Johnny McNichol might briefly have wondered what he let himself in for after Ted Drake signed him from Brighton and Hove Albion in 1952.
Usually an inside-forward, 10 minutes into his debut at Old Trafford he was asked to fill in at right-back – and earned considerable praise
However, he was soon forging a fine forward partnership with Roy Bentley, with whom he’d also shared the dressing room at Newcastle United, hitting double figures in goals in four of his first five seasons.
Johnny had arrived on the King’s Road after spells at the likes of Inverness Clachnacuddin in his native Scotland. He had been a motor mechanic and never gave up other work, earning more from his newsagent shop in Hove than he took home from Stamford Bridge. He had stayed on the south coast after the transfer to Chelsea, commuting to training and matches by train.
It did not affect his performances, which were often decisive, especially in the championship-winning 1954/55 team. He hit a brace at Sunderland, a crucial late equaliser at Sheffield Wednesday, and two in the 4-2 derby win over Spurs in that epic season.
Johnny’s ‘one big disappointment’ was the club’s non-participation in the first European Cup in 1955. He was less downhearted to be eased out of his inside-forward slot by the teenage prodigy Jimmy Greaves, which prompted his switch to Crystal Palace. ‘He was a great little player,’ accepted Johnny later. ‘There was no disgrace in losing my place to him.’
Johnny was one of just nine members of the 1955 team who lived long enough to see his successors emulate them in 2005. He passed away in 2007 aged 81.