Dave Whelan was born in Bradford on 24 November 1936. He signed for Blackburn Rovers from Wigan Boys Club in December 1953, and made his debut for the Rovers in 1956 against West Ham at Ewood Park. Two years of National Service however delayed him really making his mark in the first team.
Blackburn at the time were a Second Division team, but in 1957-58 they gained promotion to the First Division, conceding only 18 goals at Ewood Park. The following season saw mid-table consolidation, but in 1959-60 Rovers struggled in the League, finishing 17th - albeit just behind Everton and Manchester City, and ahead of relegated Leeds United.
From Charles Buchan's Football Monthly June 1959
In the same edition is an article about Wigan Athletic!!
But it was in the FA Cup that Rovers made their name that season, reaching the Final on Saturday May 7th. The programme notes for right-back Dave Whelan say: "Bradford-born, he joined Rovers in the 1958-59 season from a Wigan junior club. Strong in the tackle with a wonderful recovery, he was singled out by Matt Busby eighteen months ago as "one of the most improved players of the season". Already spotted by the F.A. for representative matches. Height 5 ft. 8 in., weight 11 st. 6 lb."
Rovers were unsettled for the big day when centre-forward Derek Dougan asked for a transfer on the eve of the big match. The game itself started inauspiciously for Rovers, and in the 41st minute a low centre by Barry Stobart was deflected into his own net by Blackburn's left half Mick McGrath.
But worse was to come for young Whelan. Just two minutes later, and two minutes from half-time Norman Deeley, Wolves' outside-right pushed the ball forward and went after it when Whelan came in "low and hard, but fair" (Deeley's own words). Deeley's right shin met Whelan's left shin and the crack was audible. Dave Whelan was carried off, and actually waved to Deeley on his way off to indicate the Wolves player was not to blame.
However, at 23, Dave Whelan's top-level career was effectively over. It was a year before he could play again, and then cracked his leg in the same spot against Sheffield Wednesday. He played 115 times for Crewe Alexandra between 1963 and 1966. In so doing, he played in all four divisions of the League - an experience that shouldn't be taken lightly. But fate took Dave Whelan in another direction, a very succesful direction.
With the £400 compensation he received following his injury he bought a small grocery business operating from Blackburn Market. By 1978 Whelans Discount Stores were being sold to the supermarket chain, Morrisons, for £1.5 million.
David Whelan is not a man who likes to be idle, and he bought a small sports store in Wigan for £7,400. The store had a slightly unusual history. It was founded in 1903 by a rugby player by the name of J J Broughton. He sold the company on to a gentleman named J J Braddock, who later sold it on to J J Bradburn. The initials of all these three being the same led to the store being locally always called "JJB", a name that Dave Whelan kept when he acquired the business.
An advert in a 1962 Latics' programme
The business in 1978 specialised in fishing items, its lead range being maggots! Whelan transformed the business, and through the 1980s a programme of expansion targetting towns with a population of over 50,000 led to 119 outlets and a flotation in 1994 at a value of £64.5 million.
The company is now the biggest sports retailers in the country, having acquired Sports Division in 1998. By 2002 the company's net profit was £64.8 million, and made a further acquisition of T J Hughes that year. There are now 430 stores, predominantly in the UK. However Dave Whelan scaled down his business interests in JJB when in 2005 he stepped down as Chairman of the company, and sold £50 million of shares in January 2007. He sold the remainder of his shares in June 2007. The fact that this preceded a major downturn in the retail trade may just be good luck - but Dave Whelan is known for being very shrewd.
In another twist in the business saga in March 2009 Dave Whelan acquired back the 52 JJB Fitness clubs for reported £70 million, and rebadged them DW Sports Fitness. As he said: "I was getting a bit fed up of being retired. The original plan was for 100 health clubs and stores and that's still the target." At the same time JJB's naming rights for the stadium came to an end, and so the stadium was rebranded after the new company, the DW Stadium.
In February 1995 David Whelan turned his eye towards his primary love, football, and he took over as Chairman of a then struggling Wigan Athletic. For his first game a "crowd" of 1,452 turned up at Springfield Park. From the time of his arrival things have looked rosy for the Latics. He was instrumental in innovatively bringing three Spaniards, Jesus Seba, Roberto Martinez and Isidro Diaz to the club, when lower Division teams just didn't do such things. His investment secured promotion to the Second Division and then in 2003 to the First, culminating with promotion to the Premiership in 2005. He has invested heavily in providing the public of Wigan, including the supporters of the town's rugby team who he helped rescue from financial ruin, with a stadium fit for high level sport.
The supporters of Latics owe a lot to David Whelan. He is a hard businessman, and sometimes that tempers attitudes towards him and militates against an excess of sycophancy. But he loves Wigan, and he loves his football team. Without him, at best we would be playing in the Nationwide Conference now. At worst we would have gone the way of Wigan County, Wigan Town, Wigan Borough etc etc, into the "History" page of a website like this.
For that, Mr Whelan, we thank you.