Newcastle Cast off, Imp Hero & Bill Shankly Nicked Him
Ernest Whittle was robbed of his Newcastle United chance by the outbreak of the second world war. But Bill Anderson rescued him from a life down the pit when he spotted him at Seaham Colliery on one of his scouting missions to Geordieland, a hot bed for talent since football began. Liverpool legend Bill Shankly (also a coal miner, just sacked from Grimsby and given the poisoned challis at Workington, then pinched him to inspire a great escape up to 8th and crowds of 8,000.
In those days working class men still shaped the people’s game, perhaps nowhere more so than the North-East. I was fortunate to be on the Gallowgate, with my recently departed Dad, at the old St James’, when King Kevin Keegan got the winner on his debut against QPR. I also saw Bergkamp’s fantastic winner in the last ever FA Cup game at Roker Park from the Fulford End. And even then around those streets, as you approached the ground you could feel the ghosts in the stories of the Newcastle and Sunderland fans who brought home how close the heroes were to everyday fathers and sons who would toil all week, on the sustenance of every other Saturday at their churches – St James Park and Roker Park. That cathedral roof on the Fulfood End and its Roker roar, like the Gallowgate in its prime is of course no more and the players do not live in the same streets as the fans, but the bond is still there enough to inspire those who aspire. The stories grew taller still as we migrated to the more up-market boozers in the respective city centres, evolving and ever changing, but the roots were still there then and still are now behind the glitz. So are the dreams of young and eager North-East lads.
Apologies for the tangents, to Ernie then god rest his Willow the Wisp soul. Ernie Whittle was a proper footballer. As traditional in name as he was in frame, the bow legged, stocky little inside forward made the Lincoln foundry workers lives bearable every other Saturday. Football in those days was of course the working man’s game and rickets was the common ailment in poorer working class families. Not that Ernie had a problem with greens, beating many a keeper with a deft chip or a howitzer shot if no one else was on. Normally the option was the G Force in the reliable form of Johnny Garvie or the Herculean figure of Andy Graver, but the crafty chap more than waded in with his fair share of the spoils.
The Great Bill Anderson actually enlisted Ernie in January 1950 for £300 from West Stanley, Co. Durham, after the two footed genius had, thanks to the war, failed to make the grade at Newcastle. What choice did he have but to go down the pit with his mates. Imp legend Tony Emery (424 appearances 1 goal) described the schemer as “the best two-footed player I’ve ever seen”. Ernie’s first match for City was a 1-0 win over Doncaster Rovers at Sincil Bank in February 1950 in front of a colossal 20,306, the Imps took to him like a cod to batter. His first goal came a fortnight later against Chester and he would bag a brace against Barrow to finish the season on 4 goals from 12 outings. The Imps would finish 4th in the third Division North in the 49/50 season with healthy Crowds. The normal attendance was around 11,000 with two gates of over 15,000, 2 of over 14,000 and 3 over 13,000.
The 50/51 season again saw us finish fourth as the G Force and Whittle began to get on the same wavelength notching 55 goals between then. Ernie provided the ingenuity through the middle in the main, but finished the season on 14 goals from 31 starts; firing four and making the other two against Stockport in a six nil slaughter. Without promoted rivals Doncaster the highest crowd fell to vast 16,857, witnessing a 2-1 win and 14,712 cursing a 0-2 defeat against Rotherham.
The 1951/52 championship winning season saw record breaking and bank busting crowds as the triumphant trio plundered 80 goals in League and Cup (55 Div 3 North). Ernie was ever-present scoring 19 League goals (plus 1 in the FA Cup) with the team as a whole netting 121. We hit the top on December the first and never looked back. He hit a hatrick in a 7-0 demolition of Workington and a brace against Chesterfield (5-1) and notched singles regularly through the season including a 6 match scoring run. The gates that season were, as you would expect huge with 21,757 in FA Cup V Grimsby 3-1, 21,501 V Stockport 19,522 v Cods in the League this time. The typical Gates included 1 x 17K 1 x 16k 4 x 15k 1 x 14k 4 x 12k 4 x 11k and 2 x 10k.
Ernie adapted well to life in the Second Division following the promotion in 1952 and helped himself to 14 goals as the Imps managed a creditable 15th place. All his goals were singles but he set up twice as many thriving in front of the big crowds. The Bank nearly burst with 22,029 V Huddersfield, 21,726 V Forest, 21,042 V Blackburn and 20,776 V Doncaster. Typical Gates saw 4 over 20k, 2 over 19k, 1 over 18k, 3 over 17k, 2 over 16k, 3 over15k. The following season saw him get a hat trick against Rotherham in a 4-3 thriller with a seasonal haul of 12 from 27 games. A couple of injuries to our star man affected the momentum of the side a bit, though we still finished a creditable 16th. The crowds were huge again with 23,027 seeing an FA Cup 4th Round tie against Preston (0-2), 17,979 V Leeds (2-0) and 17,593 V Everton (1-3). Most weeks at least 12k would roll up to the Bank with 4 seeing over 16k, 1 over 15k, 1 over 14k and another 4 over 13k. Despite the trio notching 42 goals between then in all competitions Ernie would move onto Workington.
The famous Bill Shankly had just joined Workington and been given the task of saving them from a third re election ordeal in 3 years, which normally spelled bad news for a league club. His shrewd signing of Ernie Whittle in March 1954 was a master-stroke with Ernie leading them to fifth from bottom. He would play a further 2 seasons wading in with a phenomenal 44 goals in 110 aps. After 21 goals in the 1955/56 season he was transferred to Chesterfield making 15 aps and scoring 4 goals in the 56/57 season. This caught Bradford Park Avenue’s eye who signed for the 57/58 season, with him making 18 league appearances and notching 6 goals. Those bow legs weren’t finished yet as he spent a further 2 seasons at Scarborough top scoring in both, with 13 & 14 goals respectively. He then retired finally in 1960.
Ernie, like Andy Graver, was a native of the North East but settled in Lincoln once his playing days came to an end and he returned to Sincil Bank in 1966 as trainer/coach for the Club’s ‘A’ team. Both his son Ken (an apprentice in the mid 1960s who played with Vital’s CTE) and grandson Simon (a YTS in the early 1990s) were later on City’s books.
Ernie died on May 8th 1998 aged 72.
Here is a statistical breakdown including a season by season break down of Ernie’s career at the Imps.
An Imp from 1949/50-1953/54
Full Name: Whittle, Ernest
Date Of Birth : 25/11/1925
Birthplace : Lanchester
Died : 1998
LCFC career record :
Apps : 151 (145 League) ; Goals : 64 (62 League).
LCFC Football League record :
Apps : 145 ; Goals : 62
LCFC Debut : 11th Feb 1950 Doncaster Rovers (h) 1-0, FL Division 3N in front of 20,306
Season 1949/1950 : 4th Div 3 N
Apps : 12 ; Goals : 4
Braces: Barrow (4-0)
Highest Crowds Doncaster (1-0) 20,306
Typical Crowds: 11k with 2 over 15k, 2 over 14k, 3 over 13k.
Season 1950/1951 : 4th Div 3 N
Apps : 31 ; Goals : 14
4’s Stockport (6-0)
Highest Crowds Scunthorpe (2-1) 16,857, Rotherham (0-2) 14,712.
Typical Crowds 8-9k 1 x 12k 4 x 11k 8 x 10k
Season 1951/1952 : Champions Div 3 N.
Apps : 49 ; Goals : 20
Hat Tricks Workington (7-0)
Braces Chesterfield (5-1)
Highest Gates: 21,757 FA Cup (3-1) 21,501 V Stockport 19,522 v Cods
Typical Gates 1 x 17K 1 x 16k 4 x 15k 1 x 14k 4 x 12k 4 x 11k 2 x 10k
Season 1952/1953 : 15th Div 2
Apps : 32 ; Subs : 0 ; Goals : 14
Highest Gates: 22,029 V Huddersfield, 21,726 V Forest, 21,042 V Blackburn, 20,776 V Donny.
Typical Gates 4 over 20k, 2 over 19k, 1 over 18k, 3 over 17k, 2 over 16k, 3 over 15k
Season 1953/1954 : 16h Div 2
Apps : 27 ; Subs : 0 ; Goals : 12
Hat Tricks Rotherham (4-3)
Highest Gates 23,027 FA Cup 4th R Preston (0-2) 17,979 V Leeds (2-0), 17,593 V Everton (1-3)
Typical Gates: 12k, 4 over 16k 1 over 15k, 1 over 14k, 4 over 13k
Posted on April 3, 2013, in Ex Imps, Writers - Neil Gentleman-Hobbs and tagged Bill Shankly, Ernie Whittle Lincoln City legend, Grimsby Town, Newcastle United, Sunderland, Workington. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.