In April after Manchester United had been hammered 4-0 at Liverpool in the Premier League, Gary Neville fumed on his podcast that Jurgen Klopp’s side toyed with his old club and were laughing at them, adding it would never have happened in Norman Whiteside’s day.
Neville was right. Now former Northern Ireland star Whiteside has given a fascinating insight into how he thrived amid the hate he received at Anfield in the 1980s and felt “10ft tall” due to the support of United fans during the biggest game in English football.
“Gary mentioned me after that Liverpool game this season at Anfield. That’s because I was in his team growing up. There were people like me, Robbo (Bryan Robson) and Sparky (Mark Hughes) and we fought hard for the club,” Whiteside told the Belfast Telegraph.
“I used to take a lot of abuse at Anfield. ‘F off Whiteside, F off Whiteside’ the Liverpool fans used to chant. The way I looked at it was they were frightened of you when they started chanting your name.
“There were two ways you could handle that, you either let it get to you or what I did was concentrate on the game and cancel it out of my mind but I would listen to the United fans roaring me on because that made me feel 10ft tall.
“You can pick and choose what you filter as a footballer on the pitch. I could actually block out people slagging me off and could pick up people telling me I was brilliant to inspire me and I did that at Anfield.
“Liverpool were successful and had great players but I had a good record against them and scored a few times.
“The Kop hated me and that was beautiful for me. I would tackle Graeme Souness, a brilliant, brilliant player, who could leave his foot in, and they didn’t like that or if I was throwing Alan Hansen or Mark Lawrenson about.
“Hansen and Lawrenson, the two best centre-backs I played against, would be on the floor and this 17-year-old kid from Belfast was giving their heroes a little bit of stick. I didn’t just do that against Liverpool though, I played that way against everyone.”
Asked if he played up to the ‘hard man’ image, Whiteside replied: “I think my passing and ability to read the game were underestimated.
“I played with Peter Davenport at United and he said, ‘Norman could make a decision on the ball quicker than a computer’ and another ex-team-mate said I could make room for myself in a telephone box to receive the ball.
“The players I played with appreciated that but the supporters liked me to get stuck in so I gave them that. They couldn’t get on the park so I was their representative and if that meant kicking lumps out of Liverpool, Chelsea or whoever, I did it. They loved me for it and I might have played up to it but there were other sides to my game.”