Lightbourne Pays Tribute To Chris Nicholl

February 26, 2024 | 0 Comments

[Written by Stephen Wright]

Kyle Lightbourne has paid tribute to his former Walsall manager, Chris Nicholl, who passed away aged 77 on Saturday [February 24].

It was under Nicholl that Lightbourne enjoyed the best years of his playing career, describing the former Northern Ireland international as an “outstanding manager” who helped “put me on the right path” as a free-scoring striker.

Lightbourne was an integral part of the Walsall team that achieved promotion from Division Three under Nicholl, scoring 27 goals as they finished runners-up behind Carlisle United in the 1994-95 season.

“I learned so much from Chris and have a lot of respect for him,” Lightbourne told Bernews.

“I was already at Walsall when he arrived at the club, playing in midfield or up front, but he was the one who made me the number one striker, playing alongside Kevin Wilson.

“His methods worked well for me, and I have a lot of happy memories of those times.”

As a player, Nicholl, a no-nonsense defender, spent most of his career at Aston Villa and Southampton, a club he later managed for six years.

He also won 51 caps for Northern Ireland and was part of the team that reached the World Cup finals in 1982.

Despite finishing in the top half of Division Two the following two seasons after winning promotion at Walsall, Nicholl left the club in 1997, the same year Lightbourne joined Premier League side Coventry City for £500,000 [$395,000].

Nicholl would later make two returns to Walsall, first as assistant to Ray Graydon during the final few months of his tenure in 2002, then as advisor to Dean Smith after he took charge in 2011.

“Kenny Hibbitt [who signed Lightbourne for Walsall] was good for me too, but Chris took things to a new level for all the players,” said Lightbourne, nicknamed “Killer” by the Walsall fans because of his predatory instincts in front of goal.

“He’s the one who gave Alan Shearer [the former Newcastle United and England striker] his opportunity at Southampton, and I imagine every player he worked with will have a lot of good things to say about him.

“You knew where you stood with him, and that’s what I liked about him.”

The 55-year-old said Nicholl’s influence rubbed off on him and inspired him to focus on his own managerial career.

Lightbourne enjoyed success as coach of PHC Zebras and Robin Hood and coached the Bermuda Hogges, the island’s first and only semi-professional franchise, before taking the reins of the Bermuda national team, leading them to the Concacaf Gold Cup for the first time in 2019.

“I took plenty of his methods into management,” Lightbourne said. “I got to spend time with him after my playing career and played some golf with him. He was a gifted golfer.

“I also spent some time coaching alongside him at Walsall when he returned to the club as assistant to Dean Smith [Lightbourne worked briefly as a striker coach].”

Nicholl had fought a long battle with CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], a brain disorder linked to repeated trauma to the head, which he put down to heading balls throughout his long career.

“Chris had been sick for a long time with dementia, and we’ve had several fundraisers for him at Walsall to try and help his family,” Lightbourne added.

“I’m looking to head to the UK for his funeral. There’s a strong possibility I’ll be there. He’s someone I really respect.”

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