Soccer

Former Aston Villa and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl dies aged 77

The former Southampton and Walsall manager had been living with dementia.

Former Walsall manager Chris Nicholl
Former Walsall manager Chris Nicholl (left) Former Walsall manager Chris Nicholl (Nick Potts/PA)

League Cup-winning former Aston Villa skipper Chris Nicholl has died at the age of 77, former club Walsall have announced.

Nicholl, who later played for and then managed Southampton before taking charge of the Saddlers, had been living with dementia, which he attributed to brain damage caused by repeatedly heading balls over his lengthy career.

The former central defender’s death was confirmed in a statement on Walsall’s official X – formerly Twitter – account which said: “We are devastated to learn that former manager Chris Nicholl has passed away.

“Chris led the Saddlers from 1994 to 1997 and won promotion to Division Two in what was a memorable 1994-95 campaign.

“Our thoughts are with his family & friends at this incredibly sad time.”

Wilmslow-born Nicholl, who was capped 51 times by Northern Ireland and represented them at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, began his career at Burnley, but made more than 200 appearances for both Villa and the Saints.

A dependable defender, he famously scored with a 40-yard piledriver as Villa lifted the 1977 League Cup with a 3-2 second replay victory over Everton which went to extra time at Old Trafford.

Aston Villa captain Chris Nicholl, who scored their first goal, and goalkeeper John Burridge raise the League Cup after victory over Everton
Aston Villa captain Chris Nicholl, who scored their first goal, and goalkeeper John Burridge raise the League Cup after victory over Everton Aston Villa captain Chris Nicholl, who scored their first goal, and goalkeeper John Burridge raise the League Cup after victory over Everton (PA/PA)

Nicholl moved into management at the Dell when he was appointed as Lawrie McMenemy’s replacement during the summer of 1985, and it was he who promoted the emerging talents of Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and Rod Wallace to the first team.

Sacked in May 1991, he spent three years out of the game before being appointed by Walsall, and he later had a spell as assistant manager with Northern Ireland during McMenemy’s reign.

A statement on the Irish FA’s X account said: “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Chris Nicholl. He played 51 times for us, including the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time”

In 2017, Nicholl told Shearer as part of a BBC documentary of his fears over the damage he had suffered during his playing career.

He said: “I am brain-damaged from heading footballs. My memory is in trouble.

“Everyone forgets regular things, where your keys are. But when you forget where you live, that’s different.

“I’ve had that for the last four or five years, it is definitely getting worse. It bothers me.”