The 1980’s weren’t the most successful of times for United. The football wasn’t amazing, but the bond between fans and players were second to none. Despite winning only two FA Cups in the eighties, we did manage to un-earth a small number of legends who, when in that shirt, epitomised the commitment, the passion and the pride that we the fans used to bear on the terraces.
On this day in 1965, one of those legends was born.
Quite literally a man amongst boys, Norman Whiteside was a guy from the back streets of Belfast who was spotted by Bob Bishop, United’s Ulster scout who brought the club George Best. He joined the youth ranks in 1978.
Whiteside was a man mountain despite only being a kid, and was only 16 years old when Ron Atkinson gave him his first team debut, as a substitute at Brighton in 1982.
Already, Whiteside was in legendary company, because he’d become the youngest first team player for the reds since Duncan Edwards. On the final day of that season, he further wrote his name in to the history books by becoming the clubs youngest ever goalscorer – popping in a goal against Stoke City in a 2-0 win.
Then guess what? He wasn’t content with that, so he went to Spain that summer to represent Northern Ireland in the World Cup finals. He broke Pele’s record for being the youngest player to appear in a World Cup aged 17 years and 41 days.
A striker, later converted to a midfielder, Whiteside had a fantastic first full season for the reds forming a formidable partnership with Frank Stapleton. Whiteside helped fire the reds to the League Cup and FA Cup finals, and again smashed the history books to pieces by becoming the youngest player to score in both.
Whiteside was to take an FA Cup winners medal in 1983, and would indeed win the cup himself for United in 1985. Now in a midfield role, and with United down to ten men, Whiteside was found powering down the right hand side by a great throughball from Mark Hughes. Drifting inside, and with Pat Van Den Hauwe in close proximity, Whiteside used the Welsh left back as a shield, before curling a left foot drive from a difficult angle round him and the out stretched Neville Southall to give United the cup. It was a joyous moment as United were the underdogs, and felt justice had been done after Kevin Moran being ordered from the field.
That goal is of particular important from a personal point of view, as it was the last goal my dad ever saw. Norman had made my old man’s last few minutes enthralling, and he left us the way he’d always wanted to go. Thanks Norm.
It wasn’t just the history and the milestones that endeared him to the reds. It was the man himself. ‘Big Norm’ really was huge. Despite his young age, you’d think he was ten years older. He was brave, solid, committed, wore his heart on his sleeve and would run through brick walls and more for the team. Especially against the Scousers!
He had a knack for scoring vital goals against both merseyside riveal, and just in case he didn’t he’d kick a few of them too. Just for good measure.
After Alex Ferguson came to the club in 1986, the club psyche changed and that co-incided with injuries beginning to creep in to Whiteside’s game. He put in a trasfer request at the end of the 87/88 season, but remained at Old Trafford, injured throughout most of the next campaign, restricting his appearence to just six games.
The fans dearly loved Whiteside, missed him, and hated the fact their hero wasn’t able to play. To enable his team to have a stable midfield, Alex Ferguson brought in Neil Webb and Mike Phelan to fit in alongside Bryan Robson in the summer of 1989. Norman eventually left for Everton for £600,000, after 66 goals in 273 appearances.
Whiteside scored 9 goals in 29 games for the Toffee’s, before injury ended his career in 1991. A very premature end, but after 13 operations on his knee throughout his career, and the fear that he may end up in a wheelchair, Norman decided to bow out of the game.
Since then, he has been a hit on the after dinner circuit, hosted corporate events at Old Trafford, and told bad jokes on Soccer Am on Sky Sports. He qualified as a podiatrist shortly after retiring from the game, and will forever be remembered as a true, United legend.
Happy birthday Norman!