Until the ascent of Manchester United’s 1990s golden generation, Norman Whiteside was the player who came closest to living up to the lofty tag of being the ‘new’ George Best. Whiteside was every bit the teenage prodigy, in 1982 becoming the youngest player to appear in a World Cup Finals. A year later he became the youngest player to score in an FA Cup Final, scoring the second in United’s 4-0 replay victory over Brighton. It was a feat he infamously repeated against Everton two years later to deny an historic treble. ‘I scored a very good goal but the thing that made it more important for me was that I scored against the best keeper in the world at that time - which was Neville,’ he would recall.
Tall, hard and powerful, Whiteside was amongst the most outstanding and prolific attacking midfielders of his generation. At Old Trafford, however, Whiteside fell foul of Alex Ferguson, who sought to end the booze culture he felt was undermining United’s pursuit of success. Along with Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson, Whiteside was deemed one of the instigators of United’s infamous ‘drinking club’ and in the summer of 1989 Ferguson broke this up, selling McGrath to Aston Villa and Whiteside to Everton for £600,000.
Barely past his twenty fourth birthday on his arrival at Goodison, Whiteside already seemed something of a veteran. But his contribution during the 1989/90 season, playing behind the Everton forward pairing, was replete with the effervescence and energy once shown as a teenager. A regular on the score sheet, his guile and aggression were integral to a side that was showing some signs of renaissance under Colin Harvey’s management.
Alas, knee injuries had always plagued Whiteside and he was forced to undergo surgery at the end of the 1989/90 season. His recovery was stuttering and he made just one further start for Everton, in a dismal 2-1 defeat by Wimbledon watched by just 6,000 spectators. It was a sad end to what should have been a glittering career.
Speaking to Evertonfc.com in 2008, Whiteside said that it was the memory of the Goodison crowd that remained most vivid. ‘I remember the Gwladys Street took to me unbelievably. What I can say about both sets of fans - Everton and United - is that they’re working-class people, and they took to a working-class guy like me. When I was down at Everton it was just like being at home in Belfast. The kettle was always on the boil, with people asking 'do you want a cup of tea?'. It was so friendly.’