The Evolution of “Nice One, Cyril”

I hadn’t heard the expressions in years.  I had just been helping out a mate with a bit of work via email and, at its successful conclusion, he emailed me with the subject line: “Nice one, Cyril.”

Given that my name isn’t Cyril, the reference might appear baffling to Millennials and Generations Zers but, at one time, it was a phrase used in common parlance as a way to express praise for someone.

But what are its origins?

Long associated with football culture, the expression was adopted by supporters of Tottenham Hotspurs in the 1970s to celebrate their long-standing left-back Cyril Knowles, and was even the title of a club song by the Cockerel Chorus, Harold Spiro and Helen Clarke, released just before Tottenham’s 1-0 League Cup victory against Norwich in 1973.  But the phrase’s roots date back earlier still.

“Nice one, Cyril” was actually invented by Peter Mayle, of A Year in Provence fame, as an advertising slogan for Wonderloaf Bread in 1972.  And the eponymous Cyril was originally a baker, not a footballer.

However, it is through football, and not bread, that the meme survives.  From Cyril Knowles the baton was passed to Cyrille Regis, and from Cyrille Regis it has passed to Son Heung-Min.  Son Heung-Min?  Why Son Heung-Min?  Well, perhaps as a reflection of the changing demographic of the Premier League.

There are far fewer Cyrils (or Cyrilles) playing in England’s top-flight of football today than there were in the 1970s.  Similarly, Ians, Clives and Garys have all steadily disappeared.  They are all an increasingly rare breed; respect Gary Cahill, you are upholding a proud lineage.  In fact, today, there are more Sons playing in the Premier League than there are Cyrils.  But, presciently, the lyric-writers of “Nice one, Cyril” had foreseen this development with their second line: “Nice one, Cyril; nice one, son.”

Get well soon, Sonny – your absence is causing havoc to the strategy of my Fantasy Football team.

© Donnie Blake


Donnie Blake likes to believe that his name is future-proof.

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