For a complete narrative on the football life of Bill Nicholson I would ask you to go to “Memory Lane” and read all about Bill in the months of October & November 2015.
This piece will, therefore, be a brief summary of highlights and personal memories from as early as 1949 leading to the triumphs of the 1960s.
He had of course been a member of the Tottenham team that won promotion to the First Division in 1949-50 and then won that division in 1950-51 with a blend of football called “Push & Run”, a term that manager, Arthur Rowe, was critical of. I believe that Bill took this style of play and embellished it to a height that people now find difficult to comprehend.
Nicholson took a Football Association (FA) coaching course and joined the coaching staff at Tottenham upon his retirement as a player. He quickly rose through the ranks of the coaching staff to become first team coach in 1955. Bill took over the reins of manager in October 1958 when Jimmy Anderson resigned with a health problem. Bill could not have asked for a better start as his first game in charge was against Everton and a 10-4 victory. Spurs spent the rest of the 1958-59 season flirting with relegation, only pulling clear as the season came to a close. In 1959-60 Nicholson turned a struggling team into Championship contenders. Spurs finished third, only dropping out of the title race in the last few games, but all the time Bill was assembling players that were to form one of the best teams English football has ever seen. Nicholson played football that was as perfect as it could be. Great players allowed to show their skills, playing with pace and fluidity, attacking all the time and most importantly entertaining. It was football that did not simply follow the traditions set by John Cameron, Peter McWilliam and Arthur Rowe, it set new standards for all those that followed to try and emulate. Throughout his time as manager, Bill insisted on his teams playing football the “Tottenham way”. He wanted to win but that alone was never enough. No matter how much other teams resorted to defensive or “professional” tactics to get results, Nicholson would not compromise his principles. While he was in charge Spurs would play his way, “the Glory, Glory Way”.
No argument about great football sides will end with unanimity but all such debate and argument would involve the Tottenham side that completed the first League and FA Cup “double” of the century in 1961. Bill Nicholson’s team rolled over one record after another (eleven straight wins for starters, 31 victories in all, 16 away from home and all this on pitches that resembled ploughed fields) and then beat Leicester City, with Gordon Banks in goal, by 2-0 at Wembley. Spurs dominated the opposition that year scoring 115 goals in 42 games. They were a side of many shades and subtleties, a team of individual distinction and collective excellence, always improving, never wilting. There was a perceptible air of superiority about them and at the very heart of their formula were the magnificent duo of Danny Blanchflower at right half and Dave Mackay on the left, Irish charm and Scottish fire, one thinking the game, the other consuming it. The team that won the “double” contained four world class players in Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Cliff Jones and John White and the following year Bill added a fifth when he brought Jimmy Greaves home from Italy for £99,999. In the 1962-63 season, Nicholson again put Spurs in the history books when they became the first British club to win a major European trophy. In Rotterdam on 15 May 1963, Spurs defeated favourites Atlético Madrid 5-1 to win the European Cup Winners Cup. In 1967 Nicholson's Spurs won their third FA Cup in seven years by beating Chelsea in the first-ever all-London final. This was followed by a string of trophies in the early 1970s - the League Cup was won in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup in 1972.
As the 1970s wore on, Nicholson became increasingly disillusioned with football, in particular the increased player wages and the endemic hooliganism. He resigned as manager of Spurs in August 1974, soon after they had lost the UEFA Cup final to Feyenoord, having been appalled by the hooliganism and rioting he witnessed at that match. He left Spurs with great dignity and respect from everyone at the club, and is considered one of the most important figures in the club's history. Over the next 30 years and more Spurs would win many more cups but never the League championship. And never again could they consistently achieve the sublime combination of breathtaking attack and certain defence that characterised the finest English club of them all.
When Keith Burkinshaw was appointed manager his first “signing” was that of Bill Nicholson, persuading him to return in July 1976 as consultant. In that wide-ranging role he provided invaluable support to everybody at the club, responsible for unearthing some real gems in Tony Galvin, Graham Roberts and Gary Mabbutt, and in May 1991 he was made Club President. When Bill passed away in October 2004 the club lost its most dedicated and influential servant, but his legacy will never fade.
My one regret is that after watching Spurs beat Slovan Bratislava 6-0 on March 14th 1963 in the second leg of the European Cup-winners’ Cup I wrote to Bill and told how much my new wife and I had enjoyed spending part of our honeymoon at White Hart Lane. Of course the great man graciously replied thanking us for our support but in the intervening 53 years that priceless letter is sadly lost but my memory isn’t.