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Where are they now: Andy Hunt

31 January 2013

From King's Lynn Town to Kettering Town, then 200 miles up north to Newcastle United before going down to London with Charlton Athletic, via a spell in the Midlands with West Bromwich Albion - Andy Hunt's footballing career took him the length of England.

Surprisingly, though, the former striker chose not to settle in any of the places he had lived during his career, when he retired during the 2000/01 season.

Instead, he upped sticks and moved to Belize, a country located on the Caribbean coast of Northern Central America.

"I'd had enough of football and to be honest, I'd had enough of British weather," Hunt revealed.

"I retired and just thought, 'you know what, I can sell my house in England and go anywhere. Where can I go?'

"Me and my girlfriend at the time started looking around and we really liked Belize, we visited the country and spent some time there.

"We looked around and found a property, bought it, sold the house in England and came out - 12 years later, I'm still here [in Belize]."

Hunt, now 42, comes across slightly deflated when he talks about football, but it is with good reason, because his retirement was much more complex than just hanging his boots up on a peg and walking out of the dressing room knowing he had reached his full potential and achieved all he could in the game.

Whilst playing for Charlton in the 1999/00 season, in what is now the npower Championship, Hunt was diagnosed with glandular fever - and that was the start of a decline in his health.

"I was exhausted. With glandular fever you're supposed to rest and not do anything but I kept playing because we were doing so well and the team and the manager wanted me to keep playing.

"We got promoted that season and I took the summer off and did nothing then I came back and started the Premier League season. We were top after five games and I'd scored five goals after about eight matches.

"Then I just got hit with something again, I didn't know what it was it just knocked me out. I went for all the tests for glandular fever and everything was good but I felt like I had flu all the time.

"I couldn't train and I couldn't play so they sent me for tests with the British Olympic Association and they diagnosed me with something called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

"It was tough to take. We were doing really well in the Premier League and I was at the peak of my career - I think I was 30 at the time - and I was set to have a good career for another three, four or five years at the top level.

"It wasn't an easy decision to pack it in but after having it [the illness] on and off for two years, I just had enough of feeling really bad all the time. I didn't want to put myself through it anymore - I just wanted to stop."

After walking away from his career, and moving to Belize, Hunt took time out from life in general.

In his words, he spent three or four years "not doing a lot, just spending time with family and friends and resting and recovering", before he decided to set up his own business in the English-speaking country, which is a hotbed for tourists.

"The business came along in about 2005 - it just kind of happened. My neighbours have a lodge and they wanted to use our pool for their guests, so we said that was fine, and one thing led to another and we got into the business.

"We bought a big property, which we turned into rooms, we also built a four-bedroom villa next to it then another three-bedroom place next to that, as well as three acres of land.

"It's going great. We have more than enough business for what we want. It's kind of seasonal but we still stay busy for most of the year, it's just quieter towards the September/October time. We get plenty of time off and do a lot of fun things, and travel a lot, so we can't complain.

"A lot of tourists come out here and they like to explore the caves and go to the mine ruins and stuff like that. Then on the coast there are a lot of beautiful islands where people go diving and snorkeling, as well as fishing.

"Our lodge is about an hour and a half inland, so we organise things for tourists and we take them here, there and everywhere.

"It's mostly Americans and Canadians that come to us. We've had a few Brits out here but it's a long way to come, and you can't get here directly either, you have to go through the US to get here. That's quite a ride."

Prior to his 5,000-mile move to Belize, and the success he experienced at the latter end of his career with Charlton, Hunt enjoyed a fruitful spell with West Bromwich Albion.

Under Ossie Ardiles, who he also played for at Newcastle, the Baggies won promotion via the Second Division Play-Offs, beating Port Vale 3-0 at Wembley Stadium, and that was one of his main career highlights.

"The first two years at West Brom were great. I scored the first goal in the Play-Off Final. Playing and scoring at Wembley - well, you can't ask for much more than that as a player.

"Driving into the stadium in the coach and seeing everybody there was crazy. I've been to Wembley a few times to watch but playing there was something else. You just pinch yourself when it's happening.

"After five seasons with West Brom, my contract expired and Alan Curbishley wanted to sign me for Charlton. The first season was pretty tough, they had been promoted to the Premier League and we went straight down, so that wasn't much fun.

"The following season we came back up as champions and I was the top scorer - that was the best season I had in my career, we had a great time.

"He [Curbishley] was probably the best manager I worked with. He was just very calm and very reasonable. He also had a brilliant team of coaches and other staff around him."

Alongside Hunt in Curbishley's team was a whole host of stars, including Scott Parker, Clive Mendonca, Danny Mills and Mark Kinsella.

Chris Powell was also a key member of the team, in defence, and he now manages the Addicks in the npower Championship.

Hunt couldn't have had a more contrasting post-football life to that of his ex-team-mate but the beautiful game is never too far away from his Belize lodge.

"Chris Powell has the right stuff for management. Even back then you could see he commanded a lot of respect in the dressing room. The managers and the coaches respected him, too. He was definitely the manager-type of person.

"I'm friends with a few British people out here and they all know me from when I was playing football. We sometimes get people come and visit us who know what I used to do but I'm not a big reminiscer. I don't really enjoy sitting there drinking rum all night talking about the past, but once in a while I do it.

"I try to keep up with the scores but I've been away from England for 12 years or so. I did play semi-professionally for a while out here [in Belize], then I was asked to get involved with the national team but I politely declined, I just wanted to have some fun.

"I don't really play much anymore, I may do one day though. If I move on - which we may do soon as we've been out here for a long time - I wouldn't mind getting back into sports coaching or whatever, but we'll see."

Andy Hunt moved up and down England during his football career and his nomadic existence is still prevalent in his retirement.

As for what is next for him, in his words, "who knows?", maybe he will come back to sample the British weather after all.

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