so without ever talking down to me or treating me like the child I was.  

Everything I have ever read or heard about Bill Nicholson since then has been backed up by my own personal encounter with him.  

Everyone agrees that he was a great motivator, a tactical maestro and ahead of his time in his coaching, but above all that he was a great man, a gentleman, a man who firmly believed in himself and his ideologies and would hold true to those no matter the cost. 

To me, Bill Nicholson is everything the club stood and should stand for.  He valued the club and its fans, largely because he was the biggest fan of them all.  Football, and all associated with Tottenham in particular, owe Bill Nicholson a great deal - more than mere words can do justice to.  

That he was never knighted is a travesty, but to the many who have been touched by his greatness, he will always be Sir Bill Nicholson. 

May he rest in peace. 

John Nicholson (no relation)

I was born in February 1962, less than a year after Spurs completed what many thought impossible in the modern game; the first league and cup double of the twentieth century. 

A few months later, they had retained the cup and had just missed out on a second consecutive league title.

1963 saw the first European trophy by a British club.  Record breaking feats for a football club, all under the guidance of Bill Nicholson.

One of my earliest memories is of the 1967 FA cup being paraded along the High Road on an open-topped bus. I didn’t realise what was going on, I was only five.  I had never heard of Bill Nicholson, Jimmy Greaves, Dave Mackay, Danny Blanchflower, Bobby Smith, John White or any number of the outstanding players to pull on the lilywhite jersey.  It wasn’t until three years later when my dad started taking me to the Lane, that I had any idea of who or what it was all about.  It, was, of course the Mighty Tottenham Hotspur, and meant players of the calibre of Martin Chivers, Martin Peters, Pat Jennings, Cyril Knowles, Alan Mullery and Alan Gilzean, all under the leadership of Bill Nicholson.  

My cousins helped fill in my areas of ignorance.  They lived in George Lansbury House along White Hart Lane, and I  stayed with them occasionally.  They showed me their scrap books and told me all I needed to know.  Once indoctrinated, there was no turning back.  I collected scrap cuttings of my own, my dad used to bring back broadsheet colour specials from the long-defunct London Evening News featuring the team, I cut out photos and stuck them on my bedroom wall.  

Spurs were everything to me.  

1971 saw the first of two league cup triumphs, sandwiching the second European trophy in the club’s history; the 1972 UEFA Cup.  There always seemed to be something to celebrate and gloat to school friends over.  

Looking back now it seemed such an exciting time.  Triumphs seemed to happen as a matter of course, trying to hear what was happening in European matches on a barely audible transistor radio was a thrill.

Then, in 1974, a few months after losing the UEFA Cup final to Feyenoord amid scenes of mayhem and violence, Bill resigned as manager of Tottenham.  I was stunned.  As a twelve year old I had no real conception that managers of football clubs changed.  Of course, players came and went, but the manager always stayed. I couldn’t imagine Spurs without Bill Nicholson in charge.  He was Spurs and always had been.  Things could never be the same again. How could the club go on without Bill in charge? 

The club did go on, managers came and went, some good, most indifferent.   How could anybody ever hope to live up to the legend that had created the most beautiful football team ever to kick a ball in England ?

The sad truth is, nobody could. Not for the want of trying, of course.

After a short spell working for West Ham, Bill returned to his club.  The club he had been with since the age of sixteen.  He became a consultant to the next most successful manager at the Lane, Keith Burkinshaw, assisting in the FA cup wins of 1981, 1982 and second UEFA cup win of 1984.

It seems impossible to believe that one person could be associated with the same football club for sixty-eight years, but as the club went through many changes, there was always one constant.  I often fantasized that, whilst visiting my cousins, or visiting the graves of relatives in the garden of remembrance on the Lane, that, with him living nearby, I’d bump into him and get chatting about the club, the team and what was needed to return it to it’s position at the top of the league.  I’d ask him about his time as manager and how was he able to mould such feared yet beautiful football teams ? 

I never did meet him.  The nearest I ever came was at a TISA meeting to support Terry Venables.  The room erupted when he came through the door and he took the podium to the sound of wild applause and his name being chanted as if he was Jesus Christ himself.  He said a few words.  Quiet, unassuming and yet with the passion of a man who had the love of the club running through him like the letters in a stick of seaside rock.  He was the club, and he was one of us.

It amazes me now that when Spurs supporters talk of the glory years and of the Spurs way, and of the tradition o f the club, football journalists sneer and say that is all in the past.  But now the great man has left us, they are using those very words to describe the club as if they somehow understand what it means to us. I despise them.   They are a collection of two-faced, hypocrites.  Where were they when supporters were campaigning for Bill’s knighthood ?  Those who decide these things must surely hang their heads in shame for their criminal omission.

And so now the club must look to the future without its greatest talisman.  The signs are promising but we must be patient.  The club needs us all to stand together for the sake of the memory of Billy Nick.  He loved the club like one of us, we cannot let him down.

Farewell Sir Bill.  You’ll always be in our heart. 

Steve White

With reference to Bill Nicholson, I have to say I felt that he should have been treated with the same respect as Brian Clough.  However it appears that only Tottenham held a minutes silence in his honour.  

I do not understand the logic of a minutes silence at matches as sometimes great football men are given the national respect they deserve and on other occasions they are not, as was the case in my opinion with Bill Nicholson.  Even though it is my natural inclination to detest everything Tottenham related, it doesn't mean to say I can't appreciate a great footballing gentleman, nor does it mean that as a lover of the beautiful game I wouldn't give him his due respect.

It would seem there is a grey area here as to whom gets a minutes silence and who doesn't. Of course if there was a minutes silence for every notable football legend who died during the week we would probably have a minutes silence before every match. 

I suspect in the case of Mr. Nicholson it was because he was only an important figures to Tottenham fans and the older generations of fans, such as myself, that he wasn't given a national send off, so to speak.

Best regards
Brian (an Arsenal fan)

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