Norman Whiteside.

Forty years on since Whiteside's debut

Sunday 24 April 2022 09:00

Norman Whiteside had the build of somebody much older but was, remarkably, only 16 when making his Manchester United debut, on this day 40 years ago.

There was a buzz around the Northern Irishman, who had impressed coming through the ranks, and Ron Atkinson made the bold decision to blood the striker in a Division One game at Brighton & Hove Albion on 24 April 1982.

The no.11 was displayed on the board, off went Mike Duxbury, and we got a first glimpse of a player who would go on to help the Reds win two FA Cup finals, one in the following season and the other, in 1985, with a brilliant curler past Neville Southall that helped shape the childhood of many a United supporter.

Almost an hour with Norman Whiteside, during his UTD Podcast.

In the match at the Goldstone Ground, Ray Wilkins, like Whiteside a scorer in the 1983 FA Cup final against the Seagulls, cracked home the winner from a Frank Stapleton pass for his first United goal in a couple of years.

Yet the match was most notable for being Whiteside's first step into senior football, and he was certainly a man, well boy, in a hurry. It was clear he possessed extraordinary talent and real maturity for his age.

As the Reds' youngest player since the incomparable Duncan Edwards, the pressure and attention may have affected some but not Whiteside.

"I just had tunnel vision," Whiteside told UTD Podcast. "I was so dog minded. I didn't want anyone to get in the way. I didn't have girlfriends, I didn't do schoolwork or do any of that. I just wanted to be a footballer.

"The first club that came in for me, at a very young age, was Ipswich Town. Bobby Robson was the manager but when the scout knocked on my door, he said: Mr Robson is thinking you're a little bit young so can you leave it six months?' In the meantime, Bob Bishop got involved and got me over to United so that's how it started. I was 16 when I went to the first team."

The fateful debut day arrived when United boss Atkinson asked if he owned a suit before naming him as the substitute, only one was permitted back then, and Duxbury sustained a knock that led to a first taste of senior football, 12 minutes in total.

Whiteside later recalled he was earning £16 a week but the win bonus for the victory landed him £800, which blew him away at the time.

Only a few days later, the Belfast boy played in the FA Youth Cup final against Watford at Old Trafford but he was already well on his way into the big time.

Norman Whiteside takes on hosts Spain at the 1982 World Cup.

A full first-team debut followed in the final game of the 1981/82 season and, by then, he had turned 17 and signed a new contract with his boyhood club. Not content with providing the assist for Bryan Robson's opener, he added the second in a 2-0 win over Stoke City to become United's youngest scorer.

Even more remarkably, he was called up to Northern Ireland's World Cup squad for the tournament in Spain. Not only did he break Pele's record as the youngest player in finals history but he was also a major contributor to Billy Bingham's side.

"It was a great year for me," Norman added on his UTD Podcast episode. "I made my debut for United and for my country at a young age. The daft thing is the physio Jim McGregor was the Northern Ireland physio at the same time. Eric Harrison, God bless him, used to be with Jim at Everton and with Billy Bingham, so the three of them all knew each other. So they were giving me little hints in the medical room: 'Keep going, son. Billy is watching.'

"Eric used to have monthly meetings to tell you what your progress was like, which was brilliant, and he said to me at one of the meetings, keep doing what you're doing and you might have a surprise at the end of this season. The surprise was obviously that I went to the World Cup!"


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