Nobby Stiles, 1966 World Cup winner with England, dies aged 78

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Watch: England World Cup winner Nobby Stiles dies aged 78

Nobby Stiles, one of England’s 1966 World Cup winning heroes, has died aged 78 after a long period with prostate cancer and advanced dementia.

A European Cup winner with Manchester United in 1968, Stiles will be forever remembered for his victory jig at Wembley two years earlier, clutching the Jules Rimet trophy in one hand, the “Toothless Tiger’s” false teeth in the other.

“It’s still the biggest thing that happened to me,” Stiles, who also played for Middlesbrough and Preston, told the Guardian in 2002. “Everyone still wants a piece of you because of it. To be fair, I’m not as busy as some of the other lads. But wherever you go, what you did means so much to people. Not just lads of my age, you’d expect that. But kids of me grandkids’ age, they come up to me and go: ‘Hey, you, you’re the fella with no teeth who danced round Wembley, aren’t you?’ In a way, you end up belonging to everyone.”

Tributes were swiftly paid on Friday. Geoff Hurst, another World Cup winner, described Stiles as “the heart and soul of the team”. He tweeted: “Hugely sad to hear Nobby has passed away. We were playing together way back for the U17s, U23s, and of course, for England, in fact, it was my first cap when Nobby scored, I think he was wearing No. 9! Great character, and the heart and soul of the team, he will be sorely missed.”

<span>Photograph: PA</span>
Photograph: PA

United said they were “extremely saddened” and added: “Nobby was a titan of the club’s history, cherished for his heart and personality on and off the pitch. He will be sorely missed by us all.”

Stiles, a skilful and creative midfielder, was an uncompromising tackler and his robust style was the subject of some criticism during the 1966 tournament, particularly when his “rough play” against Jacques Simon put the French playmaker out of the game. But Alf Ramsey stayed loyal to his ever-present, bustling midfield terrier.

“By all accounts the [FA selection] committee told him in no uncertain terms I couldn’t play, that England needed to make an example of me. I was a liability, they said. Alf told them he’d resign if he couldn’t pick who he wanted. He was prepared to resign in the middle of a World Cup over me. I never found that out till he’d died, Alf. What a man.”

Norbert Peter Patrick Paul Stiles, balding at 24, diminutive and short-sighted, by his own admission had to overcome numerous hurdles to become a professional footballer. In his 2003 autobiography, he wrote that had been born “a half-blind dwarf who was bombed by the Germans and run over by a trolley bus when he was one”.

Nobby Stiles ahead of auctioning his memorabilia, including his World Cup winner’s medal, in 2010.
Nobby Stiles ahead of auctioning his memorabilia, including his World Cup winner’s medal, in 2010. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The former Manchester United midfielder, who lived close to Old Trafford until his death, was – like many of his England teammates – forced to sell his medals and football memorabilia to raise money for his family. An auction in 2010 raised £425,000, with United paying a total of £209,000 for his World Cup and European Cup winners’ medals.

Stiles managed Preston, Vancouver Whitecaps and West Brom after his playing career and had a stint coaching for United under Sir Alex Ferguson. His latter years were characterised by his struggles with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia and his powers of speech declined. His family were critical of the lack of support for Stiles and thought that football – and particularly the Professional Footballers’ Association – should have shown a commitment within Stiles’ lifetime to complete research on the link between heading a football and degenerative brain disease.

In 2010, aged 68 he suffered a mini stroke and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013.

The Football Association said it was “incredibly saddened” to learn of Stiles’ death. The former England striker Gary Lineker paid tribute. “Saddened to hear that Nobby Stiles has passed away,” he tweeted. “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.”

West Brom added on social media: “Farewell to the most famous grin in English football.”

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