Trowbridge born goalkeeper Jesse Whatley started playing competitive football in the British Army and represented an Egyptian Army XI in games against Belgium and France. While in the Army he served in the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Wiltshire Regiment during The First World War. Following the War he joined Trowbridge Town in August 1919, and after just two months playing in the Wiltshire League he was snapped up by Southern League side Bristol Rovers, where he spent his entire professional career.
Despite conceding five goals to Norwich City on his Bristol Rovers debut in November 1919, saving penalties against Gillingham and Luton, he played 14 times that inaugural season, often remaining the deputy behind Harry Stansfield, who subsequently appeared in Rovers’ first three Football League encounters, Whatley went on to become a first team regular for The Pirates, making his Football League debut at Newport County in September 1920. Having dislodged Stansfield, Whatley proved almost immovable himself, and played in 246 consecutive League games between August 1922 and April 1928, in total five ever present seasons, a Football League record for most consecutive games that stood until 1953.
Whatley was to retain a positive reputation for saving penalties in the League, notably saving a last minute penalty from Bertie Menlove as Rovers beat Crystal Palace 2-1 in October 1920, another from Bristol City’s Laurie Banfield as Rovers won the first League derby 1-0 at Ashton Gate in September 1922, and most impressively, from Gillingham’s Jock Henderson in August 1923, who had apparently scored from all ten penalties awarded to his club in the previous campaign. In 1922-23 he kept an impressive 21 clean sheets and earned a call up for the prestigious South v North trial game at Stamford Bridge in January 1925, an England international trial fixture.
Known as “Gentleman Jess” through his footballing career, he received a benefit match against Portsmouth in April 1925, plus a £500 cheque. By the time Whatley retired from professional football in 1930 he had played 385 League matches for Rovers (14 in the Southern League and 371 in the Football League), and featured in (at least) 27 FA Cup ties. He continued playing non league football in Bristol for a further two years for Stapleton Institute and later moved into coaching, becoming coach of Fry’s Cocoa Tree Boys in 1937. In 1939 he was appointed as manager of Downend Football Club, and two years later he took charge of Soundwell.
His nephew Ralph Whatley was Trowbridge Town’s goalkeeper between 1935 and 1938.