I don’t know much about football. In fact, when the husband is watching a match, one of his favourite things to do is ask me who’s playing. Sometimes the abbreviations shown beside the time played don’t give much away; PSG might mean Paris Saint-Germain to him, to me, it could mean anything from Pink Scary Gorillas to Punk Singing Giraffe.
There is a few things, however, I do know about the beautiful game. One of those is that every so often a legend is born, who takes the game by storm. Hailing from the backstreets of Belfast, one such legend is Norman Whiteside, who holds records as the youngest player to take part in a World Cup, the youngest player to score in a League Cup and FA Cup final, and the youngest player to score a senior goal for Manchester United. That’s an impressive score sheet.
Recently I was at a formal function at which Whiteside was the guest speaker. Now for someone who knows little about football, I was excited by this revelation, as Whiteside is one of the few footballers I do know of. On the cusp of seeing Ireland (both North and South) play in the Euros 2016, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to listen to a man who won 38 caps for Northern Ireland as well as playing with the team in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
Norman Whiteside, as well as a legendary footballer, is a skilled entertainer. He regaled us with tales of his football career, from his first signing with Manchester United to being called up to play for his country, as well as what it was like to play with such hard men as Vinnie Jones and what adventures he got up to with another local legend, George Best. However, for every up, there’s a down, and although he had a glorious football career, it was a short one; he retired from the game at 26 due to a knee injury. Whilst for someone to have achieved their dream, to then be told they can no longer do the thing they love is bound to be devastating, Whiteside went on to rebuild his life, becoming a successful podiatrist. His story is an inspiring one, showing that even though once a ‘rising star’, you can still shine bright, even if your star has to drastically change course.
For someone with an exceptional talent, who has seen and experienced things many of us can only dream of, he is an approachable and genuine person who has an amazing sense of humour. As well as making the audience howl with laughter through out his talk, he was happy to enjoy a bit of banter afterwards as he happily posed for photographs with members of the crowd, a giddy me included.
So, whilst I don’t know a lot about football, I know one more thing thanks to Norman Whiteside: dreams can come true but when they do, enjoy them, as you never know how long they will last.
Me pictured with the legendary Norman Whiteside.