Cyril Knowles was a young Yorkshireman when he arrived at White Hart Lane, but developed into the first choice left back for 10 years and was as much an attacking force, as a cool defender for Spurs.
Starting his football playing days in the South Elmsall District Boys team in Yorkshire, Cyril went on to play for the local Hemsworth side and spent a year with Manchester United as a youngster playing outside left, but returned home after a year to play for Hamsworth, as he felt he was making little progress at the Old Trafford. He tried the Wolverhampton Wanderers nursery at Wath on Deane, but found himself in the same situation, so before he started playing football for a career, he was driving the pit ponies to the coal-mine taking loads of timber to the colliery. His last attempt at getting a contract was with Middlesbrough, who he wrote to for a trial as a full back. They took him on in that position.
Signed as a professional with Boro and he had made only 39 first team appearances in the 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons before he joined Tottenham from Middlesbrough in May 1964 and was initially played at right back, moving to the other flank when Ron Henry was no longer first choice. Knowles was a regular missing only one game in the 1965-66 season and had little serious competition to oust him from his place in the side. Always keen to control and take the ball forward, his ability in crossing, long-distance passing and from free-kicks were his strengths. Cyril was rarely rushed when in possession and his calm approach combined with the quiet Mike England and the laid-back Pat Jennings provided a cool defensive core that helped maintain a good goals against record.
With a number of happy recipients of his crosses into the box, he would have had a good “assists” record had such things existed in those days. His slight frame looked likely to be knocked off the ball without a great deal of difficulty, but Knowles was full of Yorkshire grit and he was determined to get into positions where he could deliver the ball into his forwards. While he never appeared to be that quick, his pace was deceptive and he could out-pace opponents and also get back to his station rapidly should he be caught up-field in attack.
His over-lapping (going forward beyond the midfielder or winger) was a result of his early days playing out wide and he was one of the players who played the game with a smile on his face. That enjoyment was no doubt derived from the fact that Bill Nicholson had chosen him as a player who he identified as one to come in and play his natural game. And Knowles' style was rewarded with trophies at Tottenham (FA Cup 1967, League Cups 1971 & 1973, UEFA Cup 1972), as well as four England caps at a time when Terry Cooper of Leeds United was the first choice. Cyril had previously won six Under-23 caps for his country.
Cyril was hit by a knee injury in December 1973, which ruled him out of the side and allowed Terry Naylor to gain a run in the team. He returned to the first eleven in September 1974, when Bill Nicholson had retired, with the team struggling. Knowles showed that his know-how was vital and he helped the team to escape relegation with a last game 4-2 home win over Leeds United, in which he not only put in a fine defensive performance, but also showed his typical adventurous side by scoring a free-kick curled around the wall and slotted away a pressure penalty to help earn the points that kept Spurs in the top flight.
The knee problem restricted him to just a few more games before he retired from playing.
Away from the game, Cyril had a share in a fish and chip shop in Pudsey, Yorkshire, which his brother and co-owner Kelvin ran, while another brother - Peter - played for Wolverhampton Wanderers and England Under-21, but gave up the game to become a Jehovah's Witness.
On leaving the playing side of the game, Cyril initially became Tottenham's Yorkshire scout and then managed Hertford Town and was a coach at Doncaster Rovers between 1977 and 1981. He then became assistant manager at Middlesbrough for two years, before getting his first managerial post at Darlington. Gained promotion to the Third Division in his second season and was well regarded, but resigned in 1987 when the club were relegated back to Division Four. He then moved almost as far away from Darlington as possible, taking the reins at Torquay United and he had two good years there, before resigning in October 1989 to return to the North-East with struggling Hartlepool United.
He kept the Monkey-hangers in the Fourth Division that season and then won promotion the following season. However, in February 1991, Knowles was diagnosed as having a brain tumour and he underwent brain surgery, meaning he was unable to maintain his role at the club.
Cyril Knowles died on 31st August 1991 died of the cancer that he had been suffering with.
His life had been dogged by tragedy, as his son was killed when he was a rear passenger in the car, when a stone was thrown up by a lorry in front and it went through the windscreen, hitting his son in the head and killing him in November 1974.
Knowles was a popular figure in most places he played and managed, with Spurs holding a memorial match at White Hart Lane three months after his death and Hartlepool named a new stand after him in 1995.