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Class of 51 - Bill Nicholson

10 February 2016|Tottenham Hotspur

Manager Arthur Rowe used just 19 players when we won the Division One title for the first time in season 1950-51. Now, 65 years on, we pay tribute to each one. This week we spotlight the contribution of half-back BILL NICHOLSON.

Games: 41.  Goals: 1.

Bill Nicholson is one of those unique people in football who won the league title both as a player and as a manager. Indeed his contribution to the history of Tottenham Hotspur will surely never be surpassed.

Arriving as a teenage member of the groundstaff in 1936, he served as player, coach, assistant manager and manager over the next 38 years. Of the 17 major honours won by the club, Bill was involved in nine of them.

After a near two-year break, he returned in 1976 to add a further 21 years to his tally, this time working behind the scenes to help unearth future talent for the club.

Born at Vine Street, Scarborough, on January 26, 1919, William Edward Nicholson was the second youngest of nine children. On leaving school he worked as a laundry assistant for six months and played for the Young Liberals side in a local league.

Below: Bill (front, third from left) with our Northfleet nursery side in 1938

Recommended by his manager to our York based scout, he was invited for a trial by chief scout Ben Ives in a letter dated February 29, 1936.

Assigned to the White Hart Lane groundstaff, Bill also featured for Northfleet Amateurs during 1937 and was given a professional contract by our nursery club Northfleet United. On April 18, 1938, he gained a Kent Senior Cup winners medal in the final against Dover.

Bill signed professional forms for us during August, 1938, and made his league debut at Blackburn Rovers on October 22. At the time he was the 10th youngest player to have featured in our League team.

During the war Bill served with the Durham Light Infantry, rising to the rank of sergeant. He worked as an instructor in infantry training and physical education as well as playing plenty of Service football, including seven games for the Northern Command between May, 1943 and February, 1945.

Below: Bill runs out at the Lane


Extended spells as a guest player at Newcastle United and Darlington were supplemented by briefer stints with Hartlepools United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Fulham. After the war he served the Central Mediterranean Forces HQ at Udini, Italy. On returning to civvy street he attended FA coaching courses at Birmingham University and passed his Full Badge at the first attempt.

By 1948 Bill had settled in to the right half berth and was a regular reserve for the England team. During December that year he scored the first of his six League goals - in 314 appearances for us - at Fulham, which was also the club’s 2,000th in the Football League.

The ‘Push and Run’ campaigns of 1950 and 1951  saw Bill miss just four games as we lifted the Second and First Division championships in consecutive seasons.

In 1950 he travelled to the Brazil World Cup as a member of the England squad having played three times for the ‘B’ team and gained FA and Football League representative honours. His only Full cap was gained at Goodison Park against Portugal on May 19, 1951. Bill scored within the first 30 seconds of a 5-2 victory. In all, he stood by as a reserve on 22 occasions.

Under invitation from the FA, Bill coached the varsity and Pegasus teams during the early Fifties. When his playing career ended in 1954 he switched to a coaching role and assisted with the England Under-23 team.

Below: Bill with the 'double' trophies at the Lane


Appointed assistant manager at Tottenham in 1955 he took over as manager on October 11, 1958, to enjoy a 16 year career at the helm. The early years saw him continue a role helping with the England Full and Under-23 sides.

After the Double of 1961, the FA Cup was retained in 1962 and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup won in 1963. Our fifth FA Cup triumph was secured in 1967, the Football League Cup in both 1971 and 1973 and the UEFA Cup of 1972.

These feats brought many firsts; the first Double of the 20th century was followed by the first European trophy win by a British club; the first British team to win two different European competitions; and the first to win the League Cup twice.

On August 29, 1974, Bill announced his retirement as manager. He remained in charge until September 13. Following a spell at West Ham United as managerial consultant, he returned to serve us as a consultant and chief scout in July, 1976.

His connection with our scouting department continued until his retirement in July, 1997. During July, 1991 he was appointed Club President.

Below: Bill at 'home' at White Hart Lane


Among his personal honours, Bill received an OBE in 1975 and the PFA merit award in 1984.  In December, 1998, he received the Freedom of the Borough of Haringey and the road leading to the stadium from Tottenham High Road was renamed ‘Bill Nicholson Way  in April, 1999, and  incorporated into the club address.

On Sunday, August 21, 1983, we staged a testimonial match in his honour against West Ham and again against AC Fiorentina on Wednesday, August 8, 2001. Bill became the first inductee into the Tottenham Hotspur Hall of Fame at a dinner held on March 11, 2004.  He was similarly honoured soon afterwards by The National Football Museum.

Sadly Bill Nicholson passed away at a Potters Bar hospital on October 23, 2004, aged 85. A Memorial Service was staged at White Hart Lane on November 7, 2004.

Compiled from an original article by Andy Porter...