Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Quakers Unearth a Master Striker; Noel Whelan Is Back in Professional Football after a Stint on Celebrity MasterChef. Mark Douglas Talks to a Seasoned Campaigner

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Quakers Unearth a Master Striker; Noel Whelan Is Back in Professional Football after a Stint on Celebrity MasterChef. Mark Douglas Talks to a Seasoned Campaigner

Article excerpt

FROM Celebrity MasterChef to a League Two survival fight, Noel Whelan has skipped out of the frying pan and into the fire in an audacious bid to relaunch his football career after a near three-year hiatus.

Whelan's remarkable return to professional sport after a brief spell trying to crack the fame game is another episode in a League Two soap opera that has already seen cameos from Sol Campbell, Sven-G|ran Eriksson and Chris Sutton.

But the 34-year-old is determined to make sure his compelling story ends on a high after old friend Steve Staunton handed him an unexpected second chance in football.

Staunton had promised to shake things up at Neasham Road and agreeing to take on a man who last kicked a ball in anger in July 2006 shows a recognition that extraordinary measures are required to stave off relegation.

It also marks a return to the public eye for a man last seen by millions on a celebrity version of MasterChef slicing into his finger while trying to cut Chorizo.

An engaging and easy-going character, Whelan has no regrets about his time in the kitchen - even if it saw him come a distant third behind Coronation Street's Cilla Battersby - actress Wendi Peters - and DJ Spoony in his heat.

"I was doing my coaching badges and looking to do a bit of TV work and the chance came up. I thought 'Why not?' because I've always thought I could do a decent salad," he said.

"It was an experience, let's put it that way. My finger still bears the scars from where I tried to cut that Chorizo! In my defence, Wendi has been cooking her whole life but I had one lesson in Glasgow before having my go and I think Spoony was the same.

"I thought I did all right apart from the Chorizo incident. They were a bit harsh on me and the judges are tough but my stilton and spinach soup tasted nice.

"When the show went out my mobile phone was red hot with all my old team-mates sending me messages about it. It's safe to say I got slaughtered!" So far, so amusing. But Whelan is deadly serious about his return to professional football and prolonging a career that began in 1993.

Following his brief cameo on Masterchef he quickly decided that the world of celebrity wasn't for him and settled on a career in management, joining the coaching staff at Blue Square North side Harrogate Town before a stint at Derby County's Academy. But the nagging suspicion that he had quit playing too early continued to eat away at him and with support from his wife he started training again in case an opportunity came up.

The return of Steve Staunton to management this week opened a window of opportunity that Whelan was only too happy to clamber through. "You're a long time retired and I always felt I'd been a bit hasty calling it a day," he admitted. …

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