Following the stories which Wilf McGuinness, Jackie Blanchflower and Tommy Docherty brought to the after dinner table, it is, like Wilf another Collyhurst man we turn to this week. Nobby Stiles.
Being born Norbert in the hard streets of Manchester soon give cause for a quick change. In Norbert Stiles case, it became Nobby very quickly, although in the eyes of two of football’s greatest names, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alf Ramsey, it was not as quick. Sir Matt always referred to him as Norrie, whilst Sir Alf always strictly stuck to Norbert. To all the millions of Manchester United followers however, it is most definitely Nobby, a much loved son of the club.
Joining the club in the September prior to Munich, it was cleaning the boots of another wing half legend, Eddie Colman, which Nobby was detailed when he first joined the club. Mind you, as Nobby recalled the journey from Collyhurst to Old Trafford to sign his contract was a memorable one as Nobby informs in his after dinner stories.’My father Charlie, was an undertaker in the area we lived and when we got the call to go to Old Trafford to sign my contract, he said, ‘Jump in son and I will take you down there’ Now, jump in son, meant in his hearse!. Nobby remembers the journey well. ’It must have took four hours to get to Old Trafford from Collyhurst! There we were in his hearse not overtaking and not being overtaken. Imagine what it was like going up the Warwick Road to meet Jimmy Murphy to sign in it!’
Thankfully, sign he did but in the early days of his career, Nobby was moved around the team. I saw him play at right back, right half, left half and inside right. This versatility proved to be his first disappointment in 1963 as United moved towards the Wembley Final of the FA Cup.
He was at right half in the earlier rounds until Pat Crerand qualified after his move from Glasgow Celtic, but when the side got to the semi final against Southampton, Pat was in at right half although Nobby still got in the side at inside right playing alongside his future brother in law Johnny Giles. Sadly for Nobby though, as United reached the final against Leicester City, Matt Busby went for the extra experience of Albert Quixall at inside right so Nobby missed out. By the following season though, luckily, Matt Busby had seen real possibilities at left half for Norrie, as he called him, in place of Maurice Setters who Matt was getting tired of.
In the side full time, Nobby was a vital part of the 1965 Championship side, which earned him an England call up, with his debut being against Scotland at Wembley in 1965. I remember going to that match, played in pouring rain, with Nobby and Bobby Charlton playing right half and forward for England, and Pat Crerand and Denis Law playing the same positions for Scotland. Nobby recalled the strange events in the Wembley tunnel before the match. ‘I was opposite Denis Law and went to greet him, when he made it very plain he had no idea who I was and didn’t want to know anything about me!’ Denis showing his patriotic Scots nature!
Incredibly, forty eight hours later, all four players were in the United side which earned a draw at Sheffield Wednesday to stay top of the league on the way to the title.
Nobby made the breakthrough though to International standard just as the World Cup was to be staged in England in 1966. From being under the expert managerial skills of Busby it was into the arms of another legend, Alf Ramsey. He saw that unbelievable spirit Nobby had of not being beaten and had him in his side at right half as England moved through the final stages, with at one point Nobby nearly causing an International incident as France were in uproar due to one of his ‘tackles’ on their star player in a qualifying match. Alf Ramsey fully backed his man and was not for leaving him out as England reached the semi finals and a match with Portugal. They had, of course, a true World star in Eusebio a player Nobby had come across playing for United against Benfica. Let Nobby paint the scene in the Wembley dressing room before the match. ’Alf Ramsey always called me by my full name of Norbert and just before the match he took me to one side and said, ‘Norbert, I want you to take Eusebio out’ Nobby replied, ‘Do you mean for the game Alf or for good?’
Nobby did the job alright, as he did two year later when Eusebio stood between Manchester United and the European Cup. Victories in those two major competitions, along with his two Championship medals prove what a fine career Nobby had for both club and country. After Old Trafford Nobby had a variety of roles around football, one of which was coaching the young players at Manchester United, some of whom became part of the famous ‘Class of 92’, but he certainly found a niche in after dinner speaking .Honest in doing that as he was a player, the people loved him. When you combined him with his very funny son, John, you had a really entertaining night. Nobby is, sadly, not too well at the moment, but he is forever in Manchester United’s history