Leeds United hero Norman Hunter, who has passed away after contracting coronavirus, was a serial winner, a pioneer among his peers and so much more talented than his ‘Bites Yer Legs’ nickname suggested
- Norman Hunter has died in hospital after contracting coronavirus
- Hunter became famed for his tough tackling during his playing days
- Leeds legend won two league titles and played in 1975 European Cup final
- He was a non-playing member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad
- In 1975 he was involved in an infamous on-field scrap with Derby’s Francis Lee
- Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID
Leeds United legend Norman Hunter has died in hospital after contracting coronavirus.
Hunter, 76, was admitted to hospital last week but passed away on Friday.
A tough-tackling centre-half and defensive midfielder, he played more than 700 games for Leeds and was part of the England squad as they won the 1966 World Cup.
Chopper Harris, Anfield Iron Smith… and Bites Yer Legs Hunter. Three players who defined a very different era of English football, and who very much earned their nicknames.
Ron Harris, Tommy Smith and Hunter came from a generation of footballers who played on bogs of pitches and very much enjoyed a strong tackle.
They built their careers on their reputations, and that very much still resonates now, some 40 years since they hung up their boots and called it a day.
Former Leeds United and England defender Norman Hunter has died
Hunter was part of the England squad that achieved World Cup glory in 1966
Hunter won the first ever PFA Player of the Year award in 1974 while at Leeds United
Hunter himself was a pioneer and popular with his peers. To caricature the former centre-back as simply a hatchet man is to do him a disservice. There was far more to his game than big tackles in a 15-year Elland Road career that brought him 726 first-team appearances.
He was crowned the first winner of the PFA Player of the Year in 1974 after helping Leeds to the First Division title.
It was the third and final league title of Hunter’s time at Elland Road, marking the end of a golden era at the club, probably the most famous in their history.
He had helped them up from the old Division Two in 1964 and within five years they were champions of England for the first time in their history in 1969.
They finished First Division runners-up five times in that 10-year period between promotion and the second league title in 1974 – never finishing below fourth, a remarkable run for a club that had dipped in and out of the English top flight for much of its history before.
Under Don Revie and in a side which boasted Billy Bremner and Peter Lorimer, Hunter was a key figure at the back, forming a partnership with Jack Charlton that formed the bedrock of their success.
Hunter was famed for his tough tackling and earned the nickname ‘Bites Yer Legs’
Hunter goes in to tackle Manchester United legend George Best during a First Division clash
Hunter restrains Liverpool’s Kevin Keegan after an altercation with Billy Bremner in 1974
Hunter (No 6) stares down at Francis Lee as both were sent off for coming to blows in 1975
It wasn’t just domestically where they excelled, this Leeds side made their mark in Europe. Twice they won the now defunct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, though that was as much as they won on the continental stage.
DOB: October 29, 1943
Place of Birth: Gateshead
Position: Centre back
England caps (goals): 28 (2)
List of Honours
Division One x2
FA Cup x1
League Cup x1
Inter-Cities Fairs Cup x2
World Cup x1
In 1973 Revie’s side were controversially beaten in the Cup Winners’ Cup final by AC Milan, and Hunter himself was sent off in the last minute.
UEFA later banned referee Christos Michas for life due to match fixing, although his role in this match was not investigated. Leeds lodged a request for the final to be replayed, but to no avail.
Two years later Jimmy Armfield picked Leeds up from the disastrous 44-day spell of Brian Clough and led them to the final of the European Cup.
A Lorimer goal in the 62nd minute was disallowed, when captain Bremner was adjudged to be offside and Bayern Munich went on to win 2-0.
Hunter remained at Elland Road for a further two seasons before moving to Bristol City and then a spell in the lower leagues with Barnsley, eventually hanging up his boots in January 1983.
Hunter kneels down (centre right) celebrating Leeds’ League Cup triumph over Arsenal in 1968
Hunter in conversation with England coach Sir Alf Ramsey as Sir Bobby Charlton (left) watches
Hunter (third left) went on to play 28 games for England with the likes of Bobby Moore (centre)
Hunter plays a game with cards as the England squad relax during the 1970 World Cup
But it is that 10-year period, where he helped to drag Leeds out of the Second Division and to the cusp of European glory for which Hunter is so well remembered by fans.
NORMAN HUNTER PLAYING CAREER
1962-1976 – Leeds United
1976-1979 – Bristol City
1979-1983 – Barnsley
1965-1974 – England (28 caps)
In that time he was a non-playing member of England’s victorious World Cup-winning squad and had to wait 43 years before he was belatedly bestowed with a winners’ medal at an event at Downing Street.
Hunter earned only 28 international caps in an England career that spanned nine years.
He played in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, where Sir Alf Ramsey’s side surrendered a two-goal lead to be beaten by West Germany in the quarter-finals. His defining moment in a Three Lions shirt, however, is one of ignominy.
In a crucial World Cup qualifier in 1973 he lost the ball on the Wembley halfway line, allowing Poland to score a crucial equaliser. England, world champions just seven years earlier, were denied a place in the 1974 tournament.
Hunter never let it affect him, and it is tempting to wonder how vilified he could have been in a different age. He maintained he was never concerned by what other people thought of him as a player – he knew his role.
Hunter played as a defender and was nicknamed ‘Bites Yer Legs’ for his hard tackling
‘I was never concerned about anyone outside the Elland Road dressing room,’ he told the Independent in 2004, ‘except maybe for Alf Ramsey.
‘The gaffer would say to me, “Norman. You win the ball and you give it to those who can play.” And that was [Jonny] Giles, Bremner, [Eddie] Gray, [Terry] Cooper and people like that. Not bad options, were they?’
‘It’s quite amazing, really, why all those reputations should stick around from our era. The famous football hard men, even now, are Nobby Stiles, Tommy Smith, Chopper Harris and Norman Hunter, and I wonder why.
‘Even youngsters seem to know about us. There have been plenty of hard men since, harder men than me, but that period just seems to stick in people’s minds.’
The reputation has stuck and been passed down from generation to generation for a reason.
In the replay of the 1970 FA Cup final, one of the dirtiest games in English football folklore, Hunter traded punches with Chelsea’s Ian Hutchinson. Elsewhere, Ron Harris hacked down Eddie Gray in the back of the knee, Eddie McCreadie made a flying kick towards Bremner’s head and Jack Charlton kneed and headbutted Peter Osgood.
He was eventually awarded a medal for the World Cup win in 2009 as a non-playing member
Hunter, pictured in interview with Sportsmail in 2017, enjoyed a distinguished playing career
But it was a bad-tempered game with Derby at the Baseball Ground in November 1975 that secured Hunter’s place in football’s annals of infamy, and an epic punch-up with Francis Lee that saw both sent off.
Hunter threw the first punch in an off-the-ball incident inside the Leeds area, something which commentator John Motson said ‘had been brewing for quite some time’.
Lee’s lip was split and his ego bruised. He tried to leave his own mark as they filed off the pitch, shooting off left and right hooks at someone twice his size in the vein of Scrappy Doo. That incident, and the Poland goal, are Hunter’s two biggest regrets from his glittering career.
‘It’s funny,’ he said 16 years ago. ‘I played over 700 games for Leeds, 120-odd games for Bristol City, and I’m remembered for three things: Norman bites yer legs [famously emblazoned on a Leeds United banner at the 1968 League Cup final], the punch-up with Francis Lee, and that goal against Poland.’
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