Gary Neville hails the late Nobby Stiles as a ‘great man’ and big influence

By PA Sport Staff
·5-min read

Gary Neville has hailed Nobby Stiles as a great man, a great footballer and a great influence after the World Cup winner’s death at the age of 78.

Stiles was a key part of two famous sides, England’s triumphant class of 1966 and the Manchester Untied team which made history by winning the European Cup two years later.

Having established that glittering legacy in the game he went into management and coaching, where he proved a major inspiration to a young Neville and his fellow graduates from the famed ‘class of ’92’, who went on to take the Red Devils back to the top of the game.

“It’s an incredibly sad day. He loved Manchester United and he loved his country also. He represented both with great pride and spirit,” Neville told Sky Sports News.

“He was fantastic to work with, a great man. His messages taught us how to battle and fight in the red shirt.

“His coaching style was typical of how he played the game. He wanted to make sure we were never intimidated on the pitch, that we went out there and demonstrated our desire. I can still hearing him saying your best friends on the football pitch are your six studs.

The class of '92 all benefited from Stiles' words of wisdom.
The class of ’92 all benefited from Stiles’ words of wisdom (Yui Mok/PA)

“Nobby wanted us to go out there and make sure we always won the battle, to make sure we applied ourselves properly in our work ethic. He was a massive influence on us and everybody at the club. You don’t realise when you’re 16 but you realise now looking back how blessed we were to be in the company of people like Nobby Stiles. It was like the best football university you could ever have.”

Recalling the famous sight of Stiles dancing with the Jules Rimet trophy after defeating West Germany 4-2 at Wembley in the World Cup final, Neville added: “Other than the picture we always see of Bobby Moore lifting the trophy it is that image of Nobby Stiles dancing that is probably second, or first, as the most iconic moment in English football history.

“It was something instinctive, something that was not him in a football sense, doing that little dance around the pitch. We were never fortunate enough to win a major tournament so I can only imagine how happy and proud he was.”

Soccer – World Cup England 1966 – Semi Final – Portugal v England – Wembley Stadium
Stiles jumps with Eusebio during England’s 1966 World Cup semi-final win over Portugal (PA Archive)

England might never have become world champions had Stiles not played a blinder in the semi-final against Portugal, brilliantly handling the threat of the revered Eusebio.

It is that display that sticks with his Three Lions team-mate George Cohen.

“It was the most wonderful performance. One of the most outstanding I’ve ever seen,” he told TalkSport.

“He just made Eusebio go wherever he wanted him to go. He never allowed him to turn, and Eusebio never took him on. It was one of the best midfield performances I’ve ever seen. Eusebio went off crying.

“He was an intimidating player, one of those who understood where he was on the pitch and understood the players he was playing against. His instincts were first-class. He had a football brain. Would he have fitted in today’s game? Not half.”

Bryan Robson, one of Stiles’ heirs in the midfield engine room at Old Trafford, was full of praise for his professional and personal qualities.

“Nobby was a great player and for me doesn’t get enough recognition over the years,” he told Sky Sports News.

“It’s always the attacking payers who got the recognition. Nobby was one of those team players with loads of energy, a great defender and good simple passer of the ball.

“And what a character. When I joined Manchester United it was a delight to meet him. He had so many stories and a great wit about him. He’ll be sadly missed from football circles because he was such a great bloke as well as a great player.”

A statement on the Football Association website described Stiles as “a vital member of England’s World Cup winning team from 1966, when he played in every minute of the campaign on home soil”.

It added: “Despite his diminutive physique, Stiles’ combative and tough-tackling style of play made him an effective and fearsome player”.

Players past and present lined up to offer tributes on social media.

England and Manchester United defender Harry Maguire also gave his wishes to the family of Stiles, hailing him as a “true legend”.

Gary Lineker tweeted with an affectionate nod to his distinctive looks.

“Saddened to hear that Nobby Stiles has passed away. Another of our 1966 World Cup winning heroes leaves us. He had a heart that was even bigger than the gap in his teeth. RIP Nobby,” he wrote.

Former Red Devils goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel posted that he was a “great hero”, former England keeper Peter Shilton toasted him as “one of the great 66 legends”.

Meanwhile the Alzheimer’s Society made their own tribute.

“We’re incredibly sorry to hear that World Cup legend Nobby Stiles has died, aged 78, while living with dementia,” the charity wrote.

“We’re sending our thoughts and well-wishes to Nobby’s family and loved ones.”