TEN OF THE BEST
Former Gers and Northern Ireland defender Jimmy Nicholl shares his Ten of the Best.
THIS season we’ll be re-publishing a much loved programme feature where various former players and staff talk about some of their favourite experiences and tales from football in 10 of the Best.
Today, Jimmy Nicholl discusses the memorable moments from his remarkable playing career which started at Manchester United and included two spells at Rangers. The Northern Irishman joined the club yesterday as assistant manager.
Nicholl also earned 73 international caps with Northern Ireland before moving into management.
WE CAUGHT UP WITH JIMMY FOR HIM TO ANSWER TEN OF THE BEST – SCROLL DOWN TO READ BELOW.
Best Ever Goal
Unfortunately I didn’t score a lot of goals throughout my 22 year playing career, in fact I didn’t get any for Rangers, but there are a couple that I’m proud of.
In October 1980 I scored my one and only goal for Northern Ireland against Sweden at Windsor Park in a 3-0 victory so to do that was a special feeling and a proud moment.
It was a qualifier for the 1982 World Cup so it was a big win for us. My best ever goal, however, was for Manchester United against Newcastle United in the League Cup. We beat them 7-2 and if I remember correctly I scored to make it 3-0 just on half time.
I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but it was some goal; I played a couple of one-twos from the halfway line and hit this shot from distance with my right foot which flew into the net.
I remember speaking to Gordon Burns of Granada TV, who presented the equivalent of the STV News down in Manchester, after it and I said to him ‘Oh Gordon, I can’t wait to see my goal tonight on TV’ and I was genuinely really excited. Gordon, who was from Northern Ireland as well, then told me that that so much rain got into the cameras that they didn’t work, I couldn’t believe it!
Even now when I return to Manchester fans that went to the game come up and ask me about that goal but there’s no TV footage of it.
Best Player I Faced
I came up against a lot of great wingers throughout my career but, being a right back, the best player I faced was Willie Johnston who, of course, is a legend at Ibrox.
After his time at Rangers he went on to join West Bromwich Albion so when I was at Manchester United I had a few ding-dong battles with him.
Willie was quick so if you showed him down the line he would beat you for pace and could whip crosses in with his left foot. If you showed him inside he would either shoot with his right foot or deliver a cross. But while some wingers would give you a hard time when they pushed up the park, which you expected, there were usually times when you could overlap and get up yourself to help your team when they were attacking.
With Willie it was different, if you went to overlap and you were playing against him he would match you all the way and it was so frustrating. To make matters worse when I left Manchester to join the Toronto Blizzards he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Then when I moved to Rangers he went to Hearts so every time I tried to get away from him he kept following me! Willie was a cracking player though and I always knew whenever I played against him I would be in for a torrid time. I still see him every now and again and he’s a great lad.
Best Childhood Memory
My best memory from my childhood in terms of watching or playing football was seeing Manchester United beat Benfica 4-1 in the European Cup final of 1968.
I watched that match on TV with all my family and friends at home as I was only at 11 at the time but it was all about George Best back then, or the fifth Beatle as he was known.
United wore an all blue kit at Wembley and I can still remember vividly seeing Best dance around the keeper to score. Because it was a summer’s night after the game we went straight out onto the street to kick a ball about and it didn’t matter that it was 10 o’clock at night.
In Belfast the majority of people support Manchester United or Liverpool as their English clubs but because Best was from Northern Ireland I think a few more supported United. But back then they had a great team with Best, Law and Charlton and I loved watching them, they were great days.
Best Moment At Rangers
When I first joined Rangers in 1983 I was in North America with Toronto Blizzard and whoever wanted me for six months could have me on loan because I wanted to keep playing for Northern Ireland.
So what happened was I had six months in Canada and then six months in Britain in the winter.
It was Iain Munro, who I played with at Sunderland, who told John Greig I was coming back to Britain for six months and Rangers got in touch. At that time I knew Dundee United and Aberdeen were dominating everything but I didn’t realise how bad things were.
However, I had the chance to play for a club I loved as I supported Manchester United, Rangers, Linfield and Northern Ireland; that was all I was interested in. Back then, of course, Rangers were getting really low attendances and it was tough.
After my first home game I was about to walk out the front door and John McClelland stopped me and told me that fans would be waiting for us. So we walked around the tunnel, through concourses and came out at the back of the Copland Road.
After that big Jock Wallace took over and said he was going to turn things around and we won the League Cup in 1984 which was one of my best moments at Rangers. We beat Celtic 3-2 in the final with Coisty getting a hat-trick.
I was so relieved to be a part of a Rangers team that won a Cup and that I had a medal to show from my initial six month stay at the club. It was a great day for the team, the fans and big Jock.
Best Old Firm Memories
Following on from my last answer the League Cup final victory over Celtic is certainly one of my best Old Firm memories as is my final game from my first spell at the club.
Celtic came over to Ibrox (on 21 April 1984) and we won 1-0 with Bobby Williamson getting the only goal with an overhead kick. Knowing it was my final game Jock Wallace handed me the captain’s armband on that occasion which filled me with so much pride.
Unfortunately I was sent off in the 55th minute so I think he probably regretted doing that! After the game he came up to me and said, ‘Nicholl, you are going back to North America on Monday but if we hadn’t won that game you wouldn’t have needed a plane as I would have booted your backside so hard you would have landed in Toronto!’
It was a great way to end my first stint at the club and when I got the opportunity to come back for a second time in 1986 the club was totally different.
Best Time Of My Career
Graeme and Walter were in charge and they had signed the England captain, big Terry Butcher, and the England goalkeeper Chris Woods.
At that time I was at West Brom and Ron Saunders was the manager. I wasn’t getting on well with Ron at all and I got the call asking if I wanted to go to Rangers in a swap deal for Bobby Williamson.
I jumped at the opportunity and I think I was Graeme’s third signing. Straight away you could see the quality of the squad he was putting together. It was a really exciting time in my career and I just loved being at the club.
Best International Game
Playing for Northern Ireland was brilliant, I loved it every minute of it, and I’m proud to have 73 caps for my country.
If I had to pick out my best game from my international career it would have to be when we beat Spain at the 1982 World Cup, that was just unbelievable.
We drew 0-0 with Yugoslavia and 1-1 with Honduras and we then had to take on the hosts in Valencia on a Friday night. We were expected to get hammered but we won 1-0 which was just an incredible result.
Gerry Armstrong scored the only goal on 47 minutes but we then went down to ten men when Mal Donaghy was sent off. From there we fought so hard to hold on to our lead and if you are from Northern Ireland that’s what you do.
If someone wants to steal 50 quid from my pocket you are going to have to fight me for it and that’s what we did that night in Spain. We were organised and disciplined and it was an unbelievable night for the country as we progressed to the second round of the tournament.
Best Teammate Prank
At Rangers we had so many great characters in the dressing room. Davie Cooper had a really dry sense of humour and he loved a wind-up but one of the best stories I have from my years at the club involved Durrant and McCoist which perhaps isn’t a surprise! On a winter’s day
McCoist came in from East Kilbride wearing a brand new pair of snow boots and you could see he was chuffed with them. They probably cost a few bob so when he got changed for training he left them in the dressing room, forgetting wee Durranty was injured.
We went out and trained and when we came back in Coisty went over to where his gear was and Durranty had painted three Adidas stripes down the sides of his snow boots. McCoist went crazy but when he bent down to grab a boot to throw at Durranty he almost pulled his shoulder out of the socket.
Durranty had nailed both boots to the wooden floor! It was hysterical but that’s what it was like every day at Rangers. We had a brilliant laugh and every day there was a different wind-up.
Best Player Played With
The best player I played with, and I’ve mentioned him already, is George Best. He came back and played in four or five games in 1976 and ‘77 prior to the 1978 World Cup finals and to play alongside him was just incredible.
Seeing him play I could only imagine what he was like in his heyday. To be fair just to be in his company was special for me and he was such a humble man. I remember sitting with him on a Sunday night with the Northern Ireland squad and Martin O’Neill would tell stories about working with Brian Clough and I’d tell my stories about Tommy Docherty at Manchester United.
George would just listen and you could see he loved it, but what a player.
Best Player Skills
Best didn’t have tricks like the Cruyff turn or the stepovers you see Ronaldo do nowadays.
For George it was all about dropping the left shoulder and going to the right or dropping the right shoulder and going to the left. It was all about body swerve and balance but he was brave as well.
I used to speak to the Man United physio and he used to say George would come in after a game and the back of his legs would be covered in scrapes from defenders’ studs.
But he would still go out and train, play and go back for more. That was George, just an incredible talent.
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TEN OF THE BEST:
THE TOP TEN:
TOP TEN: SAVES
TOP TEN: LAST MINUTE GOALS
TOP TEN: OVERHEAD KICKS
TOP TEN: SCOTTISH CUP GOALS
TOP TEN: EURO STRIKES
TOP TEN: MOST CAPPED GERS
TOP TEN: CHEEKY GOALS
TOP TEN: GOAL CELEBRATIONS
TOP TEN: FREE KICKS