Soccer

Former Aston Villa and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl dies at age of 77

The ex-Southampton and Walsall manager had been living with dementia.

Former Aston Villa defender Chris Nicholl has died at the age of 77
Former Aston Villa defender Chris Nicholl (left), who has died at the age of 77 Former Aston Villa defender Chris Nicholl has died at the age of 77 (Nick Potts/PA)

Former Southampton and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl, who captained Aston Villa to League Cup glory, has died at the age of 77.

Nicholl, who also managed Southampton before taking charge of Walsall, had been living with dementia, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy, 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 family statement on his daughter Cathy’s Facebook account.

It said: “It is with a heavy heart that we write this. Chris Nicholl (our dad) sadly passed away peacefully on Saturday evening in hospital.

“He fought a very long battle with CTE, caused by his dedication to football. Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him.”

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.

The midlands club posted on X: “Aston Villa is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former player Chris Nicholl, who has died at the age of 77.

“The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Chris’ family and friends at this difficult time.

“A two-time promotion and League Cup winner, Chris Nicholl’s achievements in claret and blue will never be forgotten.

“He was a dominant figure at the heart of the Aston Villa defence for over five seasons, making 252 appearances and scoring 20 goals.

“Rest in peace, Chris.”

After hanging up his boots, 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 Southampton first team.

Shearer said on X: “RIP Chris Nicholl. You believed in me and gave me my chance. Thank you.”

Le Tissier added: “The thoughts and prayers of my family go out to the family of my first manager Chris Nicholl, who has sadly passed away.

“I’ll always be eternally grateful to Chris for having the faith in me as a 17 year old boy to give me my opportunity to prove I was good enough to be a professional footballer. Gone, but never forgotten #RIPChris.”

Nicholl parted company with the Saints in May 1991 and spent three years out of the game before taking the hotseat at Walsall.

The Saddlers said on X: “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.

Former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie McMenemy appointed Chris Nicholl as his assistant
Former Northern Ireland football manager Lawrie McMenemy appointed Chris Nicholl as his assistant Former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie McMenemy appointed Chris Nicholl as his assistant (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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

Nicholl was reunited with McMenemy during his spell in charge of Northern Ireland, serving as his assistant manager.

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.”