Nobby Stiles, England Soccer 1966 World Cup Winner, Dies at 78

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Nobby Stiles, a member of the team that won England’s only soccer World Cup title in 1966, has died. He was 78.

Stiles died peacefully after a long illness, according to a family statement on Friday. He’d been suffering from dementia for the past four years and was earlier diagnosed with prostate cancer.

For millions of soccer fans, Stiles will always be remembered for his gap-toothed victory jig after England’s 4-2 win against West Germany in the July 1966 final at London’s Wembley Stadium. As he told the Guardian newspaper in 2002, “kids of my grandkids’ age, they come up to me and go: ‘Hey, you, you’re the fella with no teeth who danced round Wembley, aren’t you?’”

Tributes poured in from players past and present, including 1966 teammate Geoff Hurst, who described Stiles as the “heart and soul of the team.” Gary Lineker, top scorer at the 1986 tournament, said he had a heart that was “even bigger than the gap in his teeth.”

Stiles also won a European Cup and two English League titles during an 11-year stint at his local club Manchester United. His former club and international teammate Bobby Charlton is the only other English player to claim winners’ medals at both the World Cup and the European Cup.

Born during an air raid in 1942, Norbert Peter Stiles grew up a United fan and used to regularly watch the team at Old Trafford. Despite his short stature -- he was 5-foot-6 -- and poor eyesight, the team signed him as an apprentice at age 15. Three years later, he made his debut against Bolton Wanderers.

Known for his tough tackling and man-marking, and nicknamed the Toothless Tiger, Stiles played in central midfield to restrict the creativity of opponents and gain possession for more attacking teammates such as Charlton.

He missed a first chance to claim a trophy with United as manager Matt Busby omitted him from the 1963 F.A. Cup final winning team against Leicester. It was the club’s first trophy since the 1958 Munich air disaster, in which eight players died.

In 1965, after establishing himself as a regular on the team, Stiles helped United end an eight-year wait for the league title.

England Debut

In October that year, Stiles made the first of his 28 England appearances in a 2-2 draw against Scotland at Wembley. The 0-0 tie against Uruguay in England’s opening World Cup game was his 15th appearance and he retained his place throughout the tournament.

In the semifinals he successfully shackled Portugal’s play-maker and star Eusebio as England won 2-1 -- Charlton scoring both goals -- to reach the final. After England’s victory in the final he did his famous dance, with the World Cup -- known as the Jules Rimet trophy -- in one hand and his false teeth in the other.

Stiles played in England’s next four games, though was dropped after a defeat against Scotland in 1967. He made an appearance at the 1968 European Championship, played one game the following year, and his international career ended in 1970.

At club level, Stiles gained a second League championship medal in 1967 and won the European Cup in 1968. He was again given the task of stopping Benfica’s Eusebio as United won 4-1 in the final to become the first English champion of Europe’s premier club competition.

Canada, West Brom

Stiles, who played 392 games for United, was sold to Middlesbrough in 1971 and two years later joined Preston. He was the club’s manager from 1977 until 1981, when he resumed playing at age 39 with the Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League.

In September 1985 he started a 21-match spell in charge at West Brom, though was fired five months later after the team won only three games. Stiles later worked as a youth coach at United from 1989 to 1993.

Stiles was among the final five players from the 1966 team to be made Members of the Order of the British Empire, or MBEs. Alan Ball, Roger Hunt, Ray Wilson and George Cohen also received the honor in 2000.

In 2010, Stiles sold his World Cup and European Cup winners’ medals at auction to raise money for his family. Manchester United paid 209,000 pounds for them both.

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