Hull FC legend, Johnny Whitely dies
It is with the deepest sadness and the heaviest of hearts that Hull FC announce the passing of club legend Johnny Whiteley MBE.
Johnny passed away peacefully last night at the age of 91, surrounded by his close family – he leaves behind wife Joan, daughters Kim, Jane and Lisa, grandchildren, Lisa and Sherriden, and great-grandchildren Jack and Leo.
Widely regarded as the greatest player to ever pull on the Black & White jersey, and one of the finest forwards of all-time, Whiteley leaves behind an incredible legacy through his playing and coaching career, as well as his unrivalled dedication to the club, the sport and the local community post-retirement.
A Hull FC and Rugby League Hall of Fame member, Whiteley made no less than 418 appearances for the club between 1950 and 1965, making him the sixth highest appearance maker in club history, and undoubtedly the club’s greatest ever captain.
Johnny joined the Airlie Birds from Hull Boys Club in 1950 having completed his national service in Austria as a teenager, and would have an immediate impact on his boyhood side in his early seasons with the club.
Having achieved incredible success with the club as a player, including captaining Hull to two Rugby League Championship Final victories, their maiden appearance at Wembley Stadium, and the European Club Championship, the Hull-born star also made his mark on the international stage, pulling on the Great Britain jersey 15 times throughout his career, as well as picking up World Cup winners medals in 1954 and 1960, having appeared in three tournaments.
Whiteley was a member of the Great Britain side that claimed the Ashes on home soil in 1960, scoring the series deciding try against Australia at Headingley, before playing a crucial role in the historic 1962 series win Down Under two years later.
Post-retirement, ‘Gentleman John’ took on the reins of coaching his beloved Airlie Birds, leading them to two Yorkshire Cup Final victories before returning to the Great Britain side in 1970 and incredibly leading them to another Ashes victory Down Under – the last time the side won the series.
Whiteley would become one of a small number of players to cross the great divide having gone on to coach local rivals Hull KR, where he is still held in the highest regard on both sides of the city.
He returned to the Black & Whites in an assistant coaching role in 1992, and was inducted into the club’s inaugural Hall of Fame, some 42 years after making his debut, with over four decades of service to the club he loved so dearly.
The honours continued to accumulate for Whiteley post retirement, being awarded an MBE for Services to Rugby League & Community in the Queen’s 2005 New Year’s Honours list, as well as being awarded an Honorary Degree from the University of Hull, and being made a Freeman of the City of Hull.
Johnny was most recently named in the Rugby League Hall of Fame back in 2018, before being recognised the by the club for his outstanding commitment and service in 2021, having turned 90 in November 2020.
In his later years, Johnny was a committed ambassador to the club, as well as a trustee for the Hull FC Community Foundation, as well as watching his beloved West Hull ARLFC a club he helped develop throughout his career.
Hull FC Chief Executive, James Clark, said: “Johnny is widely regarded as the finest rugby league player to represent this city, and amongst the very best in the history of the sport, so this is an extremely sad day for our club and for rugby league.
“He represented Hull FC as a player, coach and ambassador with passion, humility and the utmost dedication for the last 70 years and he will leave a significant hole in the family and fabric of this club.
“Johnny approached life with such youthful energy, vigour and determination, and despite how sad this moment is, it should also be an opportunity to celebrate his incredible life and legacy, including his dedication to the sport and the city he loved so dearly.
“His influence and contribution reaches far beyond rugby league and he served his community selflessly for many, many years, which will never be forgotten.
“For those of us who knew him and had the privilege of spending invaluable time with him, he will not only be remembered as a legend of the club, the finest ambassador for the sport and a dedicated servant of the city – but most notably, a great friend.
“On behalf of Adam, our board and everyone associated with Hull FC, we send our heartfelt condolences to Joan, Kim, Jane and the rest of the family, who will always be part of the family at this club.”
The club sends its deepest condolences to Johnny’s family and friends, they are in our hearts and minds at this incredibly sad time.
The club will be marking Johnny’s passing at Saturday’s Betfred Super League fixture against St Helens at the MKM Stadium, with full details to be announced in due course.
A book of condolence will also be opened from Tuesday 15th February at the club’s retail store at St Stephen’s Shopping Centre.
Thank you, Johnny, for your incredible service to the club, to Rugby League, and beyond – for you, Old Faithful, pal of mine.
The thoughts of Beverley FM are with Johnny’s family.