Community mourns for devoted Ray
NEWQUAY's football community is in mourning following the passing of one of its greatest sons after a long battle with illness.
Those who knew, played for or played under Ray Nicholls during his long association with the Mount Wise club have joined Cornwall’s sporting fraternity in paying their tributes.
Regarded as one of the finest footballers that the county has ever produced, Nicholls enjoyed a long and illustrious career, first as a player and then a manager, spending his heyday in the successful Newquay side of the 1970s and 1980s.
News of his cancer first became public knowledge before Christmas and a number of his former players and teammates have visited him of late. He passed away on Sunday morning just a day after his 63rd birthday.
Newquay director of football Trevor Mewton, a close friend of Ray’s for more than 40 years, told the Voice: “He would never miss a training session and would never dream of turning up without his boots being in pristine condition.
“That outward persona took him into the way he was in the game. He was always a very fit lad. In the modern game, because Manchester United was his passion, he would be the Michael Carrick of the team.
“He initially helped me out when I was managing at Foxhole. Then, when I went from Foxhole to St Austell, I wanted to try and get local lads together. Ray and his brother Graham came to play for me. Ray skippered the side and was a very quiet-minded leader, but led by example.
“He never wanted to give the ball away and always believed in having good habits. He was very, very dedicated to the game. We had only been at St Austell 12 months when Morrish Truscott won the league with Newquay. He stepped down and Ray, Graham and a couple of others came to Newquay with me.
“What a good combination in the central midfield for Newquay. We had David Street, the Dele Alli of his day, and Ray Nicholls. One who loves to play it and one that loves to get forward.”
Nicholls came from a strong sporting family and younger brother Graham is also regarded as one of the best Cornish footballers in the modern era.
An exceptional midfield player who held an excellent record from the penalty spot, Nicholls was a professional at Southampton under Ted Bates in the early 1970s - playing alongside England striker Mick Channon - before returning to Cornwall as part of a Penzance side that won the South Western League in 1974-75, losing once all season.
A Cornwall Senior Cup final with brother Graham at Mewton's St Austell was followed by a move to Newquay in 1978. The trio joined the Peppermints with Mewton quickly naming Ray as his captain. Nicholls, who was already a regular in the Cornwall squad, formed part of the Newquay side that won the South Western League four times in the late 70s and 80s, whilst also playing 74 times for Falmouth Town in the Western League over the same period.
Nicholls played into his late 30s before hanging up his boots following a career-ending leg break in a 1991 Senior Cup semi-final at Truro. His management career began with Newquay and it was his team in 1991/92 that denied Falmouth a fourth domestic treble with a Senior Cup win at St Blazey.
When Mewton's spell at Falmouth ended in 1994, Nicholls was the ideal man to succeed him and his decision to join caused the rivalry between Town and the Peppermints to increase, one that would last some years. His first season, with an almost completely new team, brought Town a South Western League Cup win, their first trophy for three years.
There was also a run to the fifth round of the FA Vase, ended by a heavy defeat to Belper before his resignation at the end of the 1995/96 season. He later managed Cornwall to two South West Counties Championships in 2004 and 2006 alongside Mewton. Most recently Nicholls was seen assisting Mewton at both Penzance and Cornwall while he was also rumoured to be a candidate to return as Newquay manager in 2011 upon Jim Hilton's leaving.
David Ball, who served Nicholls as both a captain and assistant manger, said: "I can't remember Ray ever upsetting anyone. Players would kick lumps out of him and he would just get on with it. He was a very successful player and a manager."
Ball, who chose Nicholls as godfather to his son Daniel, went on to say: "He played in midfield and I was at right-back. He was always available even though teams often man-marked him. He used to run them ragged. He was an outstanding footballer and a real gentleman."
Mewton concluded: “We have always been close friends in football. The only time I ever got sacked as a manager was when I was at Falmouth - Ray went and took my job! Ray helped me when I went to Penzance and we met up again when we jointly-managed the county senior team.
“It was the first time that Cornwall had ever won the South West Counties Championship. In fairness to Ray he deserved that accolade. He never picked a team without doing his homework.
“All the tributes will be true and rightly so. It won't be cheap talk because he was held in very high esteem. When you get somebody like Ray then rightly tributes will be made to him. He deserves it because he was a real football person. Don't do as I say, do as I do - that is what he believed. He was looked after by Mick Channon at Southampton. This was the way he was brought up playing the game.
“I actually did go in and see him on Saturday. The cancer has taken him away but the doctors said that there was nothing wrong with his heart and lungs - he was still very strong. That was Ray.”
A keen squash player and golfer, Nicholls is survived by his wife Jean, two sons Adam and Matt and his brother Graham. There will be a minute’s silence before this evening’s senior representative game when Cornwall take on the Royal Navy. Details of funeral arrangements are to be confirmed in due course.
- 1st February 2017 17:56
- Shocked to hear the news of Ray. Never played with him but many times against him and a legend at Newquay.
Condolences to his family
- 3rd February 2017 00:50
- So sad to hear of Rays passing.Commiserations to His Wife,Boys & Graham.From Paul,Barbara,Sharon & Patrick.R.I.P
- 6th February 2017 10:15
- Sad to hear about Ray we worked at the same place
- 10th February 2017 12:33
- Really sorry to hear of Rays passing. It was always a privilege to referee games that Ray was involved in - as a player and manager. He was a true gentleman, on and off the field - a great loss to football. Bruce Taylor