Hull FC legend Johnny Whiteley has been there and done that, and when it comes to Great Britain and the World Cup, there’s fewer players with more prestige.
Part of the GB squad for the 1954 World Cup winning side, Whiteley and co were against the odds in France, but as he in particular did throughout his sensational career, the team triumphed through adversity to do the impossible.
GB had just took the reigns from England, with Whiteley part of the last England squad. They then went to Australia under the GB brand, only to return for a hurriedly organised tournament, so what they did from there was pretty remarkable.
“I was fortunate at the time, prior to playing for Great Britain, that it was still England, and I played in the last England team at the Park de Princess in Paris,” Whiteley told Up the Cream.
“We met at Manchester and I always remember getting off the train and walking out to the buses to go to the airport – to see all these great players stood there was surreal and I was feeling like an autograph hunter.
“People still laugh and I still smile. I was 23 and 6 foot 1. I ain’t got a mark. Although I was a forward I ain’t had my nose broken at that time or got a cauliflower ear. I was immaculate. I bought a new pair of slacks and a new suitcase and they were all there with paper bags, broken noses, cauliflower ears and I felt like a cherub. I rubbed my ear to make it look red so I looked like a tough guy.
“I had a good game in Paris for England and we beat the French, and then the ‘54 Great Britain tour to Australia came around. I thought I’d definitely get picked for Australia but unfortunately I hurt my ankle. I got kicked and damaged ligaments so I missed out and David Valentine went on tour instead.”
After that tour the first ever Rugby League World Cup was about to take place. Whiteley of course was part of that history making side, despite an ankle injury preventing him taking any action on the field.
Great Britain went on to the win the inaugural tournament – defeating France, New Zealand and Australia.
“The French organised it really hurriedly and it co-insided with Great Britain coming back from Australia,” Whiteley continued.
“Because the lads had been away for thirteen weeks from work, as everybody was still part time then, they couldn’t afford to go to France for five weeks after being away in Australia.
“We had a seventeen man team and we met for two training sessions. Joe Egen, the coach at Wigan was our coach and this defies belief really, we had two sessions before we went to the World Cup. We met at Wigan to go to France, we were all getting on the bus from Wigan and then across on the ferry to Paris where we were based. We said ‘where’s Joe’ and they the directors said ‘we cant afford to take him’. The rest is history as we won the World Cup having managed ourselves and coached ourselves.”
“Every team had uniforms, Australia, New Zealand and France had uniforms. They were all impeccably dressed with blazers and slacks. I had my Hull blazer, everybody had their own blazers, and some didn’t even have blazers. They called us the Dead End Kids.
“We took no media with us and the photograph of the first English side coming out the dressing room was taken by me. Every photograph taken on that tour I took and I’m real proud of that. The photographs that are about there’s only me that took them. Only two to three reporters went.”
Lukily for Whiteley, his injury fortunes brightened up for the next World Cup and he, along with Hull FC’s Tommy Harris, played a huge part in Great Britain’s 1960 win.
“The Great Britain squad didn’t change much throughout the years and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. We were a good side and we showed it on the big stage,” he added.
“I was fortunate to be in three World Cups. I finished up with two World Cup winners medals from three tournaments.”