Norman Hunter (footballer)

Norman Hunter
Norman Hunter, 1969
Personal information
Date of birth (1943-10-29)29 October 1943
Place of birth Eighton Banks, Gateshead, County Durham
Date of death 17 April 2020(2020-04-17) (aged 76)
Place of death Leeds, West Yorkshire
Height 5 ft 11+12 in (1.82 m)
Position(s) Centre back
Youth career
1959–1962 Leeds United
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1962–1976 Leeds United 540 (18)
1976–1979 Bristol City 108 (4)
1979–1982 Barnsley 31 (0)
Total 679 (22)
International career
1964–1969 Football League 6 (0)
1964–1965 England u-23 3 (0)
1965–1974 England 28 (2)
Managerial career
1980–1984 Barnsley
1985–1987 Rotherham United
*Club domestic league appearances and goals

Norman Hunter (29 October 1943 – 17 April 2020) was an English international footballer who played for Leeds United, Bristol City, Barnsley and England. He also managed Barnsley and Rotherham United. A tough tackling centre-back and defensive midfielder, he won two League Championship medals and one FA Cup-winners medal with Leeds, for whom he played 726 games in total, scoring 21 goals.

Hunter played in 28 full internationals for England, scoring twice. He was a member of England's 1966 FIFA World Cup winning squad but, as understudy to Bobby Moore, he did not play in the tournament. He was the first winner of the PFA Players' Player of the Year award in 1974, and was included in the Football League 100 Legends, published in 1998.

An early victim of COVID-19 after the pandemic began in 2020, Hunter was admitted to hospital on 10 April after testing positive. He died of the disease a week later, aged 76. On 23 April, Leeds United announced that the South Stand at its Elland Road stadium would be renamed the Norman Hunter South Stand in his honour.

Early life

Norman Hunter was born on 29 October 1943 at Eighton Banks, Gateshead, then in County Durham. His father, Norman senior, died before he was born. Hunter and his brother Robert were brought up by their mother, Betty, with the help of her sister and two football-playing uncles. He attended Eighton Banks Primary School till he was eleven and then went to Birtley Secondary Modern School till he was 15. He played junior football throughout his school years and, in his autobiography, recalled how one teacher tried to make him become a right-footed player. Fortunately, another teacher realised that Hunter had real potential as a left-footed player and encouraged him to develop his natural game. He joined Birtley Juniors FC and had played in only a few games before he was spotted by a talent scout working for Leeds United. After playing in a trial match for Leeds United Juniors against Bradford Park Avenue Juniors, Hunter was invited to join the ground staff at Elland Road. He had just left school and gave up a job as an electrical fitter to pursue his football career.

Playing career

Leeds United

Ground staff to First Division

Leeds were in the First Division when Hunter arrived at Elland Road in the summer of 1959. The team manager was Jack Taylor, who had taken over from Bill Lambton on 1 May 1959. Lambton had signed Don Revie from Sunderland in November 1958 and Billy Bremner, a Scottish schoolboy international, soon afterwards.

Leeds had been promoted from the Second Division in 1955–56, the season in which Jack Charlton became a first team regular, but they had struggled since John Charles left in 1957, and were relegated after the 1959–60 season. In March 1961, with the team in the lower half of the Second Division table, Taylor resigned and Revie took over as player-manager until March 1962 when he retired as a player and became the full-time manager. This was significant for young players like Hunter and Bremner because Revie initiated a youth development policy which was the basis of the club's future success. Other graduates included Paul Reaney, Peter Lorimer, Terry Cooper, Eddie Gray and Paul Madeley.

Hunter's graduation was in the 1962–63 season when Revie promoted him to the first team. He and Paul Reaney made their debuts in a Second Division match against Swansea Town at Vetch Field on 8 September 1962, Leeds winning 2–0. Hunter formed a central defence partnership with Jack Charlton which lasted for over a decade. Leeds finished fifth in 1962–63, Hunter playing in 36 of their 42 matches, and then won the Second Division title in 1963–64, Hunter playing in all 42 matches. Leeds returned to the First Division where, for the rest of Hunter's career with them, they were one of the strongest and most competitive teams in both English and European football.

1964–65

Hunter made an immediate impact on the First Division in 1964–65 and, only two months into the season on 28 October 1964 (the day before his 21st birthday), he was selected to play for the Football League XI against the Irish League XI in Belfast. The Football League XI won 4–0. A week later, he made his debut for the England under-23 (u-23) team against Wales u-23 on the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham. His Leeds team-mate, goalkeeper Gary Sprake, was playing for Wales u-23. England won 3–2. Although they were newly promoted, Leeds had an exceptional season in 1964–65 and performed a "runners-up double" by finishing second in the league to Manchester United on goal average; and losing 2–1, after extra time, to Liverpool in the 1965 FA Cup final. Hunter made 51 appearances for Leeds in all competitions, missing only one league match. He also played in three matches for the u-23s and two for the Football League XI.

1965–66

Leeds began the 1965–66 season with a home match against Sunderland on 21 August 1965. They did not play well and struggled to break the Sunderland defence, even after George Mulhall was sent off in the second half. Four minutes from time, the ball ran loose in the Sunderland penalty area and Hunter, running forward in support, met it near the penalty spot and volleyed home to give Leeds a 1–0 win.

Hunter continued to play a key role in the Leeds defence and his form impressed England manager Alf Ramsey, who included him in the squad for a match against Spain at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid on 8 December 1965. Hunter was a substitute and he replaced Joe Baker in the 35th minute, thereby becoming the first England player to make his debut as a substitute. He played as a defensive midfielder and that allowed Ramsey to deploy both Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball in more attacking roles as England won 2–0.

Leeds did well in the league again and were runners-up to Liverpool, albeit six points adrift. They gained 55 points from their 42 matches, the same as Burnley with Leeds having the better goal average. Hunter played in 41 of the 42 League matches and scored five goals, his highest total in a single season. Leeds had less success in the two domestic cup competitions, losing 4–2 at home to West Bromwich Albion in the third round of the League Cup (West Brom went on to win the tournament); and losing 1–0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Leeds had qualified for the 1965–66 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and progressed to the semi-finals with Hunter an ever-present in their eleven matches. They had victories over Torino (2–1 on aggregate), SC Leipzig (2–1), Valencia (2–1), and Újpesti Dózsa (5–2). In the semi-final, they drew 2–2 on aggregate with Real Zaragoza but lost the replay 3–1.

Hunter joined the England squad for the 1966 World Cup but, as understudy to Bobby Moore, did not play in any of England's six matches.

1966 to 1969

Hunter was a key player for Leeds as they won the Football League Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1968; and the League Championship in 1969.

He was a consistent performer, playing in over forty matches per season from 1962–63 to 1974–75; and was an ever-present in five seasons.

1969 to 1973

Leeds won the Fairs Cup again in 1971. Before the 1972 FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, some Leeds fans displayed a banner reading 'Norman bites yer legs' and Hunter was thereafter nicknamed "Bites Yer Leg", especially after Brian Clough commented on the banner. In the final, Leeds defeated Arsenal 1–0 with a goal by Allan Clarke. A famous photograph of Hunter's celebration when the goal was scored has been published many times. At the end of the game, Hunter climbed the steps to the Royal box twice; once to collect his own medal, and then again to help Mick Jones negotiate his way up and down, as Jones had been receiving treatment for a dislocated elbow while his teammates had been getting their prizes.

In May 1973, Hunter was on the losing team in two finals. In the FA Cup final at Wembley, Leeds surprisingly lost 1–0 to Sunderland, who were then in the Second Division. A few days later, Leeds were defeated 1–0 by AC Milan in the European Cup Winners' Cup final at the Kaftanzoglio Stadium in Thessaloniki. Hunter was sent off for retaliation and the game was over-shadowed by rumours of match-fixing.

1973 to 1976

In the 1973–74 season, Leeds were unbeaten in their first 29 matches, an outstanding run which enabled them to hold off a strong Liverpool challenge and win the League Championship, giving Hunter his second League winners medal. At the end of that season, Hunter was the first winner of the PFA Players' Player of the Year award.

As champions, Leeds entered the European Cup the following season, and Hunter was a member of the team that reached the 1975 European Cup final but lost 2–0 to Bayern Munich.

Towards the end of his career with Leeds, Hunter was in their team for a league match against Derby County at the Baseball Ground on 1 November 1975. Derby won the match 3–2 but it is remembered for a fistfight between Hunter and Derby's Francis Lee. Hunter was outraged when Lee won a first half penalty by allegedly taking a dive to fool the referee into thinking Hunter had fouled him. Charlie George scored the penalty to give Derby a 2–1 lead. In the second half, Hunter deliberately flattened Lee with a late challenge. Lee retaliated and Hunter punched him in the mouth, causing a lip injury that needed stitches. The referee sent both players off but Lee attacked Hunter again as they walked towards the touchline. Hunter was knocked down and several players and officials were needed to stop the fight which was shown on Match of the Day that night. In 2003, the incident was selected by The Observer as 'sport's most spectacular dismissal.'

Bristol City

After 540 Football League appearances and 726 in total for Leeds, Hunter signed for Bristol City on 28 October 1976 for £40,000, and remained there for three years, making 108 league appearances (122 in total) and scoring four goals.

Barnsley

Hunter finished his playing career with three seasons from 1979 to 1982 at Barnsley, where he was also the team manager from 1980 to 1984.

International career

The England squad arrives at Schiphol Airport, November 1969.
L–R: Harold Shepherdson, Colin Bell, Alf Ramsey, Norman Hunter, Jack Charlton.

Hunter played three games for the England under-23 team before he was given his debut for the England team in 1965 by manager Alf Ramsey. On 8 December 1965, England played Spain in Madrid.

The established partnership between Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore meant that Hunter spent much of his international career as an understudy to Moore; he won 28 caps in total. He was in the squad which won the 1966 FIFA World Cup but did not play in any of the matches.

Hunter scored the winning goal against Spain in England's quarter-final qualifying round for the 1968 European Championship, he then started in both the 1–0 semi final defeat to Yugoslavia and the 2–0 victory over the Soviet Union in the bronze medal match. He spent a short part of the 1970 season injured but he was in Alf Ramsey's squad for the summer's World Cup in Mexico, however his only appearance in the tournament was coming on as a late substitute in the 3–2 defeat by West Germany.

In 1973, Hunter was in the England team which needed to win their last qualifying tie for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. The opposition at Wembley were Poland, who just needed a draw to qualify at England's expense. It was 0–0 when Hunter went to make a tackle, but instead trod on the ball and lost it. Poland quickly made a counter-attack allowing Grzegorz Lato to run clear and set up Jan Domarski to score. Allan Clarke equalised with a penalty but England could not score again, and the 1–1 draw saw them miss out on a place at the World Cup.

In addition to his international appearances, Hunter played for The Football League XI six times. In these matches, from October 1964 to September 1969, he played against similar teams representing Ireland (3), Scotland (2) and Belgium. The Football League won all three of the matches against the Irish League; drew 2–2 with the Belgian League; and drew one and lost one against the Scottish League. On 11 June 1967, he travelled to Montreal with the Football Association XI to play in an exhibition match against Borussia Dortmund as part of an Expo International Tournament. The FA XI won 3–2 and Hunter scored the winning goal.

Playing style and personality

Norman Hunter (centre) with Bobby Charlton (left) and Paul Reaney in 1969.

Like his contemporaries Tommy "Anfield Iron" Smith of Liverpool, Nobby Stiles of Manchester United and Ron "Chopper" Harris of Chelsea, Hunter always had the reputation of being a hard man on the field. However, he says in his autobiography that, of the four, only Smith was "naturally tough" as he, Harris and Stiles were all "laid back off the field" (Hunter and Smith were close friends).

Hunter's job was to win the ball and move it forward. He achieved the first by reading the game so that he was invariably well positioned and by performing committed and uncompromising tackles when necessary; he achieved the second by having good ball control and by accurate passing. It is a fact that Hunter was usually perceived as a physical player only, but he was actually a very skilful player. After he died, Hunter's long-time Leeds team-mate Eddie Gray said of him:

Norman was a truly great football player. A lot of great players have walked through the gates of Elland Road and Norman was right up there with the best of them. It's a sad day for everybody connected with the club. He was a great reader of the game, great left foot, great passer, so influential in our team.

Management and coaching

Hunter was appointed Barnsley manager on 16 September 1980 after ex-Leeds player Allan Clarke left to take over as manager at Leeds United. That season, Hunter took Barnsley to second place in the Third Division and won promotion to Division Two. Hunter had two good seasons, 1980–81 and 1981–82, but then a mediocre one in 1982–83. Barnsley continued to struggle and Hunter was sacked on 8 February 1984 after a 3–2 home defeat by Cardiff City. He then worked as a coach for manager Johnny Giles at West Bromwich Albion but found the travel too much and resigned. He had a further managerial spell at Rotherham United from 24 June 1985 to 9 December 1987 when he was sacked after the Millers lost 4–0 at home to non-league Macclesfield Town in the FA Cup. In 1988, Hunter was a coach at Leeds under Howard Wilkinson, but he was again dismissed. His final job in football was assistant manager to Terry Yorath at Bradford City from 1989 to February 1990 when, once more, he was given the sack.

Personal life and later years

Family and post-football activity

In 1968, Hunter married Sue Harper and the couple had two children, Michael and Claire. After leaving Bradford City, Hunter turned to the after-dinner circuit recounting his anecdotes and, from 1993 to 2020, he worked for local stations BBC Radio Leeds and Yorkshire Radio as a match summariser. Hunter retained close links with Leeds United and its fans. He regularly attended Leeds matches and participated in club-hosted conferences and events; the eponymous "Norman Hunter Suite" is located in the West Stand at Elland Road.

Awards

In 1998, the Football League, as part of its centenary season celebrations, included Hunter in its list of 100 League Legends. He released his autobiography, Biting Talk, in 2004. In November 2007, following a campaign led by The FA, members of England's 1966 World Cup squad who did not play in the final, including Hunter, were belatedly awarded winner's medals by FIFA. Hunter was presented with his medal by Gordon Brown during a ceremony at 10 Downing Street on 10 June 2009.

The Damned United

In March 2009, Tom Hooper's film The Damned United was released. Based on David Peace's 2006 book, The Damned Utd, it dramatised Brian Clough's ill-fated 44 days as manager of Leeds United in 1974. Hunter was portrayed by character actor Mark Cameron in a supporting role. The film and the book have been slammed for historical inaccuracies and misrepresentation of characters. Both have been the subject of litigation: Johnny Giles successfully sued the book's publishers for libel; Dave Mackay won an apology and undisclosed damages from Left Bank Pictures. The World Soccer review says, as an aside to Giles' legal action: 'Norman Hunter hardly says anything (in the book), but he's still alive so escapes Peace's hatchet job.'

Clough's family were disgusted by the book and boycotted the film; friends of the family heavily criticised the film's portrayal of Clough. Hunter is depicted as a dark and moody character who, in one scene, assaults Clough during a training session. Joe Jordan has categorically denied that such an incident ever happened and says of the whole drama: 'There were just too many inaccuracies, too many people were saying things they didn't say, and doing things they didn't do.' The film's negative portrayal of Hunter is sharply at odds with his real off-the-field persona, evidenced by the many tributes paid to him before and after his death, as 'an amiable, popular and lovable man.' Hunter was one of the contributors to Phil Rostron's retaliatory We Are the Damned United, published in August 2009, which sought to set the record straight about Leeds under Clough.

Death

On 10 April 2020, it was reported that Hunter was being treated in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. On 16 April, a bulletin said he was 'severely unwell.' The following day, Leeds United announced that Hunter had died from the virus, aged 76, stating that '[his death] leaves a huge hole in the Leeds United family [and] his legacy will never be forgotten.' The club announced on 23 April that the South Stand at Elland Road would be renamed in his honour as the Norman Hunter South Stand.

Career statistics

Appearances and goals by club, season and competition
Club Season League FA Cup League Cup Europe Other Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Leeds United 1962–63 Second Division 36 2 3 0 2 0 41 2
1963–64 42 2 3 0 2 0 47 2
1964–65 First Division 41 2 8 0 2 1 51 3
1965–66 41 5 2 0 1 0 11 0 55 5
1966–67 40 0 7 0 3 0 10 0 60 0
1967–68 40 2 5 0 7 0 11 0 63 2
1968–69 42 0 2 0 2 0 9 1 55 1
1969–70 35 1 7 0 2 0 6 0 1 0 51 1
1970–71 42 1 4 1 1 0 10 0 57 2
1971–72 42 0 7 0 4 0 3 0 56 0
1972–73 32 1 7 0 5 0 9 0 53 1
1973–74 42 0 5 0 1 0 1 0 49 0
1974–75 25 1 5 0 4 0 8 0 1 0 42 1
1975–76 31 1 2 0 2 0 35 1
1976–77 9 0 1 0 10 0
Total 540 18 67 1 39 1 78 1 2 0 726 21
Bristol City 1976–77 First Division 31 0 3 0 1 0 35 0
1977–78 38 3 3 0 2 0 43 3
1978–79 39 1 3 0 2 0 44 1
Total 108 4 9 0 5 0 0 122 4
Barnsley 1979–80 Third Division 24 0 2 0 1 0 27 0
1980–81 6 0 6 0
1981–82 Second Division 0 0 0 0
1982–83 1 0 1 0
Total 31 0 2 0 1 0 0 34 0
Career total 679 22 78 1 45 1 78 1 2 0 882 25

Honours

Leeds United

England

Individual


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