Obituary: Johnny Nicholls

John Nicholls, footballer; born Wolverhampton 3 April 1931; died Wolverhampton 1 April 1995.

In the spring of 1954, the boots of the footballer Johnny Nicholls seemed to be sprinkled with stardust. In April, on his 23rd birthday, he made his debut for England, scoring with a brilliant diving header that silenced the famous Hampden Roar and helped to pave the way to victory over Scotland.

A month later the young inside-left's stage was Wembley, where he helped his club, West Bromwich Albion, beat Preston North End - Tom Finney et al - to lift the FA Cup.

Nicholls was part of a vibrant, attacking "Throstles" combination which, under their manager Vic Buckingham, had failed only narrowly to become the first side this century to win the double of the League championship and the Cup.

Nicholls had finished the season as Albion's top League scorer with 28 strikes in 38 outings, just ahead of his club and country team-mate Ronnie Allen, and when he was picked for England's next game, against Yugoslavia, a glittering future appeared to beckon.

But, sadly, that match in Belgrade was to prove his final bow at full international level andNicholls never scaled the giddy heights which had once appeared possible. Despite his knack of cracking the ball cleanly with either foot, admirable aerial ability and a typical goal-poacher's instinct of being in the right place at the right time, Nicholls did not progress as anticipated, his cause not helped by a series of niggling injuries.

Also, competition for places, both with Albion and England, grew distinctly warmer. Come May 1957, Buckingham judged Nicholls surplus to requirements and the striker, who at 26 should have been approaching his peak, moved to Second Division Cardiff City.

However, he did not flourish at the lower level, failing to hold a regular place at Ninian Park, and that November dropped another division to link up with humble Exeter City. Again, he faced injury problems, but made a favourable early impression with a hat-trick in the Devon derby against Plymouth Argyle.

After a knee operation Nicholls recovered something of his early form and played a leading role in Exeter's stirring if unsuccessful bid for promotion from the Fourth Division in 1958-59. The following summer, with a doubt remaining over his fitness, he left the Football League to serve Worcester City, then Wellington Town, Oswestry Town and several amateur clubs in the Midlands.

Memories of Nicholls, who had unsuccessful trials with both Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers before turning professional with West Bromwich in 1951, will evoke in some fans a certain poignancy for what might have been. But he was an integral part of the Throstles' most compelling side since the Second World War.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor