'My best mate was the most inspirational man I ever met'
TWO sacks tied together with string – that was Mike Nicholls' first-ever rugby ball.
Best friend Mickey Booth helped Nicholls bind that makeshift toy, just two youngsters dreaming of one day gracing the Kingsholm turf.
Both men did so much more than simply turn out at their home-city ground of course.
And now former Gloucester scrum-half Booth has hailed Nicholls' Cherry and Whites legacy as one of the greatest the club will ever witness.
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Booth met Nicholls at St Mark's Infant School, instantly forming a friendship with the future Gloucester captain and coach.
That rudimentary rugby ball was a distant memory by the time the pair geared up for one of Gloucester's biggest-ever games at London Welsh.
Booth admitted Nicholls' greatest-ever team talk was at times terrifying – but galvanised the Cherry and Whites to subdue British Lions-heavy Welsh at Old Deer Park in the inaugural RFU Knockout Cup quarter-final.
Gloucester moved onto the semi-final at fearsome Coventry's uninviting Coundon Road ground.
The Cherry and Whites won the 'most brutal' match of Booth's career – saying something given his 471 Gloucester appearances.
And when they dispatched Moseley at Twickenham to claim the title, Booth said Nicholls achieved one of his standout Kingsholm feats.
"We both lived near Kingsholm growing up," explained 74-year-old Booth. "We used to go down to an area we called the rec and would put our coats down as goalposts.
"Then we would roll up sacks, tie them together to make a rugby ball and just get stuck in.
"I was brought up with him as a boy, and we remained firm friends forever.
"He was a true credit to Gloucester: he shaped the character and the culture of the club.
"And he'll always be respected and admired for that.
"I remember Mike's first game for Gloucester was at Cardiff Arms Park, and some of the Old Cents came down to support him.
"He had a good game, and everything went from there.
"He was just immense.
"He could be a volatile captain too mind – I remember he gave me a good whack down at Lydney once because I was messing around or something.
"His team-talks were phenomenal, and at times they were pretty scary.
"At Old Deer Park for the quarter-final of the cup in 1972 the team talk he gave then is something I'll never, ever forget.
"Sometimes it was as much the way he said things as what he actually said.
"But he told us 'respect the jersey, remember you represent the city, uphold the club's ethos – and most of all, remember they are only human beings, just like us'.
"Welsh had something like seven Lions and that was right after the famous series win in New Zealand.
"No one gave us a hope – but Mike told us we would win the game, he believed in everyone fully, and that rubbed off.
"He was one of the most inspirational men I've ever met.
"He was not big in stature, but he was absolutely massive to the Gloucester club.
"For that game at Welsh, and then again up at Coventry for the semi-final, he worked the forwards up into such a frenzy, I'd never seen anything like it.
"That match at Coventry was the most brutal and physical match of rugby I ever played in.
"But Mike just dragged us through.
"He was a very persuasive man, and he was a great friend.
"He's a big, big loss – but he'll never be forgotten at Gloucester, and that's a fine legacy."