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The Gills versus England 1966 | Nobby Stiles

Andrew Ford continues his brilliant series.

7 May 2020

Next in our series, it's Nobby Stiles.

Nobby Stiles played every minute of England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup campaign, winning the fifteenth of his twenty-eight caps as England kicked off the competition with a goalless draw against Uruguay.

He seriously injured French midfielder Jacques Simon with a crude late tackle in our 2-0 Group victory over France, for which he was booked, leading to calls from the media and the Football Association for the player to be dropped. England manager Alf Ramsey publicly defended Stiles, stating that the tackle had been mistimed, rather than malicious.

England scored their second goal against France whilst Simon was down injured, following the tackle. Arguably Nobby’s best performance in an England shirt came in the semi-final against Portugal, when he man-marked Eusébio, practically nullifying the effect of the legendary Portuguese player for the whole game. After the 4-2 win against West Germany in the Final, Stiles was pictured holding the Jules Rimet Trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other.

The tough-tackling Stiles played the majority of his club career with Manchester United, spending eleven years at Old Trafford, during which he won two League titles and the European Cup. He left United in 1971 and went on to have spells with Middlesbrough and Preston North End, and it was whilst he was with the latter that he made his only club appearance against Gillingham.

It was a Division Three match played at Priestfield Stadium on Wednesday 6 November 1974. The Gills had won promotion in 1973-74 but were struggling to adapt to life at the higher level, going into the game bottom of the table, with just two wins from their opening sixteen matches. In contrast, Preston were third.

The match attracted a crowd of 10,484, most drawn to Priestfield by the appearance of Bobby Charlton for the visitors. Stiles was North End’s substitute that night and Dave Parr’s match report included, ‘Preston folded after Feely’s second goal and, even the introduction, late in the game, of the old toothless tiger, Nobby Stiles, could not inspire them.’

The appearance of Stiles did mean that the Gills faced a brief spell that evening when the opposition included two of England’s eleven World Cup Final winning players, the other being Charlton. Peter Feely, on loan from Fulham at the time, levelled for Gillingham in the last minute of the first half, after Mel Holden had put the visitors ahead, and scored thirty seconds into the second period, to give us a 2-1 win.

In October 2010, Stiles became the eighth member of England’s World Cup winning squad to sell his medal, Manchester United’s club museum buying it at auction for £160,000. He said that he had been resigned for some time to selling his collection of medals, England caps and shirts to raise money for his retirement. His decision to sell had been accelerated after he’d suffered a stroke during the previous summer. The 45 lots sold for £424,438.

Nobby, who was made an MBE in 2000, is now 77 but has been dogged by ill-health in recent years. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 and it was announced, in 2016, that he was suffering from advanced dementia.


By Andy Ford

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