Before Wayne Rooney, before Federico Macheda, before Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes, there was Norman Whiteside. It’s easily forgotten now just what a big deal big Norm was at the time. Hailing from the same part of the world as George Best, and discovered by the same scout, Bob Bishop, Whiteside was the great white hope of his generation. He became the youngest player to play for Manchester United since Duncan Edwards broke through with a similar build and the same effortless skill. He went on to break Pele’s record as the youngest player to play in a World Cup when he came on for Northern Ireland at Spain ’82 aged just 17. And in 1985, just 11 days after his 20th birthday, he scored a memorable winner in the FA Cup Final to give a 10 man United victory against Howard Kendall’s Everton. It was his finest moment and the world seemed like Norman’s oyster, but only 6 years later, approaching his peak at 26, his career was cut short by a long running knee injury and all that he could have become was lost.
Whiteside made his debut for United aged 16 against Brighton & Hove Albion in 1982. A year later he scored in the FA cup final replay against the same club to win his first major honour. He also scored in the League Cup final that year, although United lost to Liverpool. Blessed with everything but pace (and maybe looks), he was eventually moved further back into midfield but continued to shine through his combination of skill and physicality. Like Rooney, Norm had a man’s physique from an early age which although undoubtably speeded his progress, was by no means his only asset. A physical and committed player but charmed with a deftness of touch and an eye for goal that would make later comparisons with the current United number 10 unavoidable, his idol status at Old Trafford was further increased by his propensity to put in match winning displays against their bitter rivals. The moniker “The Scourge of the Scousers” was attached after several inspired performances and goals against both Liverpool and Everton, who, odd though it may seem now, were the overwhelmingly dominant teams of the era.
However his injury troubles started to surface and his fitness wasn’t helped by the drinking culture prevalent at United during that time. When Alex Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen in 1986, one of his first actions was to stamp this out. This lead to resentment in some quarters amongst United’s players and in 1989, partly due to this, Fergie sold Whiteside to Everton, amidst much protest from his supporters. Although he made a promising start, his injuries got the better of him and after making only 29 appearances for the Toffee’s, he retired from football in 1991.
He now works as a guided tour of Old Trafford as well as enjoying a successful career as an after dinner speaker. A personable chap, Norman still remains a favourite of United fans who saw him play, and were it not for his injury troubles (he had over 13 operations on his knee before he was 26) he may even have enjoyed a more elevated status. Though it may have only been a fraction of what Big Norm could’ve achieved, he’ll still always be remembered for his glorious Cup winning goal in ’85. A sumptuous curling shot from a seemingly ridiculous angle, it remains the greatest evidence of just how good Norman Whiteside was, and could have been.