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
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there