John Nicholson began his football career with his home-town club, Liverpool, but made only one appearance for the Reds before signing for Port Vale in 1961.
After four seasons with the Valiants, during which time he made 208 consecutive senior appearances, the 29-year-old joined Rovers for £5,000 in September 1965. Although starting his Rovers career at left-back, he soon moved to the centre of defence, his preferred position, where he became a tower of strength in Rovers’ push for promotion from Division Four for 1965-66.
A natural leader, who was regarded with enormous respect and affection by his team-mates, John soon took over the captaincy of Rovers and his positive influence became more apparent after manager Bill Leivers resigned in February 1966.
John worked closely with caretaker-bosses Jackie Bestall and Frank Marshall, and Rovers clinched promotion with a game to spare, eventually sealing the Fourth Division Championship. This was Rovers’ first divisional title since 1950 and ended a spell of seven seasons in the Football League’s bottom division.
There was a good deal of optimism about what Rovers might achieve in the 1966-67 season, but two days after a 5-2 victory over Bradford City in a League Cup replay, tragedy struck.
On the morning of 1st September 1966, returning from a visit to Stoke-on-Trent with team-mate Alick Jeffrey, John’s car was in collision with a lorry near Warmsworth.
Both men were badly injured, but although Alick recovered to play again, John died two days later after failing to regain consciousness.
The loss of a popular captain and team-mate was devastating for Rovers, and they were relegated at the end of the season.
A benefit match, played at Belle Vue in October 1966 between Liverpool’s First XI and a Representative team which included George Best, raised over £2,000 for John’s bereaved family.
Rovers Debut: 25th September 1965, Division Four vs. Newport County (away) lost 0-4.
Final game: 30th August 1966, League Cup Round 1 (Replay) vs. Bradford City (home) won 5-2.
Football League: 41 appearances, 0 goals.
All senior games: 45 appearances, 0 goals
Honours: Division Four Champions 1965-66.