Town’s ‘best captain’ hangs up his boots

FORMER Morpeth Town captain Iain Nickalls bowed out of football in style last week, writes Brian Bennett.

The central defender, who announced his retirement from the game at the age of 34, scored the only goal of the game in Ashington Colliers’ final match of the campaign against Harraby Catholic Club at Woodhorn Lane and received glowing tributes on his career immediately afterwards.

Nickalls gave 13 years’ service to Morpeth Town before moving to Ashington where he played for the senior side for one-and-a-half seasons and also just over two campaigns for Ashington Colliers.

He said: “The time had come for me to retire. I am company director of my own software development business which is going from strength to strength and that, coupled with my family commitments, meant that I couldn’t dedicate as much time to football.

“I have given my all over the years and loved every minute of it and although I’m looking forward to the break, in my heart of hearts, I know I’m going to miss the game.”

Nickalls described the highs during his career: “Reaching the Northumberland Senior Cup final twice – the first time with Morpeth in 2006/07 when we beat Blyth 3-2 after extra-time, while on the other occasion in 2010 when I was with Ashington, we lost 2-1 to Whitley Bay.

“Another high came when the BBC cameras came to Morpeth for our FA Cup fourth qualifying round match against Burton Albion.

“It was Nigel Clough’s first game as manager of Burton Albion. We got a good crowd and were on Match of the Day.

“And I will always remember scoring in my first derby for Ashington against Bedlington.”

His lows: “Losing to Whitley Bay in that final and in the same season also missing out on claiming the League Cup against South Shields after a penalty shoot-out.”

Nickalls will also cherish his last official game when he netted what proved to be the only goal against Harraby: “I was delighted to bow out by scoring the winning goal, heading the ball home from 12 yards after Glen Bolton had supplied a cross from the left,” he said. “And I also got the last touch on the ball before the referee blew for full time so that was nice too.”

Morpeth Town president Ken Beattie led the tributes.

He said: “Iain Nickalls was the best captain Morpeth Town have had in modern history,” he said.

“He joined us as an 18-year-old from New Hartley Juniors and made his debut in our away match against Crook Town in the first division of the Northern League.

As well as being a loyal lad, Iain was a leader – one who led from the front and he was well respected by players, committee and supporters alike.

However, as a person he will never be forgotten for his loyalty to Morpeth Town because despite receiving numerous offers from other clubs, Iain stayed loyal to his team mates and the club.”

He continued: “In the mid-to-late 1990s when Morpeth were a dominant force in the first division of the Northern League.

“Iain captained the side and was, in my opinion, the best centre-half in the county of Northumberland.

“At the time he led the club which included class players such as Kevin Henderson, Jon Cullen and John Tinkler and following some superb runs in the FA Cup, in October 1998 was a lynchpin when we were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion from the Southern League Premier Division.

“The town’s biggest success, however, came in May 2007 when Iain led the club to a memorable 3-2 victory over then Conference North outfit Blyth Spartans in an outstanding Northumberland Senior Cup final at St James’ Park.”

Ashington boss Gary Middleton said: “I played in the same team as Iain – and he was a very loyal lad.

“He was a great captain, leader and player and I enjoyed my time with him.

“Iain was my first signing when I took over as manager at Ashington.”

Ashington Colliers manager David Brown said: “If Iain had made the professional ranks – then he would have be the perfect pro. It’s a sad day for us.”