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Friday, January 20, 2006

Interview with Norman Whiteside, 2000

Red News: So you are a podiatrist?
Norman Whiteside: A podiatrist yes. Well all it is, is I'm a state registered chiropodist and people get it mixed up because chiropody years ago was a diploma and I think what they did was they made the course into an honours degree and they called it a podiatry course so I'm a chiropodist/podiatrist - call it what you may - but you know they liked to be known as podiatrists so that's what I am! We specialise from the hip to the big toe so that's what we do.

RN: What made you actually decide to get into feet as it were...
NW: Well I'd knackered that many feet up during my playing career I thought I'd maybe put a bit back in and mend them you know (laughs)! I was always injured throughout my career as you know and in the medical room I picked up quite a knowledge of the anatomy and stuff like that. So I liked all that stuff. The physio used to give me lots of muscles to remember each day when I went into the medical room to stop the boredom. I just got into it and went down that avenue when I finished. I tried to go into physiotherapy but didn't have enough qualifications so I went back to school and got all my GCSEs and A Levels and wanted to get into the podiatry course - which looking at it you know is the best thing I ever did - because I've got a unique situation at the moment where I look after about 60+ Football League clubs and I'm the only one that's got the right to do the whole 92 really. Whereas if I was a physio - with respect to physiotherapists - but each club has one - so I'm in a unique situation so it worked out brilliant for me in the end.

RN: You also have work involving United on matchdays?
NW: Yeah I do the corporate hospitality along with Stuart Pearson, Wilf McGuinness and a few other comedians. We just go around doing the hospitality suites which suits me down to the ground. I mean I love mixing with people and, you know, having a few beers round the tables and then watching the game of course so it's great to be part of the club - certainly on a matchday. You meet some interesting characters as well so it's fantastic to be part of.

RN: We met you after the Paul McGrath testimonial in Dublin and had a drink with you and one or two questions (now) are about what the conversation swung around that afternoon - When your career ended you started your college course with little money at all at the time. How did it feel having to learn a new trade all over again?
NW: It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'd finished then professional football - earning decent money - not as much as they earn today I might add - but decent money in relative terms to the normal working person in the street. So I went from earning sort of good money to earning no money and I woke up one day with nowhere to go and just 'what am I going to do with my life' type of thing. So it was very difficult to go back to school. Certainly when sitting the GSCE class with 15 year olds doing Physics and stuff - it was pretty hard work. But the way I always looked at it was I was going to take a step back to go forward again and that's all it was so I took a few years out to go back to school and university and then obviously your capital starts dripping down as well so then I had to get swiftly back into earning some money. So I started doing after-dinner speaking, I started working at Old Trafford and of course my podiatry has taken off really well so things are looking good at the moment.

RN: Now how did it feel - the relatively low earnings in your day compared to what they are earning today.
NW: Well I'm actually all in favour of players earning big money. People think 'oh you're jealous'. I'm not jealous at all because in relative terms...I mean my dad was a painter and decorator and you know, I don't know how much, I can't remember how much I finished earning but maybe ten times more than my dad was earning - and even twenty times more than my dad was earning - as a painter and decorator so I was well paid as far as I was concerned and doing something that I actually loved doing. I mean, for instance, I was probably only on £300 a week at the Cup Final in '85 - I mean that sounds ridiculous these days, you know, £300 a week in the Cup Final ,- people would laugh at you. And when I made my debut for United I was on £16 a week - my win bonus was £800 so I mean I got £800. I came on for 12 minutes at Brighton in 1982...1982, Brighton, 12 minutes and the win bonus was £800 and I was only on £16 a week. So You could imagine how I felt then!

RN: I was there then! Your Utd career was a boys own story - a common tag at that time - what were your realistic dreams when you arrived at Old trafford?
NW: No I was just very narrow minded. No, not narrow minded, I was very - what shall I say - blinkered in what I wanted to do. I mean I didn't let many things get in my way. I wanted to be a footballer and that was it, simple as that. And then when I got to Old Trafford I wanted to get in the first team at the earliest possible age because I was bigger than most of my peers and you know I kept getting remarks from the coaching staff saying 'if you keep going son you've got a chance'. And you know I remember one of the coaches saying - Eric Harrison - we were coming back from a training session and you know there's me only 16 and he turns round and says 'Norman if you keep going son you've got a chance for the World Cup'. And I went 'is he having a laugh or what'. It was on my way over from the Cliff to Old Trafford and you know two months k later I'm in the Northern Ireland team playing in the World Cup in Spain! But things did happen very quickly for me of course.

RN: You were one of the youngest...
NW: Well I was the youngest - I was the youngest yeah. I beat...Well I'm the youngest British international still and I was the youngest to beat Pele's. Well I beat Pele's record - I was 17 years and 41 days - and I'm still the youngest ever to play in the World Cup Finals.

RN: Was it right, 2 World Cups before you were 22?
NW: Yeah. 82 was Spain, 86 was Mexico so I was 21. 17 and 21.

RN: I argue with my son that you got a header in the World Cup.
NW: No, a deflected goal from a free-kick against Algeria. (laughs).

RN: The old memory bank's going!

RN: Our favourite memory is when you came on at Liverpool in the 3-3 game and sorted a certain Scouser out shall we say...
NW: Oh yeah.

RN: You were a hero, you were awesome actually I have to say and I'm very nervous talking to you even now.
NW: Don't be silly.

RN: No I can't help it Norman because I can only remember you as a player and how awesome you were - and people went to see you in the FA Youth Cup at Watford (in the early eighties)...
NW: We had a great Youth team.

RN: They came back with your name and saying 'who was this colossus who represented Utd...
NW: It was probably Mark Hughes!

RN: No, they were convinced it was you.
NW: We had a great youth team didn't we with Mark Hughes and Billy Garton and myself and Graeme Hogg and people like that - we had a good youth policy but the one thing I would say about myself - I got on great with the supporters because deep down I'm just a working class guy with a bit of a talent from the back streets of Belfast. And I went out to play the game as I think most of the supporters would like to play it - to get stuck in and obviously score some goals and, you know, I wasn't a bad passer of the ball either. So I just went out and played the way I thought they'd want me to play and obviously that came across in their adulation for me because they were singing my name and I loved that. So that got me going and I got them going and we had a great rapport and I still do to this day. I mean I go to Old Trafford, sign a million autographs you know what I mean.

RN: Did you say anything to Steve McMahon that day?
NW: Only with my studs! No, I came on. I remember John Barnes getting an elbow in the adams apple - I got him round the throat and then Steve McMahon tried to come near me and I think I stood on his little toe or something like that. But I thought his little toe was around about his shin though didn't I! I didn't know my anatomy that well then! Oh and then we came back to 3-3 didn't we. Wee Gordon give it the cigar didn't he. That's right. It's amazing though - like you remember games - we remember every ball. You know players remember every kick, every ball. It's amazing.

RN: You're usually sober when you're having a game and we're not (that's why).
NW: I don't like that usually! Definitely so!

RN: No, no, I mean definitely. You know what I'm saying.
NW: Yeah, yeah!

RN: Jimmy Hill also had a go at you that night on Match of the Day!
NW: Oh yeah that was '85 wasn't it.

RN: Nice man.
NW: Yeah he said something to me and I remember...We were drinking the Guinness or something on Match Of The Day (special) and he said, typical sarcastic Jimmy Hill, he said something to me and I said 'Oh Jimmy, you know it all anyway don't you' and he went 'woh woh woh' - he fluttered a little bit didn't he and Big Ron hit me a clout round the ear and says 'Eh, behave yourself, you'.

RN: You also said when we had that drink that your Utd mementos like all the shirts you swapped, etc, were all in black bags in your loft
NW: They're still there.

RN: Have they got moths yet?
NW: Well I've not looked at them since. I've got my United shirts and boots and all my international jerseys and stuff and even my United tracksuits like I wore in the Cup Finals - they're all in bin liners in the loft. They're named like - it just says 'jerseys' or whatever but no I've not had them out. I mean I've got a nice room here where I could display them but I didn't get round to that type of thing. I mean that's probably something I'll leave to the kids...Then I've got international caps and stuff I can leave for them you know. It's more for them really. I've got the happy memories that will do for me. I've got the videos. I don't even sit down with my kids and watch vides or anything. They just wish I was playing today so they could meet bloody David Beckham and people like that! That's all they're interested in! (laughs).

RN: Do you have any regrets obviously - probably - at it ending so soon?
NW: No because I wouldn't really change anything. I mean if I'd tried to change my way of playing or something then I wouldn't have been the Norman Whiteside that I was. No, I just went out to play it the way I thought it should have been played and - for right or for wrong, people didn't like my style, that's up to them. We're all different. I wouldn't certainly change it. People say 'well you had that many injuries, you shouldn't have been doing that, you shouldn't have been doing that'. Well if that's the only way I like to play football then I can turn round and say I've had 10 happy years in the game. Even though I've had a lot of operations I've had 10 happy years in the game. I'd rather look at it and say well from 16 to 26 I've had 10 happy years rather than turn round and say, well you know, 'look at those lucky so and so's earning all this money'. I don't look at it that way. I look at it the positive angle rather than saying 'I'm jealous, and I'd love to be on sort of 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 grand a week', whatever they're on. So I tend to look at it on my positive side - and say 'well yeah, well I've done a lot what people haven't done' - a lot of people, millions of people haven't done. I tend to look at that side of it.

RN: Do you feel if you were still playing at 34 you'd be at Old Trafford now or?
NW: I'm 35 now, I'm a pensioner now! I'm getting on a bit now! I would love to have thought so. That was obviously one of the reasons I left with my bad knee at Old Trafford. Me and Fergie knew it wasn't going to be - it wasn't going to last too long - I hadn't got long left in the game so we did a good deal and I went to Everton on a good financial package both from United and Everton which sorted me out a little bit. Otherwise I would have hopefully have stayed . If my knee had been ok there is no doubt I would have been still a Manchester United player. But my knee was dicky from day one. So we did the right thing. Everybody put it down to other things but as long as me and Alex know what the main reason was then that's fine.

RN: Because neither of you have been critical about each other?
NW: Oh no. No, in his book he's given me almighty praise I believe. They're talking about we don't get on. I mean he had his testimonial dinner at the GMEX - 2,200 people there - and there was VIP guests for 200 and I was a VIP member you know. And after he wins the Championship - because you know I do the hospitality stuff - I'm walking down the corridor and he's got a room full of his family and friends and he just drags me in. 'There's a bottle of champagne son - get it down your neck' and all this. You know we're friends - there's no doubt about it. But people just - let them think what they think. The most important thing is that if we know the truth.

RN: The turn-out for your testimonial the crowd was very low.
NW: Pretty poor.

RN: It wasn't your fault because obviously we'd just lost the league to Leeds.
NW: The reason my committee - it was all about timing just like my tackles probably, bad timing...We booked it because United were ahead and were going to win the league for the first time, in 20 odd years. Obviously it just went a bit pear shaped and it wasn't to be. You know it's another one of those days where you either hit the jackpot or you don't and unfortunately I didn't.

RN: As supporters it upsets us because you were one of our all-time greats.
NW: Well I'd like to think that I'd put a little bit in and you know I'd like to have seen a few more people there. No it was disappointing, I think it was only 8,000 or something wasn't it? A little bit disappointing but...

RN: It wasn't a reflection on you but a reflection on the mood of the time I think.
NW: Well I'd like to think that as well! (laughs).

RN: I just think a lot of people were so gutted.
NW: ...well exactly. They thought that was going to be the first. I mean they could have been parading the trophy and everything couldn't they.

RN: Do you still have much contact with the old gang - Robbo, McGrath?
NW: I've seen Paul in Dublin believe it or not last Monday. Bumped into him. I was over doing a sportsmen's dinner then Paul was over doing something else...He came into our hotel at night about 12 o clock and we were just in the residents bar there - just had a good old chat. Robbo? I was up in Middlesbrough about two/three weeks ago - I went to watch Boro-Macclesfield whenever it was. I was up there doing some work for a few North-East clubs for the feet job so I obviously went into Robbo's office and we went and had a couple of beers with Viv Anderson and himself and big Gordon McQueen. We went and had a couple of beers and that was it. We had a good old chinwag. Yeah, I get to see the boys on my travels.

RN: You're not tempted to take the England job - Robbo as your sidekick?
NW: Well, it could be the other way round couldn't it! I don't know what's going to happen with that. They're all going for Terry Venables at the moment aren't they - all the media.

RN: It always seemed as though you had something in reserve against the Scousers?
NW: Well I used to love playing against Liverpool. And I always had good results against them. I used to have the good fortune to score against them quite a few times as well. I think I played against them about 15 times, and I was only on the losing side - well they beat us in the Milk Cup at Wembley, 2-1, didn't they in '83? And then they beat us in the Milk Cup again at Anfield when Jan Molby scored from outside the box.

RN: Both dodgy - two decisions, one was a dodgy penalty at Anfield and the other was a tackle on Gordon McQueen.
NW: Apart from that that's the only two times I've been beaten by Liverpool. That's the only 2 times. I've never been beaten any other time by Liverpool. Perhaps we've won more than that when we've beat them at Anfield, we've beat them at Old Trafford, we've drawn with them at Old Trafford. Yeah we've beat them - out of about 15 times that was the only 2 times. And that wasn't even in the league then was it - so that's two Cup games. You know the other unbelievable statistic - ...went to do Leeds' feet and all that and the boys are saying 'well, what was it like playing?'. I never, ever played against Leeds in my entire career.

RN: Did you not? Because they were always in the second Division.
NW: I always say that! People would have thought you automatically would have played in the big stadiums and that but they weren't about - during the 80s anyway.

RN: How do you think United's season will go this year?
NW: Well I'm biased obviously but I think they've got a great chance of course. I wouldn't go as far to say I'll stick my neck out and say they'll definitely win it but definitely be there or there abouts. You won't even find Fergie saying that until they've got it in the bag But we just need to be a bit more consistent, win more, keep winning our home games - or start winning our home games - and just a bit more consistency.

RN: We could do with a Norman Whiteside! (laughs). One of my favourite goals is the - and I'll probably shoot myself in the foot again - was down at Arsenal where you took the ball...
NW: John Lukic was in goal. That's me first day I started playing in midfield. Big Ron had me as sub and they put me on. And then I just - from one box to the other, I just curled one in or something didn't I? Yeah I remember that. I tell you what. the BBC have sent me a compilation of all my goals - all the documentaries and all the goals. It's about a two hour tape from day one as a 15 year old arriving at Old Trafford right through's brilliant. It repeats itself quite a bit but I showed the kids that one. I've sent it round my pals to have a good look at it, it's all the international games and all my Utd games - just all little documentaries - my 18th birthday and all sorts of things.

RN: Can't you get persuade them to issue it! I'm sure the fans would like that...Laughs.

RN: Thanks Norman - thanks again for your time.

Norman Whiteside - hero then, hero now.


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