NEAR POST – Billy Whitehurst – the Hardest Man in Football

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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.

The Guardian, Monday 18 May 2009, featured him in their Seven Deadly Sins series:

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.

Ex-Man City player Paul Lake came into contact with him:
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.
Alan Hansen also feared Whitehurst:
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.
Central defenders breathed a collective sigh of relief when Big Billy called it a day in the early nineties. How publicans felt is another story.
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WHO ARE YA? Joanna Fisher, Head of Operations at Bollo Football School of Excellence

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Joanna Fisher, Head of Operations at Bollo Football School of Excellence

1) Who are ya?

I am Joanna Fisher, I have lived in London all my life and know it like the back of my hand. I love the versatility and diversity of the Capital. I love the banter and the people who come from all walks of life and enjoy life! I love communicating whether talking or writing. I also spend a lot of time with family in Italy on the coast. I absolutely love it there.

2) Who do you support?

I am a third generation Arsenal supporter, my late grandfather who was from near Camden and my father who was Sports Editor of the Daily Mirror for many years left me with no choice but to support the Gunners. For a short while my father lived in the same road as Highbury and I grew up fully in the world of football.

3) What was your first game?

I was first taken to Highbury when I was four years old! Rather shamefully I have never been to the Emirates as I am always too busy, although one of the greatest Arsenal players who I know did invite me recently.

4) What do you do for a job?

I am Head of Operations at Bollo Football School of Excellence. It has been running as a successful community football club in West London for over 13 years with the aim of getting less privileged kids off the streets, coached and playing in leagues. They get some help from charities including Help a London Child. They have mentors and in the whole time it has been running only 3 have got into crime which is amazing. Some of the kids have gone on to play semi pro and pro also. It is always a huge bonus to discover talent which I enjoy doing a bit of scouting.

I was headhunted in the summer this year to take things to another level with the introduction of more structured coaching, fixtures at semi pro and pro academies, we recently played against Reading FC Academy our U12 who were buzzing at the experience and how well they were welcomed. I am also helping to set up Post 16 courses so the kids are given a good start in life with education like BTEC and NVQ whereas they may not be doing so well in school or supported at home.

We have been talking to teams and clubs abroad also to create tournaments and exchanges which is such an exciting opportunity. The job keeps me so busy but I absolutely love the fact we are working hard to support those less well off in the community.

The man who set up Bollo, Huey Reid is amazing. He has devoted 13 years to helping the kids in West London and they and I all respect him enormously in the community. He has put his heart and soul into community football and I respect him enormously.

5) Have you played/worked for any football clubs?

I have never worked for any clubs but most days I am communicating with contacts at various clubs and spreading the word about Bollo or dashing about to meetings.

6) How did you get into it?

I was working at another football academy which I helped to set up and scout kids from London into professional coaching and fixtures including Charlton, Reading, Sunderland and Manchester City. I enjoyed getting to know all the kids and families and watch them live the dream. Everyone wants to be a footballer. It is their passion. But it goes without saying that it is so important to keep the kids realism in touch and support their education and career as so few actually make it. I spend hours with the families supporting them.

7) What do you get out of it?

I love working in football. Seeing the kids turn up and forget their problems while they live out their passion. Football is a real leveller in society. I have met so many amazing people who are passionate about youth development and its importance in the game. How it needs to be updated in the UK and more investment made into our home-grown players of the future. The talent is out there in this country. It just needs to be found early enough and structured coaching given and experience playing regular games through the teens so our players can rival European and other foreign young players that get snapped up by the big clubs.

8) What advice would you give someone wanting to follow in your stud marks/footsteps?

I would always advise people to think long and hard about what job they really feel passionate about so that it never feels like hard work! Hard work and thinking outside the box, putting in the extra effort and enjoying it is so important.

9) If you could do it all again what would you change?

If I could do it all again I would possibly have got more qualifications! But my love of communication seems to have helped me along the way.

10) Who’s your footballing hero?

Pele. Simply a fantastic player but also a great humanitarian.