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The football world mourns the loss of Norman Hunter
Friday, 17th Apr 2020 21:22 by Tim Whelan

Despite his reputation as a notorious hardman, there are many who say that off the field Norman Hunter was as nice a man as you could possibly meet, and today the fans of many rival clubs have joined us in mourning the loss of one of football’s true greats.

Hunter was taken to hospital last week after being diagnosed with COVID-19, and with his existing health conditions it proved to be one battle too many for the Leeds United legend. We feared the worst as we heard his condition was deteriorating even though we were told he was putting up a great fight, but it was still a shock to wake up to the news that he had passed away early this morning at the age of 76.

Norman was born on Friday 29th October 1943 in Eighton Banks, County Durham and left school at the age of 15 to become an electrical fitter. But fate had other ideas and after Leeds scouts spotted him playing for Birtley Juniors, he was brought to Elland Road, making his debut against Swansea Town at the age of 18 on Saturday 8th September 1962.

And the rest, as they say, is history, as he went on to be a key member of the great Don Revie side over the next 14 years, making a total of 726 appearances for the club. He was also a member of the England squad for the 1966 World Cup, and although he didn’t get a game in that tournament he did go on to win 28 caps for his country.

His uncompromising tackling earnied him the nickname "Bites Yer Legs", and although he enjoyed that and thought it would help to intimidate opposing forwards, Eddie Gray said in a tribute today that the legend obscures what a good footballer he was. Don Revie paid tribute to his all-round ability as a defender in the programme for Hunter’s testimonial in 1975.

“Norman’s reading of games, his ability to assess situations and dangerous attacks sets him out from the rest. He covers his colleagues with absolute authority... he patrols his area flawlessly because he seems to be able to sense when dangerous situations are going to develop. We often used to think he’d been born with a sixth sense... he used to nip potentially dangerous situations in the bud so often that they never developed at all.”

After his spells as a manager at Barnsley and Rotherham, Hunter would regularly return to Elland Road, and would still avidly support the club he had served for so long. As recently as last month he was at the win over Huddersfield, and was said to have been so involved with the game he was kicking the seat in front of him!

I saw that commitment for myself the night we beat Stuttgart 4-1 in 1992, but thought we’d gone out of the European Cup. I was in the lower tier of the West Stand and on the way out I saw Hunter in the front row of the top tier and thought about asking for an autograph.

He’d been commentating for Radio Leeds and when I got there I saw he was so upset by the outcome he was in a trance, with the rest of the radio staff having to reach round him to pack away the equipment. So not the best time to trouble him! But years later I did finally get the chance to talk to Norman after one of the ‘beambacks’ of an away game, when he’d been one of the guest speakers.

It was during the hapless Wiedwald’s time in the Leeds goal, and Hunter agreed with my old school assessment that it’s more important to have a keeper who can save a few shots than one who’s good at this new-fangled idea of playing out from the back! He came across as a very genial seventy-something old gent who was always happy to stop for a chat with ordinary fans, and many other Leeds fans have said exactly the same on social media.

With his notorious reputation I wondered how fans of other clubs would react to the news on social media, but I needn’t have worried. A Man U supporting mate posted “Sad news indeed, one of many great characters of football in the 1970's”. And amongst many other tributes on the 1970s Facebook group I saw “Respect RIP Norman ,hard as nails from a Chelsea fan.“

Now we have to wait for a chance to pay tribute to the legend. If Leeds eventually have to resume the season playing behind closed doors then the players could have a minutes silence, but surely this would be repeated at the next game fans could attend, whenever that may be. And some have called for a statue, or for the East Stand to be named the ‘Norman Hunter stand’ in his honour. But however the club decides to honour him, he will never be forgotten. RIP Norman.

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