The club was saddened to learn of the death this week at the age of 71 of our former player Nicky Nelson, a powerful, ball-handling prop who was a part of the cup-kings era of the mid-1970s.
Though born in the East Midlands (in June 1952), Nicky grew up in Widnes, attending St Michaels Primary and Fisher-More Secondary schools. From schoolboy rugby he graduated to the amateur ranks with the Widnes B team where he appeared alongside future fellow-Chemics Alan Dearden, Mick George, Nick Kelly, and Mick Adams.
Having signed for Widnes in May 1971, Nicky made his first team debut as a teenager against Warrington a few months later.
He was on the losing side in the 1973 BBC2 Floodlit final against Bramley, but it was not until the second half of the 1974/75 season that Nicky began to establish himself as a regular in the first thirteen.
He narrowly missed out to Barry Sheridan for a place in the pack at Wembley against Warrington and had to be content to watch as a non-playing substitute while his colleagues claimed their memorable victory.
The following campaign was the high point of Nicky’s career as a professional. He played 32 times, was capped twice by Lancashire, picked up winners’ medals in the finals of the Lancashire Cup (against Salford) and Players No 6 Trophy (versus Hull – again as a non-playing sub) and was also a key figure as the Chemics reached another Challenge Cup final.
Nicky arguably played the game of his life when Widnes overturned a 9-0 semi-final deficit against the formidable Featherstone side to triumph by a score of 15-9.
Along with Keith Elwell and John Wood, he tamed the famous Rovers’ front-row of Thompson, Bridges, and Farrar. Sadly, the final itself was an anti-climax and the veteran forwards of St Helens prevailed in the heatwave conditions.
A groin injury limited Nicky’s game time during 1976/77, but not before he appeared in another Lancashire Cup final win, with Jim Mills’ Workington being the losers on that occasion.
The signing of the experienced Bill Ramsey that season, the return of Mills in early 1977, and the capture from Welsh RU of Glyn Shaw later in the year, meant that first-team opportunities were becoming scarcer and, having played his last match against Leeds in March 1977, Nicky stepped aside from the game for a while to concentrate on his family and his career in the metalworking industry.
He was briefly lured back to pro rugby league when his old mentor, Vince Karalius, persuaded Nicky to join him at Wigan but he never settled there and left after playing just eleven times for the cherry-and-whites. Having turned his back on the paid ranks aged just 26, he became involved with the amateur game, first as player-coach at Runcorn ARLFC and later with Halton-Farnworth Hornets.
Nicky was hugely popular with fellow players and rugby league fans alike. He was a devoted family man who last year celebrated his golden wedding with his wife, Ann and we send our condolences to Ann and to all of Nicky’s family and many friends on their sad loss.