Memorial Service for Bill Nicholson O.B.E
held at White Hart Lane on Sunday 7th November, 2004
(I am very grateful to Bruce and Elaine Lewis for all photographs reproduced here. You may view a larger copy of each picture by simply clicking over the image)
The last act of two weeks of remembrance for the late Bill Nicholson was played out today at White Hart lane. As those who were at the game yesterday know, the advertising hoardings of the North and South Stands had been covered with a simple notice in Spurs navy blue "In loving memory Bill Nicholson OBE (1919-2004)".
Thousands of fans who were able to attend the ground and pay their last respects did just that, filling the lower tier of the North Stand and a good part of the Upper Tier too. A stage had been built facing the North Stand, decked out of course in Spurs colours and with a floral tribute in the shape of the Spurs Cockerel before it. The entire path across the stand was covered in the fans' tributes that had been laid out in such great tribute to such a great man.
The north-west corner of the ground was given over to the family and friends of our late President, and a special ovation was given to Darkie, Bill's wife of over 60 years. Such was the esteem of the man, that amongst the legions of former players, was double team member, Peter Baker, who must have flown especially from his home in South Africa as he had for the Double Reunion Dinner in 2001 and the recent induction of "Sir" Bill into the Spurs Hall of Fame. It wasn't possible to identify all of those present from a distance, but I am sure that Harmer, Marchi, Hopkins, Henry, Smith, Allen, Mullery, Coates, Peters, Pratt, Kinnear, and Jennings were all there. Others who paid personal tribute remain to be mentioned below, but amongst those attending was former Director of Football and manager, David Pleat.
Frank Arnesen, Martin Jol and the first team squad were also present, and I'll say more about that later too.
Brian Alexander introduced the proceedings and listed Bill's achievements in football. Once more we were treated to a montage of images from the last two weeks, and that beautiful haunting song that has accompanied the tributes to Bill - "Into the West" - which I cannot hear now with a dry eye. The Reverend Toni Smith (a lady) made suitable comments before we sang "Abide with me". This of course is the traditional Cup Final Hymn, sung at Wembley three times in Bill Nicholson's era. Club Chairman Daniel Levy paid tribute, and received polite applause when he left the stage. Mr. Levy said that the club owed it to the memory of Bill to hold firm to his principles and traditions and to always try to live up to the standards set by the Nicholson era.
Every other speaker was greeted by standing ovations before and after their tributes, interspersed with appropriate footage from their particular times at the club. First came the "old guard" - Cliff Jones and Jimmy Greaves. Greaves, I suspect has not crossed the threshold at Tottenham for many a year, and I sincerely hope it is not so long before he does it again. Cliff Jones, of course is a match-day host, but he was a little nervous as he spoke to the gathered throng. For Greaves, of course, it was a more familiar task, as he makes his living entertaining large audiences. Cliff had managed to mention the word "arse" in front of the vicar, when he said how Bill had patted him on the back after a good game, and when he had thanked him, had been told by the man himself to remember that a pat on the back is only a couple of feet away from being a kick up the arse! The vicar laughed so it was alright, and we were playing at home too!
Greavesy managed to slip in a gag too, but maintained due reverence, as befitted the occasion. He told us that wherever the name of Tottenham Hotspur was murmured throughout the world, that the name Bill Nicholson would always be associated with the club. Greaves said that Nicholson had the respect of all players that worked for him; that he knew when to let his hair down and be one of the lads, but that there were times when he had to be the "Boss". Greaves' main gag was addressed to the gathered million-pound current players, and he told of how Cliff Jones had said to Bill Nicholson that he was one of the best wingers in the world, and that he deserved £100 a week. Nicholson had replied, "That's your opinion, and it isn't mine!"
Greaves also mentioned a typical Bill Nicholson team talk:- "Whatever you're feeling now, remember - you're going to run out now in front of the people that pay your wages. Their expectancy is high, their value of you is high, their opinion of you is high. Do not let them down. Entertain, and you can only do that by being honest with yourself, respect your team mates, your opponents, and as a team, play as one. That was Bill's philosophy" Greaves reminded us that Tottenham Hotspur Football Club had been the most important thing in Bill's career.
I wish I had time and space to recount all the anecdotes given by those present. Maybe a full account will be published or sold as a DVD. Martin Chivers and Steve Perryman were next to speak, and Perryman recounted the many adages that he had learnt from Bill Nicholson, and admitted to thinking of him every time he had used them in his coaching career:-
If one ball goes back, the next goes through and forward.
Play the ball the way you're facing.
If you're not in possession - get in position.
When the game dies, make sure you come alive.
No spectating on the football pitch (people pay to do that)
Steve told of his love for Bill's hatred of red, of his immaculate appearance, and example. Perryman also poignantly paid tribute to Keith Burkinshaw for bringing Bill back to the club (after his brief sojourn as a Scout at West Ham), and to all those managers who had worked with Bill down the years. In the most polite way he could find, Steve also gave short shrift to those who had tried to cut the cord between Club and Legend, before things were rectified in the last few years and that relationship was all it deserved to be.
Glenn Hoddle and Gary Mabbutt represented the Eighties. Hoddle was an "Associate schoolboy" in Bill's day and never had the honour of playing for him. It may come as a surprise to some to know that as Keith Burkinshaw and Peter Shreeves were away, it was Bill Nick who dealt with the signing of Mabbutt from Bristol Rovers when he fielded the faxes notifying players out of contract.
All those who spoke mentioned Bill's humility. His daughter Linda, spoke with great dignity and confidence, and told us how her father had always loved the fans, and thought of them as the most important people at the club.
The service ended with a prayer, and a resounding singing of "Jerusalem", before the general Blessing and the release of 85 white doves to signify every year of the life of the great man. Then we had a recorded rendition of "Glory, Glory" coupled with more moving images, to bring more tears, and more marvellous memories.
The dignitaries left to great applause. The team got a "Come on you Spurs", and the crowd broke into renditions of "Glory, Glory", "If you know your history" and other songs, before we shuffled off to carry on living our moderate lives, remembering a truly great Spurs man.
I have written privately to Daniel Levy, as I believe the club has dealt with the whole issue of remembrance of "Sir" Bill so well. I wish that with these words, I could give justice to this day. Of course, we all wish that Bill was still amongst us - his Spurs family - but I shall remember these last two weeks for the rest of my life, and I shall probably cry a bit more too.
The presence of the first team squad was essential. Some of them may not have known enough about the club's history and traditions. They know more now, and along with a moving remembrance ceremony, they have witnessed the greatest team talk they'll ever have.
God Bless "Sir" Bill.
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