Stiles played for England for five years, winning 28 caps and scoring one goal. He played every minute of England's victorious 1966 FIFA World Cup campaign. His best performance in an England shirt was probably the semi-final of that tournament against Portugal, where he was given the job of marking the prolific Eusébio. His tough performance resulted in Eusébio being practically nullified for the entire game. Stiles also played very well in the final, which England won 4–2 against West Germany. His post-match celebration has become one of the most famous images in English sport history. The sight of Stiles dancing on the Wembley pitch, holding the World Cup trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other, has lived for decades.
Stiles played the majority of his club career for Manchester United, spending eleven years at Old Trafford, where he became renowned for his tough tackling and ball winning qualities. With the Red Devils, he won two League titles and one European Cup. Stiles is one of only three Englishmen, alongside Bobby Charlton and Ian Callaghan, to have won both the FIFA World Cup and European Cup. However, Ian Callaghan was only in the squad for the 1966 FIFA World Cup and did not play in the final so did not receive a medal at the time but received one later.
Stiles grew up in Collyhurst, a working class district of North Manchester, attending the local St Patrick's Catholic (Primary) School. He was born in the cellar of the family home during an air raid, the son of Charlie, a manager of an undertakers' parlour in a family business and Kitty who supplemented the family income working as a machinist.
He supported Manchester United and his talent was swiftly recognised when he played for England Schoolboys at the age of 15. He achieved a childhood ambition when, in the same year, the club he supported gave him an apprenticeship in September 1959.
He was an unlikely-looking footballer in many ways – he was short, at a time when teenagers were being rejected by clubs purely because of their lack of height; he was also a wearer of dentures, the removal of which prior to matches gave him a gap-toothed expression which had the potential to scare. He became significantly bald at a young age and sported a dramatic comb-over; and he suffered from severe shortsightedness, meaning he needed strong contact lenses when playing and wore thick spectacles off the field.
Stiles' simple passing game and fearless ball-winning skills saw his swift conversion into a "holding" midfield player of a type now a feature of all top teams but still a rarity at a time when forward lines consisted of five players and the midfield was restricted to covering half-backs. Stiles was deployed in the middle of the park to snuff out the flair and peril of creative opponents, and this he did with much success. His ability to gain and retain possession also allowed his more skilled teammates like Bobby Charlton and, later, George Best more space on the field to utilise. Stiles' defensive skills were also utilised by United managers to great effect throughout his successful career.
That said, Busby was not afraid to sacrifice Stiles when required and when United beat Leicester City 3–1 in the 1963 FA Cup final, Stiles was not picked for the game. He began to make more frequent appearance in the seasons ahead, however, and won the First Division title in 1965. The same year, his country came calling.
With England hosting the World Cup in 1966, manager Alf Ramsey had no competitive qualifying campaign to prepare, and therefore he spent the prior two years meticulously assessing players in friendly matches and British Home Championship games. With Bobby Charlton the only certainty for his World Cup midfield, he needed to create a trio of players to complement the Manchester United attacker and among those was the requirement for a "spoiler". Stiles was tested out for this role in a 2–2 draw against Scotland at Wembley on 10 April 1965. He kept his place for eight of the next nine internationals, scoring the only goal in a Wembley win against West Germany along the way, and his place in the starting XI for the tournament seemed set in stone by the time Ramsey confirmed his 22.
Stiles won his 15th cap as England kicked off the competition with a goalless draw against Uruguay and maintained his place as the uncompromising hardman playing ahead of the back four and making sure there was space and time for the likes of Charlton ahead of him. With Stiles not missing a minute, England progressed through the group with wins over Mexico and France and then scraped past a violent Argentina side in the last eight.
In the semi-final, Stiles performed an effective man-marking job on the Portuguese playmaker, and prolific goalscorer, Eusébio; to the extent that the immensely skilled player was essentially nullified for the whole match, which England won 2–1. Purists bemoaned the lack of prettiness, but realists congratulated Stiles on his desire to win the battle against a difficult opponent. Ramsey, on being asked by a journalist about the way he had instructed Stiles to "deal with" Eusébio, questioned and objected to the terminology used, though he knew exactly why the reporter had referred to Stiles' display in such a manner. The tactics, despite the criticism they provoked, were effective; Eusébio's only major contribution was a late penalty, and England progressed to the final.
Stiles, winning his 20th cap, had no man-marking brief against West Germany but played a strong, tough match as England saw a 2–1 lead levelled with the last kick of the game before Geoff Hurst completed a famous hat-trick to win the competition in extra time. At the final whistle, Stiles did a spontaneous jig with the Jules Rimet Trophy in his hand while holding his false teeth in the other. Thirty years later this moment would be referred to by Frank Skinner and David Baddiel in the lyrics to "Three Lions", the England theme song written with the Lightning Seeds for Euro 96: in the 1996 version, a list of English football memories ends with "...Nobby dancing", and in the 1998 version, in a reference to the World Cup finals taking place in France, the middle section consists of the line: "We can dance Nobby's dance, we can dance it in France".
Stiles played in the next four internationals but was deemed to have performed poorly as England lost to Scotland at Wembley in 1967 and was dropped by Ramsey. He won his second League championship medal with Manchester United in the same year, but greater club honours were to come.
United reached the European Cup final in 1968, which was to be staged at Wembley, and Stiles' old nemesis Eusébio was again someone he had to deal with as part of a fearsome attacking potential posed by opponents Benfica. Stiles' played well without keeping Eusébio wholly quiet, and with the score at 1–1 and just a few minutes left, the Portuguese legend got away from the United defence with just goalkeeper Alex Stepney to beat, yet only managed to slam the ball straight into Stepney's midriff. United won 4–1 and became the first English club to lift Europe's main trophy.
Stiles was selected for the England squad which contested the 1968 European Championships but the holding role in midfield had been taken by Tottenham Hotspur's Alan Mullery. England went out to Yugoslavia in the semi finals, during which Mullery became the first ever England player to be sent off. Stiles was recalled for the otherwise meaningless third place play-off game against the USSR, but it was clear that despite his misdemeanour, Mullery was now Ramsey's first choice.
Stiles played just once for England in 1969 and twice in 1970. He was selected by Ramsey for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico but only as Mullery's understudy, and not only did he not get a kick during the competition as England surrendered the title in the quarter final, he never played for his country again. He ended with 28 caps – ultimately the least capped member of the 1966 XI – and one goal.
After 395 matches and 19 goals, Manchester United sold Stiles in 1971 to Middlesbrough for £20,000. Two years later, he became a player-coach at Preston North End when Bobby Charlton was manager. Having been appointed as caretaker manager when Charlton resigned in protest at the transfer of defender John Bird to Newcastle United, Stiles resigned a week later in support of his former Manchester United teammate. Stiles returned to Preston as manager from 22 July 1977 to 5 June 1981.
On 29 September 1985 Stiles took over as manager of West Bromwich Albion; however, he was sacked the following February after the side managed only three wins under his leadership, and this would prove to be his final stab at management. He later revealed his struggle with depression while in the job, finding it tough to cope with working in the Midlands and the daily commute from Manchester where his family lived.
Between 1989 and 1993 he worked for Manchester United as their youth team coach, developing the considerable skills of teenage prodigies such as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, and Paul Scholes. Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil also came through at this time.
In 2000, Stiles was awarded his MBE after a campaign by sections of the media who were surprised that five of the 1966 team had never been officially decorated for their achievements. Stiles duly joined Alan Ball, Roger Hunt, Ray Wilson and George Cohen in collecting his gong.
Stiles released his autobiography, After the Ball, in 2003.
Stiles was elected to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
A teenage Stiles, then a Manchester United apprentice, was portrayed by actor Kyle Ward in a 2011 BBC TV drama, United, which was centred around the Munich air disaster in 1958, in which eight of United's senior players died.
|Club||Division||Season||League||Cup||League Cup||Continental||Other[nb 1]||Total|
|England||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Europe||Other||Total|
|Manchester United||First Division||1960–61||26||2||3||0||2||0||–||–||31||2|
|Preston North End||Second Division||1973–74||27||1||–||–||27||1|
|England national team|
|1||23 February 1966||Wembley Stadium, London||West Germany||1–0||1–0||Friendly|
Stiles has been married to his wife Kay (the same age as him) since 1961. Kay is a sister of Johnny Giles and was introduced to Nobby around the time they were teammates at Manchester United. They live in Manchester and have three children.
Stiles' FIFA World Cup medal and a European Cup medal were bought by Manchester United for more than £200,000 at an auction on 27 October 2010. The World Cup medal, which Stiles won in the 1966 final against West Germany, sold for £160,000. His European Cup medal, which he won with Manchester United in 1968, was also sold, realising more than £49,000. Stiles sold the medals so that his family could benefit from the proceeds.
On 24 November 2013, it was announced that Stiles was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and in 2016, it was announced that he is suffering from advanced dementia. He was too ill to attend a celebration dinner to mark the 50th anniversary of England's 1966 World Cup win. In November 2017, a BBC documentary on the subject of brain injuries amongst retired footballers presented by former England striker Alan Shearer included an interview with Stiles's son.