I’m of an age to remember Nobby Stiles very well indeed – and not all that fondly, given my allegiance to Scotland. He was a physically small man but a titanic character and he’s one of only three Englishman to have won both the World Cup and European Cup, placing him in a most august group.
When I read yesterday of the very parlous circumstances he’s now living in, I was horrified. So I threw out a message of support on Twitter and it took off. The level of reaction showed that, even if the richest institutions and the richest people don’t care about the plight of a man like Nobby Stiles, the people do. It was very heart-warming.
But the people have only a limited power to help Nobby Stiles. United, the FA and the PFA have infinitely more power, and they should exercise it. They have a duty of care here and so far none of them have moved.
Yes United bought Stiles’ medals for a lot of money a few years ago, but that doesn’t quite cut it. The fact that a guy like Stiles, one of the best players Britain has ever produced, should have to sell his medals in the first place is a real tragedy. United should have looked after him without taking his medals, and I haven’t given up hope that they will do so before it’s too late.
But this isn’t just specific to United or their much-maligned American owners. It’s something in the timbre of modern football clubs in their current form. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The FA, the Premier League and PFA also have questions to answer here. The game is awash with satellite television money. How can these organisations turn a blind eye when one of the men who helped embed football in Britain’s cultural fabric, and create the feverish demand for the sport we see today, is in his hour of need?
People might say this would set a precedent, but Nobby Stiles isn’t just anybody. He helped stitch the United legend that underpins today’s commercial behemoth and pave the way for the end of the maximum wage in the early 60s, the first step on the road to today’s telephone-number contracts. He is the most high-profile footballer to have fallen on hard times in recent years and he’s more or less at death’s door; we aren’t asking anyone to look after him for 25 years, just to ensure his life ends in comfort.
Of all the ways to help Nobby Stiles, a testimonial would be the most appropriate. A Manchester United XI versus an England XI, at Wembley. Simply open a charity account for the game and bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a couple of million quid for Nobby and his family. I don’t go along with the notion that players like Wayne Rooney should be donating money to Stiles – they have no moral duty to do so – but by playing in the testimonial, they’d be doing their bit in a classy, fitting way.
Football’s name is all too often besmirched by salacious tales of scandal and avarice, and a testimonial for Nobby Stiles would be a great way to remind the world what a wonderful game it truly is. So let’s do it.
More from talkRADIO: