Time to remember a Double-winning master

NORMAN GILLER on Paolo di Canio, heavy balls, “gay” footballers, and the debt owed by the modern game to the likes of Bill Nick and Jimmy Hill

Fifty-five years ago next week, Bill Nicholson started his managerial career with a breath-taking 10-4 First Division victory over Everton. Two seasons later his “Super Spurs” became the first team of the 20th Century to win the League and FA Cup Double. Sixteen years on, he left the club for whom he had made millions with a paper-tissue handshake of just £10,000.

They don't write 'em like that any more: one from the Giller archives
They don’t write ’em like that any more: one from the Giller archives

Last week Paolo di Canio was player-powered out of Sunderland after just 13 games in charge, and as I write his lawyers are negotiating a severance package that will run into millions.

The stark contrast comes to mind as I put the finishing touches to my latest book, Bill Nicholson Revisited, based on conversations with the great man spread across more than 40 years.

I support my memories with cuttings from my scrapbooks kept for me by my secretary on the Daily Express, Cora Weston. Yes, a secretary, whom I shared with Steve Curry and Sydney Hulls. Those were the days, my friends.

One cutting in particular, reproduced here from my 1967 report on a Tottenham match in what was then Yugoslavia, had me – as they say online – ROTFL. The headline: GAY GREAVES MAKES THEM HOT SPURS

It just shows how the meaning of words can change. I don’t think a sub-editor would put up that headline today, unless the story referred to the late, outed Justin Fashanu, or the piece was about Paddy Power’s rainbow bootlaces.

One of the revelations in my book (No 96 off the Giller conveyor belt) is that throughout his career in charge at White Hart Lane, Bill Nicholson never earned more than £200 a week, and most of the time not even half that.

Content to live in a modest end-of-terrace-house within a wind-assisted goal kick’s distance of the ground, Bill was never bothered. But it should surely have bothered the consciences of the directors who allowed him to give blood, sweat and tears for the club that he, more than anybody, put on the football map.

Little in football has changed in that the chairmen and directors of the clubs can make appalling decisions and get away with them, and carry on blame free.

Bill's gates: Nicholson virtually built Tottenham into the club it is today, all on less than £200 a week
Bill’s gates: Nicholson virtually built Tottenham into the club it is today, all on less than £200 a week

Anybody with their ear to the ground in football knew that the appointment of Di Canio at Sunderland could only end in tears.

How on earth could the Sunderland board not have known what everybody else in the game knew? I am sure the chairman, the American, Ellis Short, did not make his billions by failing to do his homework in business, so why be so casual and naïve when appointing the manager of one of our, traditionally, great clubs?

I wonder what Clown Prince Len Shackleton would have made of it all? Clowns the lot of them.

Anybody with Spurs leanings reading this might like to let me have a Bill Nicholson memory or tribute of their own.

Please email me at

I want the book to have the voice of the supporters who knew what he meant to the soul and spirit of Spurs. They would all have wanted to see that he was paid properly.

I WAS SADDENED but not surprised to read that Jimmy Hill’s family have announced that one of football’s greatest brains is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is the curse of old footballers, paying the price for heading those old leather footballs.

At kick-off, the balls weighed the same 16 ounces as today’s, but because they were not water resistant, by the end of a match, often played on a mud-heap pitch, they were often twice as heavy.

Jimmy headed the ball a lot when playing for Fulham, but managed to have the sharpest brain in the game for many years. He was the player who led the fight against the maximum wage, the manager who was light years ahead with his ideas at Coventry City, a lively chairman at Craven Cottage, and a broadcaster who brought a fresh way to look at the game to our television sets.

But I knew he was in trouble with his memory before most. Just after he had joined Sky from the Beeb to anchor what is now the Sunday Supplement I approached him about appearing on what was planned as a relaunch of my 1980s show, Who’s the Greatest?

Jimmy Hill: all modern footballers owe him an immense debt
Jimmy Hill: all modern footballers owe him an immense debt

Jimmy did not have a clue who I was. I know I am once-seen-easily-forgotten, but I had interviewed him scores of times during his playing and managing days and in my TV critic days I used to meet him regularly in the studio.

I scripted his This Is Your Life tribute from Michael Aspel, and as he held the big Red Book at the end of the show Jimmy told me: “I have had the best of lives.”

Now he has gone the same way as old footballing friends of mine including Arthur Rowe, Danny Blanchflower, Jeff Astle and, more recently, Dave Sexton – none of them knowing their own name or remembering their achievements on the football fields of England.

So, so sad. Every one of today’s footballers owe a huge debt to Jimmy Hill for what he did to bring them riches beyond belief.

Jimmy the Jaw Hill, once master of all he surveyed, remembers nothing of it. The price our heroes pay for their fame.

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