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Bill Nicholson

Bill Nicholson was Spurs' most successful manager and also one of England's greatest post-war managers, along with Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, and Alf Ramsey.

He was born on 26 January 1919 at Scarborough, Yorkshire.  Bill managed to pass the scholarship examination to Scarborough high school. He had little interest in academic studies, and never thought of playing football as a career. He left at sixteen to go into a local laundry where he worked for six months for £2 a week.

Bill was playing local football at the beginning of 1936 for the Young Liberals when he was invited by Spurs for a trial. After a month's trial Nicholson was taken on as a ground staff boy, again on £2 a week. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 10 stone and 12 pounds, and was then playing as an inside forward (he later moved to left back). After two years, in August 1938, he became a professional player, appearing eight times in the first team before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1939 he joined the Durham light infantry and served for six and a half years, working as an infantry training instructor and then in the Army Physical Training Corps, rising to the rank of sergeant.

After the war Nicholson went straight back into the Tottenham first team, playing now as right half. Under the manager Arthur Rowe, Spurs won the second division title in 1950 and the first division title in 1951.  In May 1951 he was picked to play for England against Portugal, managing to score a goal within thirty seconds in a 5–2 victory. He never appeared for England again, though he was a reserve on twenty-two occasions. In all, Nicholson made 341 league and cup appearances for Spurs, before his retirement as a player during the 1954–5 season.

By this time Nicholson had become a qualified coach, having decided not long after his return from the war to take his football coaching badge. On his retirement as a player in 1955 he joined the Spurs coaching staff.

In October 1958 it was announced that Jimmy Anderson, the Spurs manager, was resigning, and that Bill Nicholson, his assistant since 1957, was taking over. In his first game in charge Spurs hammered Everton 10–4, it was a sign of the great things to come.

In 1961 Tottenham won the first division title, making Nicholson one of the few people to have won the championship as both player and manager. In that same season Spurs won the FA cup, becoming the first team to win the ‘double’ in the twentieth century. The FA cup was retained in 1962 and in the following season Spurs won the European cup winners' cup by beating Atlético Madrid 5–1. It was also the first European trophy to be won by a British club.

As a manager he built teams that had attacking flair and excitement in contrast to his own dour, negative character. He was a hard taskmaster as a coach, tough on discipline and order, but on the pitch he encouraged creativity. His first great team was built round the flair of Danny Blanchflower and the toughness of Dave Mackay. In 1962 he added Jimmy Greaves from AC Milan for £99,999—deliberately keeping the transfer fee under £100,000 to minimize the publicity.

Under Nicholson, Spurs won another FA cup in 1967 and a second European trophy (the UEFA cup) in 1972, as well as the league cup in 1971 and 1973. In all, during his sixteen years as Spurs manager, he won eight major trophies. Throughout this time he never signed a contract, and continued to live in the same modest semi-detached house, just ten minutes from the ground.

Nicholson announced his retirement as manager in September 1974. He felt he had had enough and done enough. Following a short spell at West Ham United as a scout Nicholson returned to Spurs in 1976, on the scouting side, and as a consultant. In 1975 he was appointed OBE and in 1998 received the freedom of the borough of Haringey. In 1991 he was appointed club president and eight years later the little road off Tottenham High Road that leads to the main entrance to the club was renamed Bill Nicholson Way.

He died of prostate cancer at Potters Bar Community Hospital, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, on 23 October 2004.  Paying tribute to him the legendary Dave Mackay, pointed out: 'Most of his criticisms revolved around his desire to see us play good football. That was what helped make playing for him so enjoyable. Bill is up there with the best managers.'