Friday’s Forgotten Footballer: Norman Whiteside

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles

friday's forgotten footballer
Full name: Norman Whiteside
Date of birth: 7 May 1965
Clubs: Manchester United, Everton
Position: Full back
Appearances/Goals:235/56

The Premier League has recently witnessed the premature retirement of England and West Ham United striker, Dean Ashton. It was a sorry end to the career of a player who had threatened to make a real impact on the League and secure a regular spot in the national team.

However, despite the bitter disappointment the 26-year-old must be experiencing, he can take solace from the story of Norman Whiteside, who was forced to retire at the same age but went on to craft a successful career in the medical profession.

The Northern Ireland international represented his country at two World Cups and played for one of the most prestigious clubs in England before he was forced to hang up his boots due to injury.

Whiteside was discovered at the tender age of 16 by the renowned Manchester United scout, Bob Bishop, who had unearthed some famous faces hailing from Ulster including George Best and Sam McIlroy.

He made history for both club and country as he became the youngest player to represent the Red Devils and Northern Ireland. Furthermore when he was selected to represent his country in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, he broke a record previously set by Pele as he secured the illustrious title of the youngest player to appear in a World Cup, aged 17 years and 41 days old.

He participated in the historic victory over the Spanish hosts in which Gerry Armstrong’s strike sealed a 1-0 victory.

He featured heavily for Manchester United during the 1981-82 season and a year later, he rubber-stamped his rising reputation as he scored in both the League Cup and FA Cup finals becoming the youngest player ever to do so. His first medal came at Wembley when he and his team-mates overcame Brighton and Hove Albion in the FA Cup, providing adequate compensation after losing to Liverpool in the other final.

His style of play made him a difficult opponent. He boasted an imposing frame at 6ft 2″, but was more than capable with the ball at his feet, and possessed a fierce shot and a keen eye for goal. He was utilised either in the midfield role or up front.

Whiteside’s no nonsense style of play soon earned him the nickname ‘The Shankill Skinhead’.

He was also known as the scourge of Merseyside after he scored in successive games against Liverpool and Everton respectively to help United to another domestic cup success in 1985. His extra time goal the only 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 spell at Old Trafford.

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 Northern Irish international joined Everton in 1989.

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, aged 26.

After spending some time considering different avenues to explore, he sought to forge a career away from the football pitch and became interested in medicine. In an interview with Four Four Two he revealed why he chose to become a podiatrist.

“I’d thought about becoming a physio,” he explains, “Then one day I went to a podiatry clinic in Salford and decided on going down that avenue. I’m now a qualified chiropodist and podiatrist.”

He went on to explain what types of injuries he deals with. “We deal with problems from the hip down to the big toe. I do full assessments that analyse how people move, and we can build special insoles. I have a pressurised foot tread, which shows the foot in 3D, so we can find out what the problem is.”

He added: “After graduating Salford University, I wrote to the PFA and got work with them. I worked with 88 of the 92 league clubs for around eight years. I used to go round the clubs and screen the 16 year-old boys to check out any lower limb problems they may have before they become professionals.”

Whiteside can still be seen at Old Trafford occasionally giving guided tours of the stadium.

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