Bill Nicholson (footballer)

Bill Nicholson

Bill Nicholson in 1961
Personal information
Full name William Edward Nicholson
Date of birth (1919-01-26)26 January 1919
Place of birth Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England
Date of death 23 October 2004(2004-10-23) (aged 85)
Place of death Hertfordshire, England
Playing position Wing-half
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1938–1955 Tottenham Hotspur 314 (6)
National team
1951 England 1 (1)
Teams managed
1958–1974 Tottenham Hotspur

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

William Edward "Bill" Nicholson OBE (26 January 1919 – 23 October 2004) was an English football player, coach, manager and scout who had a 36-year association with Tottenham Hotspur.

Early life

Born in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, the eighth of nine children. Nicholson was a pupil at the town's Gladstone Road Junior School before attending, Scarborough High School for Boys, (now Graham School).[1] He worked briefly in a laundry after leaving school, but at the age of 16 he was invited to a trial at Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs), where he arrived on 16 March 1936. After a month's trial, he was taken on as a ground-staff boy at £2 a week. He signed as a full professional at the age of 18 and played a few matches for the first team before he joined the Durham Light Infantry on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. As a professional footballer he was sent on a Physical Education course and was made a sergeant-instructor, training new intakes of troops throughout the war. During the Second World War he was a guest player for several clubs including Newcastle United where he played on 19 occasions.[2] Although the war probably cost him half his playing career, he did not regret it as his experiences taught him the man-management skills which were to have such a great effect later in his career.[3]

Return to Spurs

In 1946 Nicholson returned to the Spurs first team, playing at centre half for two seasons, then moving to right half for a further six years. He was a vital part of the legendary "push and run" Tottenham team which won the league championship in the 1950–51 season.[4]

He made his full international debut for England on 19 May 1951 against Portugal at Goodison Park, Liverpool, and made an immediate impression by scoring with his first touch of the ball after only 19 seconds.[3] Unfortunately this was his only international appearance, because of injuries, the dominance of Billy Wright, and on many occasions he put his club before his country, saying "My duty is to get fit for Tottenham. Well, they pay my wages, don't they?".{Davies, Glory Game, p. 71} Of his only appearance he said "Stan Pearson nodded it back and I ran on to let go a first time shot which, from the moment I hit it, I knew was going in. But for the next game they brought back Billy Wright and I accepted that because he was the better player". Nicholson is the only player to have scored for England with his first touch in international football and subsequently never play at that level again.[3]


Any player coming to Spurs, whether he's a big signing or just a ground staff boy, must be dedicated to the game and to the club. He must never be satisfied with his last performance, and he must hate losing.
 Bill Nicholson[5]

Nicholson took a Football Association (FA) coaching course and joined the coaching staff at Tottenham upon his retirement as a player. He quickly rose through the ranks of the coaching staff to become first team coach in 1955. He subsequently assisted England manager Walter Winterbottom at the 1958 FIFA World Cup.[3]

On 11 October 1958, Nicholson was called to the Tottenham boardroom and appointed manager of the club in succession to Jimmy Anderson. At the time the club was sixth from the bottom of the First Division and there was little indication that the greatest period in the history of the club was about to begin. That afternoon, in the club's first game under Nicholson's management, Tottenham Hotspur beat Everton 10–4 at White Hart Lane.[6] This represented a new club record, surpassed only by their 13–2 (10–0 at half-time) FA Cup replay win over Crewe Alexandra in the 1959–60 season.[7]

Bust of Nicholson at White Hart Lane

Less than two years later Spurs wrote their place in the history books when they won the Football League championship and the FA Cup in the 1960–61 season, the first "double" of the twentieth century. Spurs dominated the opposition that year, winning their first eleven games and scoring 115 goals in 42 games. The following year they won the FA Cup again, and narrowly missed a place in the European Cup Final, losing to Benfica in the semi-final.

In the 1962–63 season, Nicholson again put Spurs in the history books when they became the first British club to win a major European trophy. In Rotterdam on 15 May 1963, Spurs defeated favourites Atlético Madrid 5–1 to win the European Cup Winners Cup.

In 1967 Nicholson's Spurs won their third FA Cup in seven years by beating Chelsea in the first-ever all-London final. This was followed by a string of trophies in the early 1970s – the League Cup was won in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup in 1972.

As the 1970s wore on, Nicholson became increasingly disillusioned with football, in particular the increased player wages and the endemic hooliganism. He resigned as manager of Spurs in August 1974, soon after they had lost the UEFA Cup final to Feyenoord, having been appalled by the hooliganism and rioting he witnessed at that match.[8] He left Spurs with great dignity and respect from everyone at the club, and is considered one of the most important figures in the club's history.


Tottenham Hotspur (as player and manager)

Football League First Division

Football League Second Division

FA Cup

Football League Cup

FA Charity Shield

European Cup Winners' Cup


European Cup

Post-management career

After quitting the Spurs manager's job, Nicholson spent a year at West Ham United as an adviser.[9] When Keith Burkinshaw became Spurs' manager in 1976, one of his first requests was that Nicholson be brought back to White Hart Lane as a consultant.[9] His knowledge and experience were invaluable, and he showed that he still had an eye for players by recommending several to Burkinshaw, including Graham Roberts, Tony Galvin, Gary Mabbutt and Glenn Hoddle.[10] Nicholson continued to work as a consultant until 1991, when he was awarded the title of Club President.[9]


Nicholson was awarded the OBE in 1975.[11] In 1999 an approach road to White Hart Lane was named Bill Nicholson Way in his honour.[6] In 2001, the club played a testimonial match in Nicholson's honour against Italian club ACF Fiorentina.[12] In 2003 Nicholson was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his impact as a manager.[3] Spurs fans had also campaigned for many years to have Nicholson knighted in recognition of his outstanding achievements and contribution to football but they were unsuccessful.[4][13] Bill Nicholson died on 23 October 2004 after a long illness.[4][6]

Famous quote

Bill Nicholson said, 'It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory.' it was listed as the 4th greatest managerial quote in the Daily Mail's List of the 'Top 50 Managerial Quotes'.[14] Sports historian, Norman Giller, who has written biographies on both Nicholson and his skipper Danny Blanchflower, traces this quote to Blanchflower. "Bill was a blunt Yorkshireman who just did not use this sort of language," Giller has written in[15] "Danny was the poet of the team and he both said this and wrote it in his newspaper columns when captain of Tottenham. Somehow somebody has put the words into Nicholson's mouth, but it was definitely Danny who said it first."

See also


  1. The Scarborough News report Retrieved 28 December 2012
  2. Bill Nicholson fact-file Retrieved 24 October 2014
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "Bill Nicholson". Football Hall of Fame. National Football Museum. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  4. 1 2 3 Hart, Simon (23 October 2004). "Tottenham mourn Nicholson". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  5. Hale, Steve E. (2005). Mr. Tottenham Hotspur: Bill Nicholson OBE - Memories of a Spurs Legend. Hornchurch: Football World. ISBN 0-9548336-5-1.
  6. 1 2 3 "Tottenham legend Nicholson dies". BBC Sport. 23 October 2004. Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  7. "Tottenham". Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  8. Bill Nicholson: Football's Perfectionist
  9. 1 2 3 "Bill Nicholson". The Independent. 25 October 2004. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  10. "Glenn Hoddle". Football Hall of Fame. National Football Museum. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
  11. Daily Telegraph obituary Retrieved 4 February 2011
  12. Warshaw, Andrew (9 August 2001). "Fans honour Nicholson". BBC Sport. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  13. Cheese, Caroline (31 December 2002). "Football's missing knight". BBC Sport. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  14. Top 50 managerial quotes Retrieved 13 October 2011
  15. Bill Nicholson Revisited Retrieved 7 November 2014

Further reading

External links

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