Cyril Knowles

These two articles originally appeared in MEHSTG No.10 - Winter 1991

Despite the frequent announcements of his illness during the last few months, the news of Cyril Knowles' death as we were leaving Norwich on Saturday evening still came as a shock. For me, it is the first death of a player I grew up watching week in and week out, and for anyone else old enough to have seen him play during the late sixties and early seventies it also sees the departure of a character as important during his era as Gazza is/was today.

There are many memories of Cyril Knowles that spring readily to mind - the referee sending him to collect the ball so that Wolves could take a free kick during the UEFA Cup Final of 1972, his mistake that cost Spurs the match in the Semi Final of the League Cup against Chelsea the same season, his goals against Leeds that ensured out continued presence in the 1st Division in 1974. Somehow, Cyril Knowles cropped up an awful lot during his time at White Hart Lane.

The thing I remember most about Cyril Knowles is smiling - he always seemed to have a smile on his face, and it invariably spread to the fans on the terraces. That smile was still in place when he visited White Hart Lane as a manager during the 1980's - although he expected Spurs to beat Torquay and Hartlepool, he genuinely seemed to enjoy the experience. His place in the hearts of the fans old enough to remember him as player is not in question - do you remember the response when he walked out onto the pitch before either of these games?

In a managerial career that never rose above the heights of the 3rd Division Cyril still enjoyed success, although his recent illness robbed him of the opportunity to fully enjoy Hartlepool's promotion last season. His success at the smaller clubs always made me wonder what he might achieve at a bigger club, where selling to survive was not a priority. After this weekend, we will never know.

It seems strange that what made Cyril Knowles famous should be an advertisement for a loaf of bread, turned into a catchphrase and then made into a record. No better or worse than any of the other football records that have followed it into the charts, "Nice one Cyril" was one of the first that glorified the exploits of an individual player rather than a team. As they say, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

In recent times life kept kicking Cyril in the teeth, first with the freak death of a son and lately with his own illness. In the face of such adversity it must be difficult to keep a smile on your face, but Cyril managed to do just that. Somehow the injuries and antics of Paul Gascoigne all seem rather irrelevant compared to the death of Cyril Knowles. It was an honour to have seen him play - we'll not see his like again at White Hart Lane.


Coming home from the 1-0 victory over Norwich, we were shocked to receive the news that Cyril Knowles had died, aged 48, after a long illness, A cloud descended on our excellent day out in the sun, containing a game that, no doubt, Cyril would have approved of. The attacking instincts of the two sides would have pleased the full-back who always had an eye for the option to go forward, And that will be the abiding memory for me of a man who always seemed to take a great pride in turning out for Spurs and loved playing the game.

He was a player who epitomised the ups and downs that occur in football as he played parts in those I most remember, The 1973 League Cup semi-final second leg at White Hart Lane v Chelsea. The Hudson free-kick, Knowles on the near post completely missing his kick an d allowing the ball to trickle into the net to make the score 2-2, enough to take Chelsea into the Final. Understandably, he was as distraught as any Spurs fan that night but the other occasion that sticks in my mind was a happier one. The tension before our home game against Leeds on that hot April night was almost unbearable. The capacity crowd fully realised that only a win would keep Spurs in the first Division and facing the successful Yorkshire side, who sat in 9th place in the League, made the task even harder. However, the two goals by Cyril were typical of his play. A pressure penalty and a second after a marauding run up the wing helped Tottenham retain their place in the top bracket. His part in the 4-2 victory cannot be under played, His style and dare in such a crucial match made the difference between playing in the first rather than the Second.

His own life was not always as happy as he appeared to be, I could only have been about nine or ten, but I clearly recall hearing the news that his son had died following a freak accident, where a stone was thrown up from the road and crashed through the window of the car into his head, His brother, Peter, gave up a career as a footballer with Wolverhampton 'Wanderers to become a Jehovah's Witness, l only ever saw him play the once and that was in Cyril's testimonial against Arsenal, but what I did see proved to me that he was a great loss to the team. He didn't play the whole game, but he showed some superb skills that would have made him the footballing equivalent of Gascoigne in his day.

Cyril moved into management with Darlington before moving onto Torquay and Hartlepool. In each case, he took a team in decline to a good League position and left them in a healthier state than that he started with. He always wanted his teams to play in the style he had adopted as a player. When he brought his teams (Torquay and Hartlepool) to White Hart Lane in the Rumbelows Cup, he was warmly received and although his teams were defeated on the night, they did not disgrace him, In fact, perhaps the best result in his managerial career came on a rainy night at Plainmoor when Torquay gained a 1-0 first leg victory over Tottenham.

During his football career, he played a meagre four games for England, which never bore testimony to his achievements and attitude to the game. Kept out of the England side by Terry Cooper, his chances were few and far between and were restricted to filling in when the Leeds man was injured. The sight of Cyril Knowles flying down the wing and the smile on his face will live long in my memory.

All at MEHSTG send our condolences to his wife and family.


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