‘My mother never told me football legend John White was my father’

The Ghost of White Hart Lane book about ex-Falkirk and Scotland player John White. Includes passages by Michael White, Falkirk historian
The Ghost of White Hart Lane book about ex-Falkirk and Scotland player John White. Includes passages by Michael White, Falkirk historian

A BERWICK man is coming to terms with the confirmation that he is the son of a famous international footballer . . . and the realisation that he has a half- brother he has never met.

Stephen Roughead, who is 50, was only told by his mother last week that his father was John White, the former Tottenham and Scotland player, who was famously known as ‘The Ghost’.

John and Helen

John and Helen

He was a member of Spurs’ double-winning team of 1961 but was killed when he was struck by lightning in July 1964.

Stephen says: “The news didn’t come as a great surprise, because it has been an open secret around Berwick for many years.

“Three of my children already knew, but one of them didn’t, and I also had to phone my brothers to let them know.”

His mother, Helen, finally broached the subject after being persuaded by other members of her family to break her silence.

Stephen Roughead

Stephen Roughead

This followed reports in some national newspapers following the publication of a new book by White’s son, Rob (47), in which he described his ‘‘shock and surprise’’ at being told he had a half-brother whom he had no idea existed.

“I am not named in the book (‘The Ghost of White Hart Lane’),’’ said Stephen. “In fact I don’t even think they know of my whereabouts.

“There was some talk way back in 2008 about the book and my uncle Gordon (Helen’s brother) said to me at the time it would open up a can of worms.

“When the book was finally published earlier this year it was reported in some newspapers and Gordon said: ‘This isn’t going to go away. Some day someone is going to come knocking on your door looking for you.’

“My mother has never mentioned the fact that John White was my father. In those days (the late 50s) there was a stigma attached to a young girl being pregnant and not getting married.

“I think it was for that reason she kept it to herself for all these years.

“A lot of people in Berwick knew, and so I always had an inkling, but it was never something people came up to me to talk about.

“I can remember finding a birth certificate in a drawer at home on which John White was named as my father. I put it straight back and never mentioned it. Then there was the time when I was a boy, about 11 or 12, and we came back to Berwick after living for a while in Leamington Spa. I was playing football in the street with a friend and he turned to me and said: ‘I know why you are such a good footballer, it’s because your dad was.’

“I can also remember when I got married my mother said to my wife, Karen: ‘When you marry Stephen you marry football - it’s in his blood.’ Later on I started to do a bit of research and read up on John White’s career, but it was never something I talked to my mother about.

“I can recall, however, one day, when I was about five, and we were going down the North Road in Berwick past the old cattle market.

“My mother met two friends, they started talking, and suddenly my mother ran off crying and was obviously very distressed. Looking back, I think that was the first time she heard the news that John White had been killed.”

Stephen’s mother, who is 71 this year, first met White back in the late 50s when he did his national service with the KOSB based in Berwick Barracks.

The book only briefly touches on the subject, but describes it as White ‘falling into the Berwick man-trap’.

“That makes it sound seedy,” said Stephen, “but I think everyone around Berwick at the time knows that wasn’t the case.

“They were in a relationship, how strong it was I’m not sure, but I know my mother went through to Musselburgh to meet his parents, because we even have a photograph of the pair of them arm in arm.

‘‘They met when my mother worked in Lamb’s Laundry along Walkergate Lane. He went in there to get his civvies done and it developed from there.

“I can’t be certain, but I think after my mother fell pregnant with me, my father went to his commanding officer or sergeant major and told them what had happened.

“I think he was told that ‘for the good of his career’ it was probably best that he should disappear, and that is what he did.”

Helen said: “John kept coming into the laundry to ask me out. We were together for about a year and we did all the things that courting couples did like walking around the walls. I even went to Musselburgh to meet his parents.”

White, who was born in 1937, first started playing in Scotland with Alloa and Falkirk.

He moved to Tottenham in 1959 and made 183 appearances, scoring 40 goals. During his time at Spurs, where they won the old First Division and FA Cup double in 1961, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963, he also made 22 international appearances for Scotland, scoring three times in the process.

At Spurs, where he occupied the left side of midfield, he earned the nickname ‘The Ghost’ for his ability to drift past players.

A remarkable statistic is that during his time with the club they never finished lower than fourth in the league table, and of the 15 games he missed for the club during his time there, they only won once.

Sadly, his career and his life were cut short in July 1964 when, at the age of 27, he was killed when he was struck by lightning whilst sheltering under a tree on a golf course in Enfield, Essex.

Stephen said: “I can remember one of my grannies saying afterwards that it was ‘the finger of God’ striking him down for what he had done.”

Stephen was originally born ‘Stephen McLean’, his mother’s maiden name, but later changed it to Roughead after his mother married David.

“John White might have been my father,” he said. “In footballing terms he was a hero and a legend to some, but David was always my dad.”

Stephen went on to carve out a successful amateur career locally, playing for both Spittal Rovers and Coldstream.

As for Rob, his half-brother, Stephen says he would eventually like to meet up with him one day. “At the end of the day he is a blood relative and I have never met him,” he said.

“As for my mother, I’m pleased that she has finally told me, but as I say, it didn’t come as a great surprise.

“I think for her, however, it’s a great weight off her shoulders because she has been carrying this around for most of her life.

“She has been depressed a bit over the past few years since the death of David, but after she sat me down and told me it seemed to lighten her mood.”