There was another excellent turnout for our opening meeting of 2019. Approx. 130 members took their places to welcome, for a change, a legend of another sport – Rugby League.

Dave, our Chairperson, welcomed the members to the meeting with a special welcome to our Raffle Maestro, Pete, back following illness. “Only just” Pete was heard to add. Dave expressed all our delight at the wonderful month of December for the football club with special praise for Nigel Adkins and his team for guiding us from the bottom to mid-table.

He mentioned that we are looking to update our PA System, either by repair or replacement. The Walking Football team would be back in action on the 7th & 10th January – more members would always be welcome.

Barbara updated everyone on our planned Outings for the Spring session. The bonus trip to Plaxtons in Scarborough (31st Jan) is full with priority having been given to our regular ‘trippers’. There are still spaces on the following 3 outings, Leeds United & Royal Armouries (Feb.), Sheffield Crucible Theatre & Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet (March) & Holmefirth + Huddersfield Town (April). On that trip there will also be the opportunity to go up and see the Emley Moor Mast. Pete then introduced his marvellous Raffle.

Now the Chair introduced us to our guest speaker, the legendary Mr Johnny Whiteley MBE.

Johnny’s first comment was to thank us for inviting him and said “it helps to keep me motivated!” He then recalled his early days down Hessle Road and saying that as a schoolboy during the Hull blitz he would pray for bombs because “we got off school and could go and play football, rugby or even swim!” His dad’s brother had a Gym down Scarborough Street and young Johnny grew up there. With both his dad and his uncle serving in the War, Johnny “ran the gym” – and nearly 80 years later he still runs a gym!

Leaving school he went directly to Fish Docks and started filleting – he knew what to do, his dad ran a Fish Shop! In those early days he played football for Fish Trades and in 1946 they reached the Dr Lilley Cup Final and would play Hull City Juniors. They were not supposed to win but they did – 2-1 after extra time. The Tiger’s Major Buckley immediately called Johnny over and offered him trials at the Tigers only to be rebuffed because Johnny had already been offered the chance to play for Hull FC Under 18’s! Suddenly Johnny was playing 5 times a week and playing Saturdays and Sundays. His coach told him what he had to do and Johnny believed everything he was told! That included the advice that if he wanted to make it as an athlete he must veto Girls!! Another coach told the lads that he would teach them how to Dance, just in case! “Us, ‘essle Road lads, Dance!” he said with a surprise that still lingers from when he was a 17 year old boy. That coach then taught the boys how to dance the Rumba Blues to “Lady in Red”. Johnny was 23 years old before he realised that having nothing to do with girls had not been good advice – “I could have shot the geezer!”

Johnny’s youth was full of fun and dare but, he added, “us kids of ‘essle Road never got in trouble with the Law” He then contrasted the situation with our present times. Things were tough on ‘Road, many fathers were absent during the war, indeed many never came back, yet the kids came through without going off the rails. Today people comment on the problem of Single Parent kids – they didn’t in his days.

Johnny’s National Service

When he was called up he joined the Military Police and was posted to Vienna as a PE Teacher for the International Police Force. He was asked to teach them how to play Rugby Union, because “they were crap”, Johnny added. Johnny played himself six games at half back and suddenly found himself selected to play for the British Army. They put him in the centres for a match against France and he promptly stole the show with 5 tries! Afterwards he was offered the opportunity to play Union in Scotland, something which got the same response as Major Buckley had, ”I had committed to play for Hull FC!” For sure, the FC were waiting for him on his return home and at 19 years he was promptly offered a contract with a promise that he would play in the 1st team on the following Saturday. Throughout his 15 year career he was never dropped. He played for and captained Hull FC and went on to Manage them. He also played for Yorkshire, England & Great Britain and then manage all three in time.

Playing the Game

Johnny recalled playing away at Hunslet, a ground which had concrete posts round the side of the pitch. Hunslet had just bought a big lad from Union and Johnny was going to be his welcome to our Game. He took the opportunity for his trademark horizontal tackle and took the new man out and into those railings. The opponent suffered a dislocated shoulder whilst Johnny broke his arm! Both were sent in the same ambulance to Leeds General but the ‘big lad’ screamed & squealed so much that a Matron from nearby Maternity came and rebuked him. “I heard your scream from Maternity where a young lady has just given birth, and made far less noise”. The big fellow responded “Yes, but you try putting the bairn back in!”

Johnny, a legend in Sport, was inducted into Hull FC’s Hall of Fame in 2004, awarded an MBE “for services to sport” in 2005, given the Freedom of the City of Hull in 2009 and last year was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame. Our Chair asked Johnny “What does all that that mean to you?”

The response from modest Johnny clearly took the wind out of Dave’s sails! “Well, you’ve missed a few things out!” Johnny then listed: 1950 Young player of the year; 1958 Man of Steel; 1999 No 1 Citizen of Hull; 2009 Hon Doctorate from university (all bogus and in jess) and then he responded to Dave’s original question “I’m not clever, just a kid off Scarborough Street. That helps to keep your feet on the ground!”

Questions for Johnny

Would you write a book? His response was clear. “I won’t, I’d have to say so many bad things about people!!”

Do you remember how much Hull FC paid you at the beginning. “Yes, I’ve still got the wage packet!” He mentioned it was £8 for a win, just £5 for a loss or away draw. Home draw, nothing!

He was asked about the 1970 tour to Australia. “I was responsible for 28 players, I was Manager, Coach, Doctor, Physio, Baggage Man & Media PR”. The RL Sec (Bill Fallowfield) offered him £250 for the 13 week tour and then had it dropped to £200! For all that it was the most successful tour ever by Great Britain to Australia. They brought home the Ashes, something that has not yet been repeated since. RL made a tour profit of £90k, the players received £1k each on top of their contracts, our clubs also received a bonus and Johnny, well Johnny got just his £200 and owed his dad £400!

One member asked about the Drake twins. “They could be naughty!” They would take advantage of a sky high kick and whilst everyone was watching the ball in the air and opposition player would mysteriously find himself flat out on the pitch!

At 88 he still a fitness freak, working out everyday. He was asked about the modern levels of fitness in the game and feels players suffer from too many rests rather than overplay. At the top of his game he played four full years without a break, domestic, off season tour, domestic etc.

The final question, “As a proud Yorkshireman, what’s your favourite place?” and in a heart beat he answered … “HULL!”

Johnny Whiteley MBE being Inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2018