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Determined by Norman Whiteside

Release date: 15th August, 2007
Publisher: Headline Publishing

List Price: £18.99
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A mention of Norman Whiteside's name still invokes rage in some circles, genuine warmth in others. This mould-defining man-boy, Manchester United's youngest player since Duncan Edwards, the youngest-ever player to appear in the World Cup finals has chosen his autobiography's title well, for he would welcome both accolade and anger alike.

As actor James Nesbitt says in his foreword, even at the age of twenty "but looking thirty-five" 'Big Norman' was feared, although what makes this book such a terrific read are not tales of punch-ups or drunken binges, but its searing honesty.

This is evident from the first page, which opens with a 26-year-old Norman hiding beneath his duvet, crying. We start at the pivotal moment in his life, the point at which his football career has formally ended and, given the details of pain incurred and operations endured that follow, it's a wonder he made it this far.

Nevertheless, after admitting his career was finished, the cathartic effect upon the Belfast man was almost immediate. "My pride meant that I had to show I could pick up the pieces," he says, "The only problem was, I didn't have a clue how I was going to do it."

Big Norm had always had some inkling his career may not run for another decade; accordingly, he became a regular attendee at close-season coaching schools where he gained an impressive number of football-related qualifications.

However, even after breaking free of his duvet-clutching stupor, he realised that he was ill-suited to coaching. Instead, inspired by Jim McGregor and Les Holm, physiotherapists at Manchester United and Everton respectively, and in whose company he had spent a disproportionate amount of time, Whiteside decided to start a new career focusing on football's medical side. The problem was, he had no formal academic qualifications. And so, adopting the type of approach that endeared him to United fans, the fearless (if a tad embarrassed) Whiteside signed up to take his GCSEs at South Trafford College.

Attending college as a famous mature student was not easy, although to his credit, Whiteside stuck with it. Eventually, he was to sit A-levels and ultimately graduated with a degree in podiatric medicine, each step of his academic career tackled with the same intensity he once reserved for a visit to Anfield.

Readers might be surprised to learn that at one stage, Liverpool were interested in him as a triallist, although when Manchester United's scouts learned of their rivals' attention, a scout was immediately dispatched to Belfast to sign young Norman up.

There are fewer drink-related revelations than many may expect, precisely because they rated as nothing out of the ordinary, although some of the tales of drunken excesses do raise a wry smile. Nor is Whiteside prepared to dish the dirt on Sir Alex Ferguson, ostensibly because there is none to dish. The Irishman admires and respects what the Scot has done for Manchester United and one senses that despite the occasional run-in, the feeling remains mutual.

Having approached this autobiography with some trepidation, sensing it came from the "former footballer cashes in on waning fame by publishing book" category, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised. The narrative is comfortably paced and very well written. Whiteside has had his share of ups and downs, but you cannot help admiring how he succeeded in turning his life around, thanks to being blessed with ample quantities of determination.


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