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Nobby Stiles has become football's forgotten hero

by 16/09/2017 20:00:00 0 comments 1 Views
  • Nobby Stiles is in a residential care home in Manchester as he fights Alzheimer's
  • He has responded to DVDs of old Manchester United games
  • Football has been too busy with a summer of £1b spending to pay notice to Stiles
  • He is one of only two Englishmen to have won both European Cup and World Cup

By Ian Herbert For The Mail On Sunday

Published: 17:30 EDT, 16 September 2017 | Updated: 20:00 EDT, 16 September 2017

They have recently seen an extraordinary and most unexpected flicker of light in the little man whose Manchester United team-mates all knew to be a giant.

Nobby Stiles is in a residential care home in Manchester, asleep much of the time and barely able to recognise his family, 16 years into a struggle with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. 

His sons, Rob and John, have located a supply of DVDs of the old United games in which the Holy Trinity of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton relied on Stiles to flush out opposition danger. To their astonishment, he has responded.

Nobby Stiles is in a residential care home in Manchester as he fights Alzheimer's
Nobby Stiles is in a residential care home in Manchester as he fights Alzheimer's

Nobby Stiles is in a residential care home in Manchester as he fights Alzheimer's

Stiles made his name at United alongside legends such as George Best and Bobby Charlton
Stiles made his name at United alongside legends such as George Best and Bobby Charlton

Stiles made his name at United alongside legends such as George Best and Bobby Charlton

'Peter Osgood - great player, son, great player,' he told Rob while they were watching a re-run of one of United's two 1966 First Division games against Chelsea, which saw the team draw at Old Trafford and win 3-1 in west London two weeks later.

'There was some recognition of the players from him,' said the 75-year-old's son. 'He doesn't recognise us a lot of the time, but watching the games seems to make a difference. While we were watching one of them he asked me: "How are you son?" 

'The games seem to bring something out of him in a way we didn't expect.'

His family know that they must hold tight to this fleeting clarity from the individual who was the life and soul of Sir Matt Busby's team, with comical mishaps so frequent that someone once joked that he was the Inspector Clouseau of the ranks.

Any hope of him retaining balance while walking went several years ago. There have been two bad falls, one of which left him with a broken pelvis, and his mind has become desperately frayed. 

The Manchester United legend is asleep much of the time and barely able to recognise family
The Manchester United legend is asleep much of the time and barely able to recognise family

The Manchester United legend is asleep much of the time and barely able to recognise family

Paul Pogba provides faint echoes of Stiles' role in United's 1968 European Cup-winning team
Paul Pogba provides faint echoes of Stiles' role in United's 1968 European Cup-winning team

Paul Pogba provides faint echoes of Stiles' role in United's 1968 European Cup-winning team

It has been a lonely struggle at times, while football has been too busy with its summer of £1billion spending to pay much notice.

Paul Pogba provides faint echoes of the role Stiles had in Sir Matt Busby's European Cup-winning team. His nickname in the multi-national United dressing room is 'La Pioche' - the Joker - and he claims he is 'DJ Pogs', sharing responsibility for the music selection with Ashley Young. 

But it will be 40 years next spring since Busby's United won the European Cup and past and present are poles apart.

Pogba commands a salary of £290,000 a week. He was wearing a Richard Mille wristwatch and a pair of Cartier diamond hoop earrings for a recent Esquire magazine photo-shoot. 

By contrast, a new Busby biography by Patrick Barclay reveals that Stiles's short-sightedness was only detected because he was holding playing cards right to his eyes during a game with team-mates.

'A mere one per cent of footballers' earnings could go a long way towards setting up care homes for the many footballers suffering with the disease,' said former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle's daughter Dawn, who runs the Trust in her father's name which campaigns for research and a better deal for families.

Stiles (left)  is one of only two Englishmen to have won both the European Cup and World Cup
Stiles (left)  is one of only two Englishmen to have won both the European Cup and World Cup

Stiles (left)  is one of only two Englishmen to have won both the European Cup and World Cup

Stiles' footballing accomplishments are, as yet, beyond Pogba's remotest comprehension. He is one of only two Englishmen to have won both the European Cup (in 1968) and World Cup, two years earlier.

Yet there have been just two pieces of correspondence from Manchester United or the Football Association since it was first revealed, nine months ago, that Stiles now needs residential care and is unable to walk. 

One came from United, inviting him to a 'Class of 92' dinner. The other, from the Football Association, invited him to an England game.

Though the Professional Footballers' Association have pledged to investigate whether playing professional football might have damaged the brains of Stiles, four other members of the 1966 World Cup-winning team and scores more, former players' families across Britain still await news of researchers being appointed.

The PFA are leaving it to the game's governing body, the FA, to lead the search for answers, which has still not started in earnest. The FA announced in May they were inviting tenders from academics but a research team has still not been recruited. 

It was first revealed, nine months ago, that Stiles needs residential care and is unable to walk
It was first revealed, nine months ago, that Stiles needs residential care and is unable to walk

It was first revealed, nine months ago, that Stiles needs residential care and is unable to walk

The need for discussions between bidding establishments and the FA has delayed the process, it is claimed, but the appointment of a research team is now close.

It is 15 years since the PFA promised to pay for such scientific investigation, after an inquest into the death in 2002 of Astle pointed to a link.

In 2014, The Mail on Sunday discovered a 10-year study promised by the FA and PFA into long-term effects of head injuries was never completed, leading to former FA chairman Greg Dyke issuing a public apology for his organisation's conduct and the promise to fund further research. 

The new research could take at least three years to complete; possibly more.

United included Stiles' sons among a number of families invited on to the pitch during United's final game of last season, which marked the 25th anniversary of the Class of 92 Youth Cup win. 

Their father was a proud member of the 1992 coaching team.

But it has been Stiles' lifelong primary school friends, Danny Cooney and Tony Kennedy, rather than anyone in football who have seen to it that there is a permanent reminder of his contribution. 

Stiles was a proud member of Manchester United's 1992 coaching team
Stiles was a proud member of Manchester United's 1992 coaching team

Stiles was a proud member of Manchester United's 1992 coaching team

They pursued Manchester City Council and the city's Lord Mayor, Paul Murphy, to get the name of the street next to the school he attended - St Patrick's Primary in Collyhurst - as Nobby Stiles Drive.

Stiles is remembered by surviving members of his United generation as the player who would mop up after others' mistakes: a 'troubleshooter', as Charlton described him. 

Stiles went on to manage Middlesbrough and Preston, where he transformed Mark Lawrenson's career by spotting his qualities and decided to change him from a winger to a full-back.

'Dad would not want a fuss to be made, that's the way he is and has always been,' said Rob Stiles. 

'But there seems to be some indifference to what he and players like him from that time face now. He loved United and would have loved to see them start the season well. 

'For us, the sadness is that he's not able to take on the way the game has changed. He'd have a lot to say about it and he'd love it now.'

It is replays of matches from the era which appreciated and cherished him which sustain him now.

'At United, as with England, an entire team was in his debt,' Charlton said of Stiles, a few years ago. 'I soon came to love Nobby and that feeling has never lost its strength down the years.'

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