Tony Whelan being interviewed.

Tony Whelan: The man who has shaped so many lives

Friday 16 December 2022 07:00

To mark his 70th birthday, we convinced Manchester United Academy advisor Tony Whelan to conduct an extremely special - and rare - interview all about his legendary career in football.

The lifelong Red is not a man to court attention – most supporters won’t recognise him and that’s exactly how he likes it - but his contribution to developing young players at United is unquestionably immense. 

Tony is always quick to point out the teams of people who also deserve credit and that is the marker of the man: a selfless, humble and dedicated servant to United’s Academy who has helped so many careers.

As you can see in our interview, conducted by graduate Danny Webber, Whelan’s United career began as a player back in 1968 and it continues today as our Academy Programme Advisor. 

Watch it below and join us in wishing Tony a very happy 70th birthday…
Tony Whelan: The Godfather Video

Tony Whelan: The Godfather

Short film | To mark his 70th birthday, Academy legend Tony Whelan reflects on a life of service to his beloved United…


The United Academy legend celebrated his 70th birthday on 20 November and a special ceremony was recently held at Carrington to mark it. 

Colleagues of the past and present attended the event, where Tony was presented with a cake, a signed shirt and a framed photo of him in the United first-team squad for a 1970 friendly match in Bermuda. 

You can see photos from the event in our gallery below.


During the interview, Webber reveals he had spoken to Marcus Rashford the day before and heard how grateful the United striker is for Whelan’s influence on his life. When asked if he’s aware of the impact he’s had on people’s lives, Whelan speaks passionately about his work with the Academy.

“I think it is starting to dawn on me just recently,” says Tony. “I think people are making a fuss of me at the moment and it is very humbling. I have always been so busy being busy to even think about what I have been doing, I've just been doing what really came naturally to me. 

“In Marcus's case, we introduced a full-time programme back in 2008 when we had young players coming into accommodation, coaching them full-time and they went to Ashton-on-Mersey school.

“Marcus was in digs but on a Friday we used to meet after school, myself and Dave Bushell, who was then the Head of Education and Wealthware, and who has done a wonderful job, has been a really big ally of mine and we've collaborated together on a lot of things over the years. 

“But I used to offer Marcus a lift home because I lived in Heald Green and it was on the way home, so I used to drop him off. Obviously, his mum, she is his wonderful his mum. His mum used to say 'make sure you knock on the door' so I would knock on the door and get a cup of tea. He lived in front of a lawn, so we would have our moments. I think it is nice that he remembers that. 

“And, of course, when you are doing that, you are not expecting it to be... I am not thinking this kid is going to be a footballer at Man United. You know he has got a good chance because he is very talented. But you are not thinking he is going to become the humanitarian he has become and the impact he has made, alongside what he has achieved at the club. 

Whelan's role in Rashford's rise Video

Whelan's role in Rashford's rise

"Well that's really heart-warming," says Tony, when informed of Marcus Rashford's view on his influence...

“He has just scored his 100th goal and, back then, I am not thinking that. I am just trying to help a kid - as part of a team. We are all in it together. I was doing my little bit and in a different way than maybe Paul was doing his bit, Dave was doing the welfare bit, Eamon Mulvey was doing his bit. So we are all doing out little bits as part of a team. So any success that we had, we all share and if people like Marcus can look back and smile, that's wonderful. 

“Because his journey has not been easy. That is part of his childhood. If he can think back and say, yeah, during that particular period of time when it was hard, trying to get a job in football, going to school in the morning, getting up at silly hours, coaching at night, playing games, if he can smile and think it was good as well, it was enjoyable at the same time, well that's really heart-warming.”

Happy 70th birthday, Tony, and thank you for your continued commitment to improving young people's lives.

Four great films on MUTV:

  • Star Maker: The Jimmy Murphy Story Video

    Star Maker: The Jimmy Murphy Story

    MUTV Original | Our documentary is a fitting tribute to Jimmy Murphy, who embodied everything about United...

  • Eric Harrison's Class of '92 Video

    Eric Harrison's Class of '92

    Watch this film on our 1992 FA Youth Cup-winning side and coach Eric Harrison, who died on this day in 2019...

  • Take A Bow, David Beckham Video

    Take A Bow, David Beckham

    MUTV Original | Watch our film about David Beckham's iconic goal v Wimbledon and his legendary career...

  • Scholesy: In A League Of His Own Video

    Scholesy: In A League Of His Own

    FILM | The story of a United icon and one of the greatest midfielders of his generation: Paul Scholes...