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Local lad who sealed his place in city's heart
[January 01, 2006]

Local lad who sealed his place in city's heart

(Hull Daily Mail Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)He's a legend in Rugby League and adored by Hull FC and Hull KR fans alike. He managed the last Great Britain side to win the Ashes and he has worked tirelessly in the community. Dick Tingle looks at why Johnny Whiteley is at last being recognised with an MBE Behind the headlines: After a lifetime dedicated to sport and the community, Johnny Whiteley gets the recognition he richly deserves.

John Whiteley epitomises the saying "Local lad makes good." He was born in Hessle Road in sight of the then thriving Hull fish docks, and through sheer hard work, determination and dedication, Johnny became a legend and one of rugby league's finest ever loose-forwards.

The city has produced some outstanding sports people over the years but if you were to ask who the greatest and the most popular Hull-born sports person of all-time is, the answer to both questions would be Johnny Whiteley.

The countless hours he dedicates to developing the talents of young sports players and to supporting the community he grew up in and never left have sealed his place in the city's heart.

Few home-grown stars of any sport have achieved the level of popularity Johnny enjoys.

From the first time he donned a black and white jersey in 1950 to his last match 15 years later, his acclaim has been unequalled.

Johnny has built on that reputation through the years with his work as a coach and mentor to anyone prepared to put in the hard graft and listen.

Ironically, Johnny never played rugby league at school, although he did enjoy countless games in the street and was a regular at the Boulevard on match days.

When he left school, he played football for Fish Trades but joined Hull Boys' Club.

It was then that Johnny got the rugby league bug and began playing organised games for the first time.

National service intervened and he excelled at swimming and rugby union.

When he was demobbed, he played two trial matches for Hull's A-team and signed on for GBP100.

He immediately gained promotion to the club's first team where it became apparent he was a player with exceptional talent.

Having made his debut two days before Christmas Day in 1950, he became a founder member of the great Hull pack of that era, which dominated the 1950s.

His classic style complemented the more aggressive approach of other forwards.

In those days, other forwards were nicknamed "Wild Bull" and "Rocky" but Whiteley was totally the opposite, he was known as "Gentleman" John.

He was never sent off during his career but make no mistake, his nickname didn't mean you could take liberties.

Arguments rage as to who was the best in a golden era of loose-forwards, but there's little doubt he was the classiest.

In a game often dominated by fierce trench warfare in the forwards, Whiteley's gazelle-like running style was a joy to watch, along with his excellent handling skills.

He complemented his 417 appearances for Hull with 15 Test and World Cup appearances for Great Britain, one for England and 12 for Yorkshire.

Whiteley also captained Great Britain and in 1958 was a member of the outstanding tour squad that retained the Ashes in Australia.

The Johnny Whiteley story took another twist in 1956 when he was made captain and following the departure of coach Roy Francis to Leeds he took over as player-coach in October, 1963.

As captain and coach he took Hull to the 1958 Championship win over Workington, but in 1959 and 1960 suffered his biggest club heartaches when the black and whites lost twice at Wembley, to Wigan and Wakefield.

He made his last appearance on February 6, 1965.

In his role of coach he took Hull to two Yorkshire Cup finals, losing to neighbours Hull KR in 1967 and beating Featherstone Rovers two years later to bring the cup back to the Boulevard for the first time in 46 years.

Without question, his greatest coaching achievement came in 1970 when he was in charge of the most successful ever Great Britain tour squad and the last to win the Ashes.

It was a shock for Hull when he returned from Australia and left the club to take charge of their rivals Hull KR in August 1970.

During his two-year spell with Rovers, he won the Yorkshire Cup but was surprisingly sacked.

Although that was the end of his club coaching career, Whiteley coached Yorkshire for 12 years and in 1980 he was recalled to take charge of Great Britain for the tour against Australia.

Britain were smashed on that tour by a side since dubbed the "Invincibles" and Johnny said afterwards that the British game would have to make drastic changes to stand any chance of catching their arch-enemies. Britain have never caught up.

Johnny's love of the game and sport in general has never dimmed and since coming out the professional arena he has devoted his time to the amateurs and anyone who wants to take advantage of his vast experience and knowledge.

He keeps up with changing methods and has had a big impact on local sport.

He transformed an outbuilding at the Eureka Club, in Hawthorne Avenue, west Hull, into a gym.

The Eureka Gym is basic but the environment Johnny created has attracted footballers, rugby players, old men and young lads.

They have all benefited from his passion for fitness and to give others the chance of a healthy lifestyle.

He has helped injury-stricken Hull City footballers battle their way back to fitness.

His work with young rugby union players at clubs like Hull Ionians and Hullensians, to name but two, has inspired children to grow into first-team players.

Johnny has never forgotten Hull Boys' Club, in Roper Street, central Hull, which helped him discover his sporting prowess as a teenager.

He makes regular visits there helping children develop training plans and sportsmanship.

It is the development of children which Johnny seems most concerned with. Last year, he stood up for the people of Hessle Road fighting to save Constable Primary School, in Constable Street, west Hull. He was a pupil at the school and he spoke passionately at a public meeting.

It was a battle they lost, but having Whiteley on side gave hopes where few had existed.

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