Football can offer many rewards both financial and otherwise for those who are successful yet the good days can come to an end at a relatively young age. One such player was Norman Whiteside whose career was certainly not so much a fairy tale as a roller coaster ride of wonderful highs and devastating lows because of chronic injuries.
He will always be remembered for being the youngest at everything. At 17 he was the youngest United player to play for the first team since Duncan Edwards, the youngest to score in an FA Cup Final and the youngest to appear in the 1982 World Cup Finals for Northern Ireland. Those same finals saw him break the previous record set by Pele as the youngest player ever to appear in a World Cup aged 17 years and 41 days old.
Whiteside was discovered at the tender age of 16 by renowned Manchester United scout Bob Bishop who had unearthed some famous names hailing from Ulster including George Best and Sammy McIlroy. He featured heavily for Manchester United during the 1981-82 season and a year later confirmed his rising reputation as he scored in both the League Cup and FA Cup finals.
His style of play made him a difficult opponent. He boasted an imposing frame at 6 feet 2 inches but was more than capable with the ball at his feet possessing a fierce shot and a keen eye for goal. He was used either in a midfield role or up front where his no nonsense style of play soon earned him the nickname ‘The Shankill Skinhead’.
Whiteside also became known as the scourge of Merseyside after he scored in successive games against Liverpool and Everton respectively to help United to another FA Cup success in 1985. His extra time goal was the difference between the Red Devils and the Toffees.
While he remained in favour with Ron Atkinson, the arrival of Sir Alex Ferguson signalled the end of Whiteside’s 11 year career at Old Trafford after a total of 47 goals in 206 appearances and two FA Cup winners medals.
Ferguson was unwilling to tolerate his heavy drinking and after struggling to hold down a place in the starting line up for a number of seasons, and despite his popularity amongst the Old Trafford faithful, the time had arrived for him to join Everton in 1989.
Sadly his time at Goodison Park was short lived. He made just 29 appearances over two seasons following a consistent inflammation of a knee injury. Thirteen operations failed to provide a long term solution and he was forced to retire in 1991 at the age of 26.
After graduating as a podiatrist at Salford University he wrote to the PFA where he became involved in working with 88 of the 92 league clubs for eight years. His role involved going round the clubs screening16 year old boys to check out any lower limb problems they may have had before becoming professionals.
In a career that was so cruelly brought to an end by injury, the big Irishman packed a lot memories in a relatively few short years which prompts him to modestly say “I’ve no need to be bitter. I played in two World Cups, two Wembley Finals and had 13 operations. I can look back and say I had an alright career”
Since the mid 90’s Whiteside has been back at Manchester United running guided “legend” tours at Old Trafford, as well as corporate meet and greet sessions on match days.
Do you have any fond memories of Whiteside at Old Trafford?