Phil Neville has described Nobby Stiles as a “giant of the game” who “took care of me the way I would want my own son to be treated”.
Stiles, part of the Manchester United team that claimed the European Cup two years after helping England win the 1966 World Cup, died on Friday at the age of 78 after a long illness.
As a coach, the former midfielder worked with the famed ‘Class of 92’ at United, which included taking Neville’s first session with the club, aged 10.
Neville wrote in The Times: “I remember my dad being in awe of him. He could not believe I was being coached by this legend, this World Cup and European Cup winner.
“Nobby was amazing. Probably the nicest, most decent human being who ever coached me.
“You never would have known he was this giant of the game, a hero of English football’s finest hour, because he never talked about it. Or indeed winning the European Cup for the club. His focus was on us, our futures, not his past.
“That group of young players, that class of ’92, were taught how to be United players by Nobby.”He instilled values that stayed with all of us, I think, not just throughout our careers as players but in all aspects of our lives.
“Nobby was such a caring man. I remember my first game away from home. It was in Anglesea and I was terrified.
“I’d never been away from home without my mum and dad before and it felt like a million miles away.
“He looked after me all day and gave me the man-of-the-match award. He took care of me the way I would want my own son to be treated.”
Neville said Stiles “meant so much to all of us”, and the England Women boss added: “As Gary (Neville) said, he taught us how to fight for everything in that red shirt, and we will always be grateful to Nobby for that.”
United great Paul Scholes also paid tributes to one of his football heroes, who he says acted as an “inspiration”.
“It was really sad news on Nobby,” Scholes said.
“We knew Nobby really well, he was our coach as 16 year olds when I first went to United. Just like me he was a north Manchester lad and came from the same area as me, was very small in stature like I was.
“So he was somebody I looked to for inspiration and he gave me that. He was a humble man, a man who won the European Cup, the World Cup, and you would have never known.
“I look back now and realise how lucky you were to have been coached by such a special person.”
Stiles’ former United team-mate Willie Morgan has also paid tribute to “a lovely guy” and “great player”.
Morgan, who played for United from 1968 to 1975, said on the BBC’s Football Focus programme: “He was better to play alongside than against! I came across him before I joined United and he was fierce on the pitch.
“I was very apprehensive when I joined – I remember saying to the gaffer (Sir Matt Busby) ‘I’m not so sure about Nobby Stiles’, when I was signing. He said ‘you’ll like him’, and when I met him, he was just lovely. I can’t tell you how beautiful a person. He was a lovely guy.
“He was a great player. He wasn’t just a hard man. Nobby could play as well. When he got the ball, he passed it to his own team-mates – it was either Bobby (Charlton) or Paddy (Crerand) that he normally passed to, and started the move off. He was the engine room.”
Former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson said “you could argue he changed my footballing life” about Stiles.
We are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles MBE.
An integral part of our first-ever European Cup-winning side, Nobby was a titan of the club’s history, cherished for his heart and personality on and off the pitch.
He will be sorely missed by us all. pic.twitter.com/aT0Mk47cEl
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 30, 2020
Referring to his time at Preston, Lawrenson said: “We used to play reserve team, we’d all be 17, 18, and he was the reserve team coach/player – he’d play with us, which was fab in itself.
“We were 4-0 down at half-time and I was rank playing on the left wing. At half-time he said ‘Mark, come and play with me at the back’ and I’m like ‘really?’
“He said ‘really’, and that day I just took to it basically. From then on, he was just brilliant with me.”