Charlton, Shankly, Paisley and Clough. These are all names that spring to mind when football fans think of past managers. If you ask a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, they will say Nicholson.
It will be 55 years since William Edward Nicholson – more commonly referred to as Bill Nicholson, Billy Nic or Bill Nic – took charge of his first game as manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The venue was White Hart Lane, the opposition was Everton and the final score was 10-4 with goals from Ryden, Medwin, Harmer, Smith (4), Stokes (2) and Robb. Little did the players, officials and supporters of the club know that this win was just the start of things to come.
Born in Scarborough in January 1919, William was to establish himself as the greatest manager in the history of the Lilywhites. He won thirteen trophies as player and manager for the club at which he spent his whole life, earning 314 caps. As a player he managed six goals for the club, taking most headlines at the defensive side of the pitch. He was a pivotal part of the 1951 League winning “Push and Run” side, managed by Arthur Rowe. This was a tactic Nicholson went on to pursue ten years later as manager of the club.
After retirement, Bill was still in love with the game and was appointed manager of the club in 1958. Within three years, he had transformed his side and they were the first double winners of the 20th century. With the signings of John White & Dave Mackay, Spurs bagged 115 goals in just the League in the 1960-61 season, an incredible feat. The side, with it’s swagger and tempo also went unbeaten for the first eleven games of that triumphant season.
With the League title clinched, Spurs were on their way to Wembley to face Leicester City in an attempt to make history. And so they did. With goals from Yorkshiremen Bobby Smith and Terry Dyson, Spurs were double winners.
That summer, Spurs made the all important signing of Jimmy Greaves, who went on to score 220 goals for Spurs in just nine years. He began as he went to go on, scoring a hattrick on his debut versus Blackpool. Bill Nicholson says that Greaves had a finesse about him, a way of finishing clinically. Nicholson said, “When Jimmy Greaves got into good positions he didn’t try to blast the back of the net out. He seemed to place the ball just inside the post as if he was making a pass to the stanchion in the back of the net.” This was something Bill tried to explain, unsuccessfully, to the likes of Osvaldo Ardiles.
In 1962, Spurs reached the semi-final of the European Cup only to come face-to-face with holders, Benfica. After losing 3-1 away, Spurs walk onto the hallowed White Hart Lane turf with the words of Bill Nicholson, “If we are going to go down, let’s go down fighting.” After going 1-0 down, Bobby Smith levelled the scored before captain, Danny Blanchflower added a penalty. This was to be a consolation, losing 4-3 on aggregate. The opponents in the final would have been Real Madrid, a game Nicholson felt Spurs would have had a good chance of winning. Nonetheless, the 1962 Cup final was Spurs’ with Greaves scoring in the 3rd minute before goals from Smith and Blanchflower gave Spurs a comfortable 3-1 win over Burnley.
However, Nicholson did achieve some European glory, winning the 1963 European Cup Winner’s Cup Final in Rotterdam, a final which was later dubbed “Dyson’s match” after the Spurs player’s incredible performance. Spurs went on to win 5-1 against Atletico Madrid despite injury to Dave Mackay.
However, this success did not last long. Bill lost three of his most influential players within a year. First, Danny Blanchflower after a serious of knee problems, Dave Mackay who twice broke his leg and most tragic of all, John White who was struck dead by lightning under a tree at a golf course. This hampered Spurs’ progress and wrecked Nicholson’s confidence.
However, Spurs did win the FA Cup again in 1967, the club’s fifth triumph since the competition began. In 1972 Spurs regained a European trophy, bringing the UEFA Cup back to N17. However, Nicholson had had enough stress and resigned in 1974.
His role was not over as he took up many roles in the background at the club at scouting and director levels, dedicating his life to the club from an extremely young age.
Even now, after his tragic death in 2004, Spurs fans young and old are familiar with the efforts and success of Bill Nicholson. A man who gave his life to the club on and off the field, something every single one of us would dream to do. The club have a lot to be thankful for and not a day goes by when we remember Bill. I often think to myself after a game, “What would Bill have made of that performance?” or “Would Bill have played that player or that player?” He created the path for future managers and has set the bar extremely high.