The great Len White
My oldest friend is a fine man called John, who is fast approaching his 94th birthday.
He loves football and comes out with me and my mates for a couple of pints and a whiskey twice a week, and is in better health than some of the lads.
He often regales us with tales of his time in the regular army in Korea in the early 1950s (playing cards for squares of chocolate, moustache growing competitions and the like). Some of his stories are quite harrowing though and I recently asked him how he used to keep his morale up.
“Easy, I knew I had to get back to my wife and young bairn….. and I also knew Newcastle United were unstoppable back home in the FA Cup”, was his indomitable reply.
Indeed the club were, bringing the cup home in successive seasons, 1951 and 52.
During those incredible 12 months for Newcastle, John was away on the other side of the world.
When he eventually got back to Tyneside, Newcastle had signed a young forward from Rotherham United for the princely sum of £12,500, not to be sniffed at back then.
His name was Len White and he went on to become old John’s favourite ever player.
Initially, Len would play second fiddle to the legend Jackie Milburn, but he was soon integrated into the team.
He also had big boots to fill as another great player and goalscoring Wembley hero, George Robledo, had come to the end of his time in the stripes.
In 1955, Milburn and White led Newcastle’s line alongside Vic Keeble when we brought the FA Cup back for the third time in four years.
Old John was there with his mates and he said that wonderful Wembley weekend ultimately made up for the two finals he’d previously missed.
Jackie Milburn was soon to leave the club and Len White went on to be a goalscoring phenomenon for Newcastle United for the next seven years.
John has told me that he had everything – presence, pace, poise and an uncanny knack of being able to sniff out even a half chance.
Len White is Newcastle United”s third highest ever scorer. Only Alan Shearer and Wor Jackie have bagged more.
Neither Len nor Jackie had a testimonial until well after their playing careers, which was a sad indictment on the club at the time.
Len White belatedly had one in 1986, twenty four years after he had last kicked a ball in anger for the Toon.
It was at Hillheads and featured former Newcastle and Sunderland players against each other. The likes of John Tudor, Ollie Burton, Ron Guthrie and Jimmy Montgomery had a run out. Pop Robson played the first half for the mackems to jeers, then the second half for us to cheers.
It was only thirty minutes a half and at the end Len tearfully and humbly made a brief speech from the main stand, thanking everybody for remembering him. I can almost swear that even our then centre forward, big Billy Whitehurst who was standing next to Len, had a lump in his throat.
Len White died in 1994, ironically at the same relatively young age (64) as his mate Wor Jackie.
I wish I had been able to see him play, but can always rely on my mate old John’s photographic memories, to take me through some of his fantastic goals that were scored well before my time.
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