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The Harder They Come: Big Billy Whitehurst

Kevin Henning pays tribute to a man who struck terror in everyone from Hansen to Quinn: the legendary hardman Big Billy Whitehurst.

Terry Hurlock, Steve McMahon, Vinny Jones, Mick Harford, Roy Keane, John Fashanu and Jimmy Case. Players who were described as proper hardmen. The kind who wouldn’t live in the lightning paced matches of the Premier League of today. One name however, is almost mythical. The hardest footballer that ever stepped foot on the sacred turf. A man spoken of in hushed tones by some of the greatest names the game has known. Mr Billy Whitehurst.

Living in the city of Hull, I have heard tales to make you shudder. Sickening acts of violence, disgusting training ground pranks but also of a player who gave his all for each of the ten clubs he played for and for all the blood and thunder, a talented centre forward feared by defenders throughout the land.

Whitehurst was a bricklayer for his local coucil and playing semi-pro for Mexborough Town when Hull City signed him for a paltry £2000. He went on to become a Tigers legend scoring 52 goals in 223 appearances.

“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.” – Paul Lake.

Billy was feared by everyone who dealt with him. Prior to a match at Boothferry Park, Hull City boss Colin Appleton was about to pin the team sheet on the dressing room board. He’d decided to drop Whitehurst to the bench. As he reached to pin the line-up on the board, Big Billy strolled behind the gaffer. “I see I’m playing upfront again Boss.” Appleton quietly slipped the piece of paper into his pocket and fell into line. “Course you are Billy, get out there and give us your best!”

Whitehurst left Hull City to join Newcastle United for £232,000. The Tigers fans mourned their lynchpin, the Geordies wondered what the fuck they’d bought. Maybe he wasn’t a prolific scorer with silky skills but Billy, in his own words “Always gave 120% to the cause” winning the hearts of supporters wherever he played.

“Tonight I’ve come here to watch Paul Gascoigne and Peter Beardsley but by far the best player on the pitch was Billy Whitehurst.” – Bobby Charlton.

Behind the scenes at Boothferry Park, Billy was the kind of prankster that would make the crew of Jackass look like Sooty, Sweep and Sue. In the communal bath, he’d wait until most of the players were in before moving his bowels and sending a floating yule log across the water. This wouldn’t be enough to clear the bath though, Billy would tell his team-mates to stay put in an extreme version of pass the parcel.

Playing against Nottingham Forest with over 30 stitches in his face after a pub brawl, Whitehurst was punched by keeper Steve Sutton, opening the wound considerably. Refusing to come off, he demanded the physio staple his face together (yes, with proper staples) and ran out for the second half with a hole in his cheek through which you could see into his mouth.

“Billy Whitehurst was madder and badder than Briggs and Shotton put together. He hissed at me at a corner – ‘Whoever marks me is going to regret it, I’m going to smash them.’
I catch David O’Leary’s attention, shout to him ‘You pick him up for this one Dave’ and casually walk off.” – Niall Quinn

In another stomach churning jape, Billy once called in an apprentice player to send on an errand. He apparently wasn’t happy with his lunch. “Take this chocolate mousse back to the supermarket son, tell them I want a refund, It smells like shit.” The apprentice caught a drift of the stench and confirmed that all was not right with the potted product. Whitehurst erupted ” Are you suggesting that I’d shit in a mousse pot? What do you think I am, a fucking animal? Get to the shop and tell the bastards I want my money back.” Whether that apprentice ever returned can not be confirmed at this time.

Whitehurst left St. James Park after a fallout with the Geordie faithful. He was later voted into the Newcastle United’s worst XI in a fanzine. After leaving he became something of a journeyman player with spells at Sunderland, Oxford United, Reading, Sheffield United and another short spell at Boothferry Park.

“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.” – Alan Hansen.

Central defenders breathed a collective sigh of relief when Big Billy called it a day in the early nineties. The six foot tall, thirteen stone, hard bastard of a footballer had left a colourful career behind him. His spiritual home was at Hull City where the fans look back on his time as a Tiger and thank their lucky stars that they had a man prepared to run through the walls he once built for their club. Now if you’re ever asked who was the hardest player ever and don’t reply Billy Whitehurst, you’ll probably be wrong.

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