Nobby Stiles, whose Wembley pitch celebratory dance kept the World Cup trophy in one hand and his dentures in the other, and described as the “heart and soul” of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team, died at the age of 78. Stiles was a tough-tackling midfielder and an integral part of the Manchester United side under Matt Busby who became the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968.
He played every minute of the World Cup campaign and is largely credited for keeping Portugal’s superstar Eusebio under wraps in the semi-final.
“The heart and soul of the team, he will be sorely missed,” tweeted Geoff Hurst who scored a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over West Germany in the final. Known as ‘The Toothless Tiger’ — for his physical appearance not for his whole-hearted tackling — Stiles suffered a series of health issues in later life, including prostate cancer and dementia.
In 2010, after a mini-stroke, he decided to sell his medals in order to leave something to his family. United bought them for £200,000 ($259,000) and the medals are now housed in the club’s museum.
“The Stiles family are sad to announce that Nobby Stiles passed away peacefully today (30/10/2020) surrounded by his family after a long illness,” read a family statement. “The family kindly ask for privacy at this sad time.”
Stiles, who also won two league titles with United, is the latest member of Alf Ramsey’s 1966 team to pass away. Jack Charlton died earlier this year and Norman Hunter — who did not play in the final but was in the squad — also passed away. Only George Cohen, Hurst, Roger Hunt and Stiles’s fellow Manchester United icon Bobby Charlton remain alive of the starting XI.
Though Stiles appeared in the 1966 tournament, he ended up with just 28 caps, the lowest number of any side winning the World Cup. Stiles was born in the cellar of the family home during a Second World War air raid in May 1942 and as he related in his 2003 biography ‘After The Ball’ it was not the end of his close shaves. “I was born a half-blind dwarf (he suffered from severe short sightedness) who was bombed by the Germans and run over by a trolley bus when I was one.”
Stiles — who was a devout Roman Catholic and went to Mass every day of the finals — was one of the most instantly recognisable faces of the 1966 team with a grin which revealed a number of teeth missing. “The image of Nobby dancing is the most iconic moment in British football history aside from Bobby Moore lifting the trophy,” former United great Gary Neville said. “Such gregariousness was not really his style.”
England’s official Twitter account tweeted their condolences. “We’re incredibly saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles, a key member of our @FIFAWorldCup-winning squad, at the age of 78. All of our thoughts are with Nobby’s loved ones.”
We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles. He played in every minute of @England's #WorldCup-winning campaign in 1966. His performance in the semi-final, especially, will never be forgotten. RIP Nobby. pic.twitter.com/4W8fb6qJqJ
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) October 30, 2020
Stiles left United in 1971, going on to play for Middlesbrough and Preston. He later managed Preston between 1977 and 1981, before coaching Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and then West Brom between 1985 and 1986.
He returned to United as a youth team coach under Alex Ferguson in 1989 for a four-year stint where he encountered the class of ‘92 including David Beckham, Neville and Ryan Giggs. “You suddenly realise at moments like these how special it is to spend time with people like Nobby,” added Neville.
“He was ferocious, never left anything out there when he played. Winning was doing everything possible to achieve that.” Stiles was married to Kay, a sister of Irish international Johnny Giles, and had three children.