Nobby Stiles: The World Cup and European Cup winner who turned into a promotion-winning manager at Preston North End

Nobby Stiles took to football management like a duck to water, guiding Preston North End to promotion in his first season in the job.

By Dave Seddon
Friday, 30th October 2020, 5:37 pm
Updated Friday, 30th October 2020, 5:56 pm

Stiles, who passed away on Friday aged 78 after a long illness, had enjoyed a glittering playing career, winning the World Cup with England in 1966 and helping Manchester United lift the European Cup Cup two years later.

He joined North End as a player in 1973, former United team-mate Bobby Charlton bringing him to Deepdale after being appointed manager.

Over the next two seasons he played 50 times in a PNE shirt, combining that with some coaching on the training pitch.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Nobby Stiles with Preston North End striker Mike Elwiss on the steps of the Harris Museum as they celebrated promotion with thousands of fans in May 1978

When Charlton resigned early in the 1975/76 season, Stiles briefly left the club too. He was persuaded to return though, working as a coach under Charlton's replacement Harry Catterick.

Listening to players from that era, Catterick left much of the coaching to Stiles and his influence grew.

In pre-season ahead of the 1977/78 campaign, Stiles was appointed PNE manager with club legend Alan Kelly assisting him. Catterick was moved to an advisory position and later left Deepdale.

What a season that proved to be, Stiles guiding North End to a third place finish and promotion in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Nobby Stiles with assistant manager Alan Kelly and the PNE squad

He got the best out of a promising squad of players, Alex Bruce and Mike Elwiss forming a lethal partnership up front.

Stiles moulded youth with experience, the older head of another United old boy Francis Burns combined with Steve Doyle's youth in midfield.

Ricky Thomson excelled, Michael Robinson was added to the attack in the latter stages of the season to provide a boost.

At the back, Mick Baxter and Graham Cross formed a solid partnership in the centre of defence, with ever-dependable goalkeeper Roy Tunks behind them.

Nobby Stiles at Deepdale as a guest of the PNE Former Players Association

Promotion was in their hands but a slight wobble at the end saw North End lose at Rotherham and then draw with Shrewsbury on the final day of the season.

Peterborough, the one side who could pip PNE for third spot, had a game in hand against champions Wrexham which was played on the Bank Holiday Monday after the final day.

Stiles travelled to the Racecourse Ground, so did hundreds of Preston fans.

Peterborough had to win to go above North End, so it was nerve-wracking afternoon - taking half-time tea in the boardroom, Stiles' cup and saucer were shaking in his hand.

As it was, the game ended 0-0 and Preston were promoted to the Second Division, sparking jubilant celebrations back at Deepdale.

A few days later, Stiles and his players celebrated promotion on the steps of the Harris Museum in front of thousands of supporters on the Flag Market below.

In the first season back in the higher division, Stiles guided North End to an extremely impressive seventh place finish, that despite the sale of Elwiss to Crystal Palace.

There was a 10th place finish in the 1979/80 season, but the 1980/81 campaign ended in relegation - a shortage of investment in the side coming home to roost.

Stiles was sacked but it summed up the man that he took his dismissal with grace.

He was to manage Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada and at West Bromwich Albion but his best years as a manager were reserved for his four years in charge of Preston.

Tributes have poured in since the announcement of his passing, former North End defender Mark Lawrenson posting on Twitter: "Terrible news re Nobby Stiles..He more than anyone made me into a player at PNE. Absolute gentleman as well...Love to the family...Very sad day."

North End owner Trevor Hemmings, who was a director during Stiles' time at Deepdale, said: "I was very sad to hear the news about Nobby.

"Nobby was a wonderful person, a wonderful professional and here at Preston he was a wonderful manager who got us promotion.

"He was always known as 'Happy' and that sums up the way he was here."

PNE posted a tribute on their Twitter account which read: "Everyone at Preston North End is saddened to learn of the passing of former player and promotion-winning manager Nobby Stiles at the age of 78. Our thoughts are with Nobby's loved ones at this incredibly sad time."

Manchester United posted on Twitter: "We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles MBE.

"An integral part of our first-ever European Cup-winning side, Nobby was a titan of the club’s history, cherished for his heart and personality on and off the pitch.

"He will be sorely missed by us all."

Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here