Too many footballers (not to mention other celebrities) bring out books about their often short lives without having much of a story to tell, but that is not something you can say about Manchester United star Norman Whiteside and his autobiography 'Determined'. Whiteside was the Wayne Rooney of the previous generation - and his early days read like a fairytale. The boy from Belfast broke Pele's record as the youngest player to appear at the World Cup finals when he played for Northern Ireland in Spain in 1982 aged 17 years and 41 days. He also scored United's winning goal in the 1985 FA Cup final - a gorgeous curling shot past Everton keeper Neville Southall that remains one of the best goals ever seen at Wembley.
Away from the pitch Whiteside was having a good time too, with his Old Trafford drinking buddies Bryan Robson and Paul McGrath in tow. Their adventures boozing together represent a lifestyle that modern footballers can no longer follow and Whiteside's amusing anecdotes mean that the early chapters are not just a mundane, day-to-day look at his career - and the finished result is much better for it. But this is not just a book about some great nights out with some United legends, as Whiteside tries to give us an insight into life at Old Trafford and it is of particular interest when he describes how things changed when Sir Alex Ferguson replaced Ron Atkinson as manager in 1986. 'Big Ron's' old-school approach was to let other teams worry about United but Whiteside explains how Fergie's preparation was ever so slightly more detailed. "Fergie would have teams watched four times and come out with all sorts of intricate instructions, for example: 'In three successive games between the 65th and 70th minutes their left-back began to tire because he had made too many runs. I want you to start hitting that channel in the 70th minute'." Whiteside is honest when he says he prefers Atkinson's methods but he makes it clear he does not have an axe to grind with Ferguson - who many believed forced him out of Old Trafford - either. I enjoyed this look back at how things used to be and you do not need to have grown up in the 1980s - or support United or Northern Ireland - to appreciate it. But it is when we move to the time since his playing career was ended prematurely by injury in 1991 that Whiteside's tale comes into its own. Reality certainly bites for the previously happy-go-lucky top-flight footballer who, after announcing his retirement, suddenly realises how much his life has changed. "The duvet is over my head and my eyes are burning from the tears that just won't stop. It's grief for a career and a future I've lost and fear of how I am going to manage without it. I am torturing myself with a question that scares the life out of me: what am I going to do now?"
Before the advent of the Premiership even superstar footballers were not set up for life financially and , with a mortgage to pay, Whiteside went back to school. It would be tough for any 26-year-old to sit his GCSEs in a classroom full of 15-year-olds, let alone someone of his status - you cannot imagine a modern day Premier League footballer doing the same. But he perseveres with his education to become a qualified podiatrist - the study of foot disorders - and you find yourself - no pun intended - rooting for him every step of the way. Don't get me wrong, Whiteside doesn't ask for sympathy, but the reader is made well aware of what he went through and that is why one of the reasons this book is so readable.
Typically, Big Norm comes out smiling at the end of it all and, if you read his life story, so will you.