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Remembering Norman Hunter

17 April 2020

The EFL was saddened to learn of the passing of former Leeds United, Bristol City and Barnsley defender Norman Hunter at the age of 76 on Friday morning. Below, we remember Norman's incredible career, one which rightly saw him labelled a legend.

A daily dose of Harvey's Bristol Cream, washed down with a raw egg chaser, clearly didn't do Norman Hunter any harm. In truth, without the unconventional liquid diet, he may never have become such an enduring Leeds United great.

Hunter began downing the unpalatable sherry and egg mixture on the strict orders of Don Revie when he arrived at Elland Road in 1958. The manager was convinced the 15-year-old needed to bulk up and, having already been rejected by his beloved Newcastle United, the youngster dutifully did exactly as he was told.

By his own admission, the concoction regularly "made me throw up" but it certainly had the desired effect and fortified by Revie's elixir; Hunter matured into an uncompromising and muscular centre-half feared by opposition strikers and idolised by the United faithful.

He made his first-team debut in 1962 and for the next 14 years - the majority of which he spent partnering Jack Charlton in the heart of the Leeds defence - Hunter became the rock upon which opposition attacks would repeatedly flounder.

So fearsome was his reputation that Leeds supporters at the 1968 League Cup Final against Arsenal at Wembley famously unfurled a banner proclaiming 'Norman Bites Yer Legs', a sentiment which immediately spawned his legendary nickname and ensured his legacy as one of the game's undisputed hard men.

"I didn't think much about it [the banner]," he said. "It didn't make me more aggressive and I certainly never thought about trying to live up to the description. And that was at a time when you virtually had to commit murder to get sent off.

"You never intentionally went out to hurt anyone but that will to win became so strong and you'd get wound up and the red mist would come down sometimes. Things happen in the heat of the moment but nothing was premeditated.

"I was never concerned about anyone outside the Elland Road dressing room. Don always used to tell me to go in hard with the first tackle because the referee would never book you for the first one. We used to call it the freebie. I'd go in hard, pick 'em up, say sorry to the referee and sometimes you'd never see them again."

Hunter could play as well, though. His abrasive style and the frequent accusation that the Leeds side of the 60s and 70s were little more than a 'dirty' team belied his natural talent. His distribution from the back was superb and although he lacked raw pace, he read the game as if he had written the script himself.

The first two seasons of his senior career came as Leeds languished in the Second Division but promotion after winning the title in 1964 signalled what was to become a golden era for both Hunter and the club.

Four years later saw Revie's side make their mark with a 1-0 win over Arsenal at Wembley to lift the League Cup for the first time in the club's history and the following season they were crowned English champions, finishing six points clear of Liverpool.

Hunter played in all 42 league games that season as the silverware headed to West Yorkshire and he was also an ever-present throughout the 1973/74 campaign as Leeds once again secured the First Division title. His performances were recognised when he was unveiled as the inaugural PFA Players' Player of the Year.

There was cup glory, too. The 1972 FA Cup and the 1968 and 1971 Inter City Fairs Cup all went Leeds' way and although Hunter and co were famously denied by the might of Bayern Munich in the European Cup Final of 1975 in Paris, it was a period of unprecedented success for the Elland Road club.

The disappointment in the French capital was to prove the last showpiece game of his Leeds career and after 540 Football League appearances for the club, he headed south in 1976, signing for Bristol City and a three-year stint at Ashton Gate.

He saw out his bone-crunching days with Barnsley as player-manager and in 1982, much to the relief of many opposition forwards, Hunter hung up the boots.

At international level, Hunter won 28 caps for England but the famed partnership of Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore denied him more appearances, not to mention a game at the 1966 World Cup.

Hunter's managerial career after retirement was brief. At Oakwell, he took the Tykes into the Second Division after finishing second in 1980/81 but he could not replicate that success during two seasons at Rotherham United, which came to an end in 1987.

His final foray into management came in 1988 when he made a fairytale return to Leeds as caretaker following the sacking of his old friend Billy Bremner. His reign lasted three games before Howard Wilkinson was appointed, and Hunter promptly decided to bid farewell to coaching altogether as business ventures and media work took the place of football.

His name lives on at Elland Road in the shape of the Norman Hunter Suite but guests are assured of a far warmer, less abrasive welcome than any visiting player received during his 14 formidable years in the famous white shirt.

He will forever be fondly remembered by the entire football family.

Career Statistics:
Leeds United (1962-76) - 540 Football League appearances, 18 goals
Bristol City (1976-79) - 108 Football League appearances, 4 goals
Barnsley (1979-1982) - 31 Football League appearances

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