Powerful centre back Justin Whittle joined Hull City for a £65,000 fee on 27 November 1998. It’s worth noting the date, because there is a strong case that this day marked commencement of the Tigers’ remarkable Great Escape from seemingly inevitable relegation out of the Football League. Others joined the cause during the next two months – Whitney, Perry, Brabin, Alcide – but Justin was the first major signing of Warren Joyce’s tenure as manager, as the amiable Mancunian was promoted from within to clean up the considerable mess that had been left behind by Mark Hateley, a trophy girlfriend in football manager form.
Where Hateley had deployed silk, Joyce chose grit. Where Hateley had favoured skill, Joyce prized determination. Where Hateley settled for being laid back, Joyce focused on hard work and organisation. And those skills were all available in abundance to Joyce in the form of Justin Whittle.
The results were not instant. The Tigers won against Carlisle as Justin made his debut but then four straight league defeats left City stranded six points adrift at the foot of the table. Whittle was still settling into the City first team at that stage and was not beyond the occasional error. However as Joyce’s clenched-fist approach filtered through the squad and more signings were made specifically to propogate that style further, so the results began to turn. Justin was a central defensive rock around which the Great Escape squad was built, and by May relegation had been avoided with a game or two to spare.
The following season Whittle captained the side that consolidated in mid-table, at a time when player investment, especially strikers, might have justified a higher finish. Warren Joyce was replaced by Brian Little and Whittle continued to be the no-nonsense fulcrum around which the City defence gathered. In 2000/01, amid tales of off-field shenanigans and unpaid player wages, the City squad rallied together around talismanic figures like big striker Kevin Francis and, of course, Justin Whittle, to power in the play-offs where they were narrowly defeated by Leyton Orient, specifically Matthew Lockwood’s left foot. With Adam Pearson now taking over ownership, the club received considerable investment for a fourth tier side, but Whittle was still at the heart of the first team. However the arrival of Peter Taylor in the manager’s hot seat changed things, as he regularly preferred the slightly more prosaic defending skills of Marc Joseph to Justin’s all-action but occasionally agricultural style. Whittle drifted out of the team during 2003/04, despite giving some of his finest performances for Taylor when called upon due to injuries to others. When City enjoyed a first promotion in nineteen years that May, Justin was no longer featuring in the side and he left the club that summer.
Justin hailed from Derby and took a less than conventional route into the Football League. He joined the armed forces after his schooldays, serving in the Royal Army Pay Corps for the Rhine forces in Germany. It was while playing for an Army representative side that Whittle caught the attention of Glasgow Celtic scouts, who acquired his services in early 1994. Justin quickly returned to England in October 1994, folloiwng his Celtic manager Lou Macari to Stoke City. He took a year to make his debut for the Potters, but in the next four seasons Justin made 80 first team starts prior to his move to Hull City.
Whittle joined Grimsby Town in 2004 and gave the Mariners four years of excellent service – perhaps most gloriously and simultaneously controversially when in October 2005 Justin came up against England centre forward Alan Shearer in a League Cup tie against Newcastle United. After Shearer delivered an early ill-conceived reducer in the form of an elbow to the face of his centre back opponent, Justin treated the England man to a defending masterclass of a most robust nature, bloodying his lip with a stray elbow that had Shearer bleating to the press about how unfair it all was and claiming Whittle was trying to make a name for himself – the knob.
Justin dropped into the non-leagues in 2008, first with Harrogate Town and then North Ferriby United. He stopped playing in 2011 and took up a role of assistant manager at North Ferriby, although he quickly became caretaker gaffer when the managerial services of another uncompromising ex-Tiger centre back John Anderson were dispensed with. A month later a new manager was appointed, the highly successful Billy Heath, and Whittle’s time amongst the club’s backroom staff ended.
Justin remained active on the football scene for many years after his playing and coaching days were over. He combined an ambassadorial role at Hull City with a second career as a full-time postman in the Brough and Ferriby area. He was also a regular voice in the local sports press and media.
Justin Whittle was a key part of a pivotal turning point in the club’s history. Relegation in 1999 may well have heralded the end of the club entirely (just like a relegation for North Ferriby United 20 years later spelt an end to that club in tragic circumstances). Justin was crucial in City avoiding that demise, and he then contributed richly to the club’s later rebirth under Adam Pearson. Justin Whittle is a proper Hull City legend.
Date/Place of Birth: 18 March 1971, Derby
Hull City First Game: 28 November 1998, Carlisle United H (League Division 3), 27 years, 255 days old
Hull City Final Game: 14 February 2004, Carlisle United A (League Division 3), 32 years, 333 days old
Glasgow Celtic (1994), Stoke City (1994-1998), Hull City (1998-2004), Grimsby Town (2004-2008), Harrogate Town (2008-2009), North Ferriby United (2009-2011)
Hull City Record
Career: 219 apps, 3 goalsJustin Whittle
|1998/99||24 (0)||1||2 (0)||0||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1999/00||38 (0)||0||2 (2)||0||4 (0)||0||-||-||2 (0)||0|
|2000/01||38 (0)||0||-||-||2 (0)||0||-||-||2 (0)||0|
|2001/02||35 (1)||0||2 (0)||0||1 (0)||0||-||-||2 (0)||1|
|2002/03||34 (5)||1||1 (0)||0||1 (0)||0||-||-||-||-|
|2003/04||15 (3)||0||1 (0)||0||1 (0)||0||-||-||1 (0)||0|