Watching Jim Whitley in action, he appears the same as he always did on a football field: excellent balance, nifty footwork, raising his voice when necessary.
But all is not as it seems. The pitch has been replaced by a stage and the football by a microphone. That’s because Whitley, 35, is singing in front of a packed audience, something that he now does regularly, travelling around the country performing "Rat Pack" tributes. On this particular night, his group is the warm-up act for Billy Ocean at a concert in London.
To see the former Manchester City player on the stage might surprise people, but it has been some time in the making, going all the way back to his school days, when he sang in the choir and got "stick" from the other kids (including one Robbie Savage).
However, the singing really took off when Whitley was playing for Wrexham. He and some of his teammates were asked to sing the chorus for a song, and he loved it.
“The producer asked me to come back and we played some Frank Sinatra songs,” he explained. “I did a performance four weeks later and that was the beginning of my singing career.”
Interestingly, the Zambian-born Whitley finds singing before a crowd more nerve-racking than playing football. “If you make a mistake in football, you can blame someone else,” he says with a laugh. “However, with the singing, you’re on your own.”
Inevitably, the conversation eventually turns to his ongoing knee problems. Ever since sustaining a serious injury in 2005, while playing for Wrexham, opportunities have been limited, and he hasn’t played at all since 2006.
Although not officially retired, Whitley has pretty much resigned himself to not playing again. “I’ve always said I’m not sure, but there’s only so much I can do with my knee at the moment. With the amount of singing work I’ve got, I can’t dedicate to it. I need to be training every day and I’m not getting any younger.”
If this is the end of his playing career, Whitley has enough interests, including painting and selling artwork, to keep him from falling into the same potholes that trip up other ex-players. With a long-term partner and young son, he is grounded and comes across as an intelligent and personable individual.
As a certain Mr. Sinatra once sang, "The best is yet to come."