The striker was tipped for the top after scoring 72 goals in 173 appearances for Crawley Town. That was impressive enough for Division Three Scarborough Town to pay £50,000 for him.

He went on to join Hudder-

sfield Town but his football career hit the buffers three-and-a-half years ago when he was sacked by the Yorkshire club for taking cannabis.

The 29-year-old has been turning out for Rottingdean United in the Brighton League and is battling against a troublesome knee injury which needs an operation.

Whitington, who lives in Portslade, admits he has never recovered from the dreadful shock when Huddersfield cancelled his contract.

He said: "It was not a good time for me and I was taught the hard way. The widespread publicity meant I had trouble finding another club. My ban for ten months lasted until my contract expired at Huddersfield, so we came to a mutual agreement to end it."

Huddersfield had no alternative but to dismiss Whitington as it was the second time he had tested positive for cannabis. Chairman Geoff Headey said the club could no longer employ a man who had betrayed them, after the support he received for the same offence a year earlier.

Crawley, where he spent the best years of his football career, were the only club to offer him a lifeline when his ban ended.

But his second spell never matched the first as he was dogged with knee problems which restricted his appearances.

He gave up the game two seasons ago and has not played senior football since.

But despite everything, Whitington still retains his love for the game. He recently had an operation which he hopes will allow him to play again at senior level at the start of next season.

He said: "I'd like to think I can still play, although it'll never be a high standard. Everything's OK upstairs, but I'm not sure if my legs are up to it."

He's had offers from a few Sussex League sides, who have invited him to train and he is ready to start running again.

It's an unhappy twist to a story which started when he was a promising schoolboy at Brighton, where his father also Eric played for four years from 1964.

But it was at Town Mead where his career really took off. He was signed after scoring a hat-trick for Worthing to knock Reds out of the FA Cup in 1990.

He scored again in the Cup, this time twice for Crawley in 1991, to dump Northampton out 4-2 in the first round and the game was shown on Match of the Day. Reds went onto beat Hayes that year before losing 5-0 to Albion at the Goldstone in the third round.

Whitington also featured in the Cup run that was halted by Barnet in 1993, not long before his transfer to Scarborough.

He said: "They were very good runs and it put me in the window. We had a good team at Crawley."

By this time, Crawley had put a £100,000 price tag on his head. Cyprus club Omonicosia wanted to sign him, but could not meet the asking price. That was a disappointment, as in the same season they went on to play Juventus in the European Cup.

After joining Scarborough in December 1993, Whitington scored ten goals in 26 appearances in Division Three. Not a bad effort for his only sustained run in the League.

It was former Crawley boss Steve Wicks who took him to the McCain Stadium and Whitington remembers fondly the excitement of playing professionally.

"Steve said when he was at Crawley that, if he got a job in the League, I'd be one of his first signings." said Whitington. "He was true to his word, although it was a difficult decision because it meant moving up north.

"But it was the chance to play in the League that swung if for

me and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time there."

It was at Scarborough that he met his wife Joanne and they now have two children, Naomi, seven, and Charlie, nearly two.

Whitington quickly adjusted to the demands of full-time training. "I'd never done anything like that before, so at first it was a bit of a shock. But I started to get much fitter and my game improved."

The downward spiral started the moment he left Scarborough. Whitington played in a Yorkshire Electricity Cup match during the build-up to the 1994/95 season against Huddersfield.

Neil Warnock, then manager at the Division One club, was so impressed he made a successful £20,000 bid for the forward. But, as Whitington explains, it was here that he made the first of two errors which put an end to his professional career.

"Gillingham were also interested. They were in Division Three and had been struggling, while Huddersfield were in Division One and had an impressive new stadium which they showed me around.

"I decided to join Huddersfield which was a mistake, because at Gillingham I was guaranteed first team football, something I never really got at Huddersfield."

It was a miserable spell for Whitington, who managed just one first team appearance in two years at the club. He was banned one year into his stay and then the FA came down hard when he tested positive again 12 months later. He had not learned his lesson and paid the price.

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