Today’s Friday the 13th of December, so in honour of this scary day I’m featuring Billy Whitehurst – the Hardest Man in Football.
Who Ate All The Pies describe his as:
A hard, ugly bastard of a player. Whitehurst is alleged to have beaten up Vinnie Jones (no mean feat) whilst the two were team mates at Sheffield United. When he joined Oxford United, it was rumoured he supplemented his football earnings by engaging in bare knuckle boxing bouts with local Gypsies. Scary.
I was playing for Oxford at the time. I had gone into a boozer and had got in a scrap; I’ve gone outside with this bloke, who had a couple of guys with him. I start fighting with this kid who I had been arguing with inside and basically I’ve put my thumb in his eye, smashed his head against the wall then his friend has pulled one of those coshes that you can extend and he’s smashed me over the nose with it. His other mate has hit me on the other side and as I have turned round he has hit me on the cheek. I’ve got a hole straight through my cheek near the side of my nose, my nose is all smashed up and I had 30-odd stitches in the back of my head. It looked horrendous: my nose was hanging off when it actually happened but then they stitched it back on.
This was about 10 days before the game. I had gone in and done a bit of training but normally they wouldn’t play you with facial injuries like that. But Maurice Evans, who I thought was very wise and a smashing man, asked me if I wanted to play; he didn’t just say you’re playing and that’s it. I thought I could and I said “no problem Morris”. It was just stitches – I didn’t think that it was a big deal.
You know for a fact that whenever you’re playing and you have got a knock, the first game you play you’re going to get a knock straight on the place where you don’t want to – its sod’s law. At some stage during that match against Nottingham Forest I knew I was going to get a smack on the nose.
About 10 minutes before half-time, their goalkeeper Steve Sutton and I went up for a header and he came to punch the ball and twatted me straight on the nose. I’ve seen the goalkeeper come out. He’s got to come because it’s in between the goal line and six-yard box and I’ve got to head the ball. Unfortunately for me he has missed the ball. It didn’t hurt because you have got the adrenaline running through you haven’t you? I went off at half time and the doctor’s ripped all the stitches up and stapled me up, literally put staples in and to be fair they were a lot better than stitches. So he’s stapled me out and I’ve gone out for the second half. I had a hole in my cheek so you could see the whole way through my mouth.
I can’t remember what Sutton’s reaction was, I just jogged back to the halfway line because it was a goal kick. I must have headed it over the bar or whatever – physios came on and just wiped the claret off , there was none of this “you have to come off when there’s blood”. I wouldn’t have known if I was allowed to play with the state I was in because I looked like Frankenstein’s monster. I played the whole game.
In Alan Hansen’s autobiography he said he’d played in that game. I could never get to the bottom of that one ‘cos he played for Liverpool. His ghostwriter phoned me up and asked me if he could say a couple of stories about me because Hansen wanted to do it. He said: “we’ll send you a book when it’s finished”. They did put the stories in but I never got the fucking book. I just can’t understand that, I think he wrote in his books something to the effect that, at the beginning of every season he would look for Oxford – or whoever I was playing for – because it was a nightmare playing against me. And then he goes on to say this. It doesn’t really bother me, if he’s written it, he’s written it. He was a different class as a player.
I would say that 99.9% of stories said about me were about being a hard man and kicking people, elbowing people, biting people, doing whatever to people. I would always remember me and my mum watching Match Of The Day when I was growing up. My mum and dad (RIP) loved Bobby Charlton and they interviewed him after a game when we played Manchester United once when I was at Newcastle. He said: “I’ve come tonight to watch Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley and the best player on the pitch by far was Billy Whitehurst.” It doesn’t get better than Bobby Charlton saying that.
I wore my heart on my sleeve and gave 120% each game, but there was a bit of skill and I could play a bit and them types of things are nice to hear now and again. I was just like the lads on the terraces, that’s why they all loved me – and I’d love 10 minutes against Rio Ferdinand.
Any player that came up against Whitehurst could count themselves as being unlucky, on this day or any other.
Martin Keown paid him this “tribute”:
My strongest memory is going into a tackle with Billy Whitehurst when I was at Aston Villa for which he was favourite and then, all of a sudden, I was favourite.
He let me get the ball and then clattered into me deliberately afterwards. I had scars down my shins for 18 months.
I felt my elbow make full contact with the bridge of another players nose and to my horror realise it’s one William Whitehurst Esq. ‘Oh Christ, anyone but that fucking monster.’ I thought. I nervously glanced over at my partner Brian Gayle who just smiled, made the sign of the cross and jogged away.
At the beginning of every season I would look for Oxford – or whoever he was playing for – because it was a nightmare playing against him.