'We were like brothers' - Pat on Cyril Knowles - Boro starlet, Spurs legend
Thu 02 January 2020, 15:45|Tottenham Hotspur
Cyril Knowles played for two clubs in a glittering career – Middlesbrough and Spurs. It kicked-off with one season at Boro’s old Ayresome Park in 1963/64 before Bill Nichsolson snapped him up in 1964. ‘Nice one, Cyril’ played 506 times for us, collecting the FA Cup, two League Cups and the UEFA Cup, before injury forced his retirement in 1976.
Another colossus of Spurs, Pat Jennings, joined us soon after Cyril in the summer of 1964. The friends who shared digs as youngsters (Pat was 18, Cyril 19 when they signed) just one of Pat’s goal kicks from White Hart Lane went on to become two of only four players to reach 500+ games for the Club and star in one of our most successful eras.
Speaking this week as we prepare to face Middlesbrough at the Riverside in the FA Cup third round on Sunday (2pm), Pat fondly recalled those days with Cyril in digs and a player as charismatic off the pitch as he was on it...
“We joined within a couple of weeks of each other and were in digs together,” said Pat, third in our all-time list on 590 appearances. “I’ll always remember, it was Mrs Galloway’s, St Paul’s Road, which was literally around the back of the stadium. I still go past there now when I’m coming in for home matches.
“It seems incredible now that there were two first team players living in digs together like that, both before we got married. It was just something you did in those days, much like the young players in the Academy now.
“But for two first team players to be there... on matchdays, we’d always hear all the trucks arriving early, the fans buzzing around. We still drove into the stadium and funnily enough, we both had the same car – and the same key would open both cars! Whichever car was closest would be the car we’d travel in to training or matches!
“I’d got used to living in digs a little because of my days at Watford (Pat joined Watford aged 17 in April, 1963). I’d never been away from home until then. I joined Tottenham just before my 19th birthday. In those days, Tottenham was us. We were up and down the High Road all hours. We used to go shopping at Bruce Grove.
“Cyril was brilliant. A lovely, lovely lad. I used to go back to his home in Yorkshire, a village called Fitzwilliam, up to his mum’s and he came with me over to Ireland at times as well. They were great, great days and that was a brilliant team.”
What a team, indeed. Jennings, Kinnear, Knowles – the first three names on the teamsheet in the 1967 FA Cup Final, the League Cup wins of 1971 and 1973 and UEFA Cup triumph in 1972.
“Cyril was brilliant, just brilliant, one of the first attacking full-backs,” added Pat. “Both Cyril and Joe Kinnear were trailblazers for the attacking full-back. Cyril had magic in that left foot.
“I remember we played Torino in the Anglo Italian Cup in 1971 and the two of them absolutely rinsed Torino that night. They couldn’t cope with them because full-backs in those days didn’t really attack. But our two boys, every time they had an opportunity they were up the line getting in crosses for the likes of Martin Chivers and Alan Gilzean.
“I always remember he scored twice when we had to beat Leeds United to stay up in 1975. We beat them 4-2 that night. They were soon off to the European Cup Final. That was a special night because none of us wanted to take the Club down.”
Subject of the famous chant and pop song 'Nice One Cyril' released in 1973 and now adopted by fans for Heung-Min Son, 'Nice One Sonny...' – more about that here – Cyril was forced to retire due to a knee injury in 1976.
He had brief spells as manager at Hertford Town and as our Yorkshire scout before joining the coaching staff at Doncaster Rovers in 1977. Four years there were followed by two years back at Middlesbrough where he served as reserve and first team coach. He was manager at Darlington between 1983-87 and then took Torquay to Wembley in May, 1989. Indeed, during his time at Plainmoor, Cyril guided Torquay to a 1-0 win against us in the first leg of our League Cup second round tie. We won the second leg 3-0 at the Lane.
Unfortunately, tragedy wasn’t far away. Cyril served Hartlepool United as manager from December, 1989 but was diagnosed with cancer in February, 1991 and passed away six months later, 31 August, 1991 in Middlesbrough General Hospital, aged just 47.
That clearly hit Pat hard. “His illness came out of the blue, unbelievable,” he said. “Yes, that was tough. We were like brothers, you know... I always remember Cyril as a brilliant player and a smashing lad, a great laugh. He really was the heart and soul of the party.”