Hull FC legend Johnny Whiteley: Removing pictures from KC Stadium is slur on history
HULL FC legend Johnny Whiteley MBE says a decision to strip the KC Stadium of photographs showing the Black and Whites' long and proud history has left a sour taste in his mouth.
In a move that has infuriated fans, images showing the Airlie Birds' glory days in The Johnny Whiteley Suite have been replaced with photographs of Hull City.
Ehab Allam, who, along with his father Assem, owns both the Stadium Management Company (SMC) and Hull City, says items have been removed, as Hull FC, unlike their football counterparts, have not paid for the honour of displaying memorabilia.
Last night, the Allams were urged by the leader of Hull City Council, which owns the venue, to respect one of the city's best-loved sporting greats.
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Mr Whiteley, 82, known as "Gentleman Johnny", says he has no desire to cause a football-rugby league rift and does not take personnel offence, but he believes the Allams have underestimated the strength of feeling from FC's army of fans.
He said: "It has left a sour taste in my mouth. It is a slur. Removing those pictures is like telling us, 'We don't want you anymore'. It is upsetting.
"But it matters to us, because every single photograph on the wall tells an important story in this club's history.
"Kids learn about the club's history by looking at these photographs, but if they're not there, stories will be lost."
Mr Whiteley claims he was not informed by anyone at the SMC, which has responsibility for running the stadium, that photographs, including one showing him playing at the Boulevard, were going to be taken down.
One photograph now hanging in the suite shows former Tigers striker Dean Windass celebrating his play-off final volley at Wembley that took the club to the top flight in May 2008.
Mr Whiteley said: "I visited the KC Stadium on Thursday and some building work was taking place, so I followed a diversion that took me through the suite.
"All the Hull photos were gone, including a mural of me playing at the Boulevard.
"I thought I had walked into the wrong room.
"I visit the KC Stadium two or three times a week and I know the staff well. They were as dismayed as I was.
"Suddenly, in every corner of the building there were Hull City photographs."
Asked if he had a message for the Allams and the SMC, Mr Whiteley, who describes himself as "a Hessle Roader, born and bred", said: "I am not going to beg them to put those photographs back up. That's not me.
"But they will find out how the people feel."
Fans' group Hull FC Voices said they took the removal of photos from The Johnny Whiteley Suite as a personal insult.
Some supporters took to Facebook and Twitter to say they plan to wear Johnny Whiteley masks for the club's next home match against Warrington Wolves on Saturday, February 23.
Mr Whiteley was never dropped during 15 seasons at Hull FC, from 1950 to 1965, when he made 418 appearances and scored 156 tries.
He captained the Black and Whites from 1956 and became player-coach in 1963.
Mr Whiteley was also a member of three World Cup-winning squads and coached the British Lions to victory in Australia in 1970, the last time Great Britain won the Ashes.
As reported in yesterday's Mail, Ehab Allam has admitted the move had come about as a result of he and his father taking tighter control over the running of the SMC since buying both the company and the Tigers in December 2010.
Mr Whiteley said: "I don't understand the politics. But the KC Stadium is a community stadium.
"Football and rugby league should go side by side. I have always supported City."
Mr Whiteley said he remains proud to be associated with Hull FC.
He said: "I am a Hessle Roader, born and bred. All I ever wanted to do was wear that black and white shirt.
"I am not being silly when I say this – I dedicated my life to Hull FC."
Mr Whiteley, the son of a trawlerman, said he considers it an honour to be held in such high regard by the people of his home city.
He said: "People stop me in the street and say, 'You've given me a lot of pleasure'. It's only really as I have got older that I have come to really appreciate that and it is very special."
Pete Allen, chairman of Hull FC Voices, said: "I am really upset for Johnny Whiteley.
"He is an icon, as well as a gentleman. He is not the sort of guy who would want any fuss, but he will be hurting that he is at the centre of so much commotion.
"There are 12,000 active fans and many more latent supporters who are not happy he has been treated this way.
"Surely, the Allams can look at other ways of generating some income?"
Hull City Council owns the stadium, although the day-to-day running of it falls under the remit of the SMC.
In 2011, talks between the local authority and the Allams, with a view to the father and son buying the stadium, collapsed.
Councillor Terry Gerraghty, portfolio holder for culture, sport and leisure, said last night: "It is a disgrace.
"Hull FC are a big part of the KC Stadium and a lot of people will agree with me.
"The club contributes a lot to the SMC – about £600,000 a year in rent."
Ehab Allam perviously told the Mail: "The simple facts are that there is a lease agreement at the KC Stadium that all tenants, be it football, rugby or education, have to adhere to.
"Unfortunately, in years gone by, all tenants at the stadium have been benefiting from extras to their lease agreements without payments.
"All we have done is said anything those tenants want beyond the agreement has to be paid for.
"It is the same for all.
"That is the case with regards to displays inside the KC. We have not prevented anything from being displayed.
"We have not banned anything. Any tenant can display what they want, if they pay the rate."
Hull FC have declined to comment.