It is fair to say Jim Whitley didn’t fully appreciate the greatness of the man he was serving his football apprenticeship under upon signing for Manchester City as a 15-year-old.

“I didn’t know who he was at the beginning, he was just a coach,” says the former midfielder.


The coach in question was Colin Bell, one of the greatest players in the Club’s history.

Whitley had been a keen player rather than a keen follower of football in his youth, which explains his lack of awareness, but having been informed of his coach’s status by a relative, he developed a huge appreciation for Bell, which lasts to this day.

Indeed, 30-years after he first signed for the Club, Whitley remembers the City legend with great fondness and credits his mentor for instilling important values in him as a youngster.

“Because I hadn’t followed football, I had no idea who he was,” Whitley recalls

“It was only when my sister’s husband explained that I was like, ‘wow’. I couldn’t believe it.

“He knew I had come into football late and he always used to say, ‘This is a very short career. Give 100% because if you don’t make it you can always say you tried your best and you just weren’t good enough.

“’There are so many players along the way who say I could have made it and they’ve always got an excuse. If you give 100% you can always hold your hand up because you gave your best.’

“He said there will be days when your touch is bad, or you can’t pick a pass and they are the days you have to run. And he said you can do that no problem.

“He was a mentor that would pull me now and again and have a little chat. I’ll never forget Colin Bell. He was a big figure for me.”

Like Bell, Whitley has turned to coaching since retiring from playing.

The former Northern Ireland international, who has also earnt a living as a singer and performer, trains a host of kids and his former coach’s words remain at the forefront of his mind.

“Giving 100% is massive,” he says and instilling a good attitude is central to his work with the youngsters, who vary in age from 10 to 18 and for whom some have come to him after being released from academies.

Whitley is also determined to ensure he teaches his young players the fundamentals of the game.

Despite making more than 200 appearances in the English Football League, it is something he admits he didn’t do himself, after coming to football later than his peers.

“If I could go back, I would have loved to have had three or four years more practice to get a bit more of a grounding in the basic tools,” the 45-year-old explains.

“You need as many tools as possible in your locker when you go onto the pitch so you can access them whenever you need. I didn’t have all the tools. I had a few and I had to make do with what I had.

“I am trying to teach kids the things that I struggled with because I was always playing catch up and things didn’t come naturally.

“I try and teach them the short cut ways of doing things, rather than the long hours I had to spend, or the skills that I wasn’t taught that I wish I had been from a younger age.

“I try to pass on the basics, which is something I really enjoy.”