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Former Aston Villa captain and Walsall manager Chris Nicholl dies aged 77

West Midlands football is in mourning following the death of former Villa captain and Walsall manager Chris Nicholl aged 77.

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Nicholl was a two-time League Cup winner with Villa, scoring one of the most iconic goals in club history in the 1977 final against Everton. A centre-back who also starred for Southampton and Northern Ireland, he later moved into management, guiding the Saddlers to promotion from Division Three in 1995.

In recent years he had been battling the brain disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which he blamed on repeatedly heading footballs.

Writing on Facebook, his daughter Cathy announced he passed away in hospital on Saturday evening.

She added: “He fought a very long battle with CTE, caused by his dedication to football. Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him.”

The Saddlers, who Nicholl managed for three years between 1994 and 1997, said they were “devastated” to learn of his passing. Villa said they were "deeply saddened".

Walsall manager Chris Nicholl

A club statement added: “The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Chris' family and friends at this difficult time."

Born in Cheshire, Nicholl was on the books of Burnley but made his senior debut for non-league Witton Albion having failed to break into the first-team.

After making his Football League bow for Halifax, he moved to Luton before arriving at Villa Park in 1972.

In total, he made 252 appearances for the club, among the most notable a 2-2 draw at Leicester in 1976 in which he scored all four goals, two in the home net and two in his own, becoming only the second player in the history of English football to achieve the feat.

The defining moment of his Villa career, meanwhile, came in the following year’s League Cup final second replay against Everton. Picking the ball up on the right of midfield with his team trailing 1-0 at Old Trafford, Nicholl advanced to around 35 yards out before launching a thunderbolt shot into the top corner of the net.

Brian Little would eventually go on to score the winner in extra-time, yet it is Nicholl’s goal which remains among the best remembered in Villa’s history.

He left Villa that summer and joined Southampton, going on to make more than 200 appearances for the Saints, including another League Cup final, albeit one which ended in defeat to Nottingham Forest in 1979.

Nicholl was also capped 58 times by Northern Ireland and was part of the team which beat hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup.

After finishing his playing career at Grimsby, he returned to Southampton as manager, spending six years in the dugout between 1985 and 1991. Alan Shearer and Matt Le Tissier were among the players he handed debuts during his time at the helm.

Aston Villa's Chris Nicholl celebrating with the League Cup after their extra-time victory against Everton

In 1994, having been out of the game since being sacked by the Saints, he returned to management with Walsall, replacing Kenny Hibbitt.

Under Nicholl’s guidance, the Saddlers won promotion from Division Three the following spring, finishing runners-up behind Carlisle.

Despite finishing in the top half of Division Two the following two seasons, Nicholl left Bescot in 1997 citing family reasons.

He would later make two returns to the club, first as assistant to Ray Graydon during the latter’s final months in charge, then as an advisor to Dean Smith after he took the reins in 2011 with the club nine points adrift of safety in League One.

In recent years, Nicholl had been suffering with CTE and moved to the south coast to be cared for by his family. In a BBC documentary Dementia, Football and Me, hosted by Alan Shearer, he revealed to often forgetting where he lived because of the illness, stating that he was “brain-damaged from heading balls”.