Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Phil Clarke: A privilege to talk to Johnny Whiteley for Golden Point Vodcast
Last Updated: 17/06/20 10:13am
We've got something very special for you this week on Sky Sports and I want to give you a heads-up so that you don't miss it.
Few people set out to be heroes and succeed. You can't choose to be one. It is only the recognition by other people of the impact your deeds have, and how they feel about them that can earn you the label of hero.
Look at Captain Tom Moore. He didn't set out to be a hero. He simply decided to do what he could for a cause: to raise £1000 for NHS charities. He didn't plan to raise 10s of millions and become Colonel Sir Tom. There was a national need, and a man who did his bit - heroically.
In rugby league, most of the players do what they can for a cause. Some exceed their expectations and win matches, win prizes, and become heroes to their fans.
My heroes growing up were Des Drummond and John Woods for their bravery and brilliance. I used to love watching the creativity of Harry Pinner and wanted to be like Wayne Pearce when he came over with the Kangaroos.
However, one man with just about the best CV of any rugby league player alive is a particular hero of mine, and I am grateful for the privilege that being a pundit for Sky Sports affords me in being able to meet him - virtually, at least - on a podcast this week: Johnny Whiteley MBE.
We will be joined by Dr Tony Collins, the leading historian for rugby league in the world, and while we're going to pick out together some significant moments in Johnny's life, we probably won't have time to talk about him growing up during the Second World War when his home was bombed by the Luftwaffe or about his time doing National Service when he went to Aldershot one day and ended up in Austria the next.
We won't get time to talk about his try for Great Britain when we last won the Ashes in this country or about being a member of the Hull team in 1956 when they won the Championship final - effectively the Grand Final of its day - at Maine Road, then the home of Manchester City.
We will not be able to hear about his induction into the Rugby Football League's Roll of Honour, nor his time spent at Buckingham Palace when he received his MBE.
We won't even touch on his being granted the Freedom of the City of Hull, a prestigious honour he shares with few other men but including international statesman Nelson Mandela, award-winning actor Sir Tom Courtenay, and Johnny's long-time friend and colleague Colin Hutton.
Despite never being paid a penny to sign on for Hull FC as a teenager, Johnny Whiteley became one of their greatest-ever players and went on to captain them twice at Wembley. We will look at a brilliant photo of him shaking hands with Prince Philip before kick-off in the Challenge Cup final.
We're also going to look at the first-ever World Cup, which took place in France in 1954 and hear about the 1958 GB Tour to Australia, but my main interest is around the Golden Jubilee in rugby league this summer.
On Saturday, it will be 50 years to the day since the second Ashes Test of the 1970 Great Britain Tour Down Under when Johnny was the coach. He was also the doctor, physio, media manager and all of the other roles a travelling team has these days.
The Aussies had won the first Test and Johnny was under pressure to keep Great Britain's hopes alive. Not only did they win that second Test, but they also went on to win the deciding third game two weeks later and secure the Ashes: a feat no Lions team has managed in the half a century since.
Johnny turns 90 in November. When I rang to arrange our webinar, Johnny was doing an hour's exercise on his stationary bike at home whilst watching an NRL game. Until recently he would have been out running!
He still loves the game and follows its evolving nature. He is on the voting panel for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel. He's fun, interesting and makes me smile. I try to visit Johnny every time I go to Hull to cover a game for Sky Sports. If you ever need an example of what you want to look like at 90 it is this man.
People say that you should never meet your heroes. Don't believe them. Make sure that you get to see and hear our interview with Johnny Whiteley MBE. I always leave him feeling better and think you will too.