HALL OF FAME #6: PAUL NICHOLLS

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In each issue, we celebrate someone who deserves to have their grassroots career up in lights by inducting them into The Grassroots Hall Of Fame. For our first national issue, it’s Paul Nicholls, of Helsby FC in Cheshire.

By Alan Bond. Images By James Starkey.

New clubhouse and changing room buildings can often be quite clinical for those accompanying the modern-day 4G facilities. This is not the case at Helsby Football Club, however, who during the pandemic completed the move from their original BICC Sports & Social Club – a traditional working men’s club – to a new complex 400 yards away.

Overlooking the pitch at Callander Way in the Cheshire village is a glass balcony where, from the beginning of the 2021/22 season, a new fanbase has been growing. Named the Madris Balcony Ultras after the popular draft beer sold on site, members congregate at the viewpoint on Saturday afternoons as the Green Army look to surge forward to a second successive promotion and towards the West Cheshire One Division (Step 7). 

Overlooking the pitch at Callander Way in the Cheshire village is a glass balcony where, from the beginning of the 2021/22 season, a new fanbase has been growing. Named the Madris Balcony Ultras after the popular draft beer sold on site, members congregate at the viewpoint on Saturday afternoons as the Green Army look to surge forward to a second successive promotion and towards the West Cheshire One Division (Step 7). 

Accompanying the crowd of locals is a flag reading “Geoffrey Paul is our Hero”. It is the reveal of his primary given name and, most importantly, an ode to a man who has served his local community’s football club for over three decades with relentlessness. 

Known as “Nicksy”, there are simply no remaining roles which Paul Nicholls hasn’t filled, starting as a player before utilising his accountancy skills to move into several off-field duties. In recent years he has taken up a keen interest in walking across the United Kingdom as well as following his beloved Everton, and his appetite for amateur football refuses to diminish whilst his son Jack is part of the first team squad. 

Since arriving as a student in the 1990s, Paul has experienced it all, having grown up a stone’s throw away from the old ground. From the highs of Cheshire FA Amateur Cup and Northern Counties FA Trophy glory at the turn of the millennium, there have also been darker hours. Relegations, loss of teams, yet none more greater than the personal health battles he has overcome. 

Lee Bignall played for Helsby before moving into the dugout for his first taste of management between 2011 and 2017. 

“There are a million stories about him and some that probably shouldn’t be told,” said the current Ashton Town manager. “I think the sign of the man is that he soldiered on, unphased, whilst recovering from Lymphoma. That’s a memory that really sticks out for me.”

Like many amateur clubs across the country, figures such as Paul Nicholls continue to act as the bedrock for teams that mean so much to them, whilst a younger generation of players often don’t realise the work that goes in and show no sign of following in the footsteps as future volunteers and gatekeepers for the future.

Come wind, rain or shine every Friday after work or on Saturday morning, Paul would never fail to make the long walk from the old clubhouse down to the pitch – located on a boggy, sloped marshland – to make sure the nets were up, lines marked and pitch maintained to the best of the club’s resources, before returning to the changing rooms to get the kit set out or packed up ready for an away day. 

It has been this pursuit to make sure he shows up and sets the standard for the club’s teams which shines through. Even though I’m not at the club now, for me personally it was always his recognition that you would crave. I can remember once shooting in the nets at half-time and managing to curl one in the top corner at the Factory End, turning round to see him nodding in approval. 

With me on the muddy pitch at the old base that day was current Stoke City right-back Tommy Smith. Having been released from Manchester City earlier in his career, he trained with his local side whilst getting his career on track and explains how he couldn’t turn down Paul’s advances when he pulled him aside after one session. 

“I was just coming towards the gate when he asked me what I was doing on Saturday. My automatic response was thinking that I was occupied, thinking I already had a game. Then I realised, hang on, I don’t have a club. I just thought it was a good way of keeping my fitness up so we shook hands. Typical of him, he had a form ready and I signed on for a few end-of-season games.”

Central midfielder turned centre-half Gaz Gerrard made his debut for Helsby in 2004. He remains part of the club’s second team set-up at thirty-five and knows Nicksy more than most, understanding that his diplomatic approach can often be contrasted on a matchday as he patrols the touchline with the flag. 

“I think it’s dead funny,” Gaz explains, “because if you speak to him, he says he will never get involved in the football side, but as soon as you’re not playing well or it’s a close game, it’s him you hear first with the vein coming from his forehead. He is always there, has been there for absolutely years and loves it.” 

Memories treasured from past to present. Whilst the balcony fills and the Madris flows alongside the trajectory of the football team, there may just be more tales to come for the legacy of Helsby’s hero, Geoffrey Paul Nicholls. 

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