By 90Min
June 13, 2019

Bill Nicholson is number 47 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next 10 weeks. 


Bill Nicholson played a major role in Tottenham's title winning 1950/51 season as a player, and masterminded the side as manager to the same honour ten years later.

Given his legendary standing at the club, it's easy to understand why he's called Mr Tottenham Hotspur.

His story is not one of luxurious travel, million pound transfers, or high profile disagreements with his players.

Instead, it's the story of a manager who transformed Spurs from a team languishing sixth from the bottom in the First Division into title winners less than three years later. A man who left such a massive footprint on the club he devoted his career to that he's still revered to this day as a god in north London.

Don Morley/GettyImages

Bill Nicholson, ladies and gentlemen.


“Any player coming to Spurs whether he’s a big signing or just a ground staff boy must be dedicated to the game and to the club. He must be prepared to work at his game. He must never be satisfied with his last performance, and he must hate losing.”


His beginnings were humble, to say the least. Born the eighth of nine children in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1919, he worked fleetingly in a laundry before being invited for a trial at Tottenham aged 17. He nailed the job interview, and played his first league game against Blackburn in October 1938.

Nicholson's playing career had highs of Second and First Division title triumphs, and the low of leaving his club for the Durham Light Infantry at the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. Well, we say a 'low'; while it cost him roughly around half of his playing career, Nicholson credited his time during the war as a major contributing factor to his famed man-management expertise that served him so well in his later years.

Central Press/GettyImages

When he retired as a one club player after making over 300 appearances for Tottenham, primarily as a half back, he enrolled in a Football Association course and was employed at Spurs as a coach, becoming a first team coach in 1958 and even assisting England boss Walter Winterbottom at the 1958 World Cup.

He showed his tactical nous while with the Three Lions, helping the national team grab a 0-0 draw against eventual champions Brazil with his analysis of Selecao legend Didi, and he was named as Jimmy Anderson's successor in late 1958.

The dynasty he would go on to build at White Hart Lane is still viewed as Tottenham's greatest ever period.

Ok, it's not exactly comparable to Manchester United, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, but the fact remains: Nicholson implemented a style of play that made Tottenham appealing to the masses, a style he inherited from fellow Tottenham legends Arthur Rowe and Peter McWilliam.


Career Honours

Football League Second Division (1960/61)
FA Cup (1960/61, 1961/62 and 1966/67)
Football League Cup (1970/71 and 1972/73)
FA Charity Shield (1961, 1962 and 1967)
UEFA Cup (1971/72)
European Cup Winners' Cup (1962/63)

Luckily for Bill, he had a squad that could take the 'push and run' principles drilled into him by the aforementioned duo and turn their advantage into trophies. He had strikers in Bobby Smith and Les Allen who were lethal in front of goal, demonic wingers in Cliff Jones and Terry Dyson who also took their fair share of chances, and the perfectly weighted midfield combination of elegant captain Danny Blanchflower and rough 'n' ready powerhouse Dave Mackay.

Blanchflower was a veteran of the game when he led Tottenham to the title, having previously been dropped due to his lackadaisical defensive output, but Nicholson soon reinstalled the Northern Irishman as his captain, and the league and cup double followed in 1960/61. That double was the first of the 20th century.

And that's what Nicholson is perhaps most famous for; he wasn't an overly revolutionary manager, his lasting legacy is not as a tactical innovator who pioneered Gegenpressing or Sarri-ball, it will be his impeccable judge of character and intelligence in the transfer market. He was able to recruit the players he needed while getting the best out of those already at the club.

Evening Standard/GettyImages

Tottenham would do well to follow such a philosophy this summer.

Spurs couldn't retain the title the following season but they did keep hold of the FA Cup, and success on the European stage came the year after in the form of the European Cup Winners' Cup.

By this time, Jimmy Greaves, the finest goalscorer ever in Tottenham's history, had joined from Milan for £99,999 and hadn't wasted any time in getting settled back into English life, scoring 42 goals before the final against Atletico Madrid in Spain.

Tottenham won 5-1. Nowadays, if you suggested Tottenham could beat Atletico Madrid by four goals, you'd be laughed out of Enfield. But that's how good Spurs were at the time.


Teams Managed

Tottenham Hotspur 1958-74

That victory also made Tottenham the first English team to win a major European trophy.

Another FA Cup would come in 1967 before further triumphs in the League Cup, in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup in 1972. These really were the glory years at White Hart Lane.


Eventually, like all good things do, Nicholson ended his time as manager at Tottenham in 1974, 16 years after he took charge, and with eight major trophies to his name. No Spurs manager can boast a more impressive haul, and it seems extremely unlikely that his aura as the club's ultimate manager will ever be broken. Even if we do all love Mauricio.


Away from the pitch, Nicholson was known to be considerate and loyal. Hell, the transfer fee for Greaves ensured the England legend would not have to carry the weight of being the first six-figure footballer ever.

Les Lee/GettyImages

He didn't opt for the fancy homes of his players, instead choosing an end-of-terrace house close to White Hart Lane. Nicholson had simple tastes and cared not for showing off any wealth that came his way.


He never gave much away to the press and always looked like a man unwilling to shake his stern, classically Yorkshire exterior, but Nicholson remains the benchmark for Tottenham managers, and his achievements at the club may never be surpassed.


“It’s been my life, Tottenham Hotspur, and I love the club.”


Number 50: Marcelo Bielsa - El Loco's Journey From Argentina to Footballing Immortality in Europe

Number 49: Vic Buckingham - How an Englishman Discovered Johan Cruyff & Pioneered Total Football

Number 48: Claudio Ranieri: A Ridiculed Tinkerman Who Masterminded One of Football's Greatest Ever Achievements

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