Leeds United Legend Norman Hunter Inducted Into Football’s Hall of Fame  –  by Rob Atkinson


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Norman on the ball, his latest victim wondering what hit him

One of Don Revie’s undoubted greats celebrates a long overdue honour next week (October 14th), with Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter finally and deservedly entering Football’s exclusive Hall of Fame – the ultimate mark of respect.

Norm has made a few marks himself over the years, plying his trade, as he did, in an era when no quarter was asked or given. Tackles were many and varied back then, ranging from the merely severe to bordering on the psychotic; yet whinges and tantrums were few and far between. It was a man’s game in those days, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale would have been contemptuously dismissed as hysterical fairies.

Norman’s lethal approach to the art of tackling was legendary, and yet he had the respect of his peers, noted for the quality of his left foot as well as for his utter ruthlessness. No mere clogger of a hard man was Our Norm. No Peter Storey he. If it hadn’t have been for the incomparable Bobby Moore, Hunter would have won many more than his eventual 28 England caps. As it was, he was a member of the victorious 1966 World Cup squad, as well as the one somewhat unluckily knocked out of the next tournament in Mexico 1970. He finished with 2 goals for England and, eventually, a World Cup Winner’s medal. To be an Englishman with one of those, you have to be getting on a bit – but it’s good to see a Whites legend still accruing honours well into his seventies.

Norman’s prowess as a tackler and ball-winner tended to mask his enormous skill in the distribution of the ball after it was won. He would be self-deprecating at times, saying his job was to take the ball off the opposition and give it to one of his own side who could play – a Bremner or a Giles, perhaps. Well, they certainly could play – you didn’t take the field for Revie’s Super Leeds if you were anything but an accomplished footballer. But Hunter was no slouch, despite that smiling modesty. Norman’s ability was recognised by his fellow PFA members when he was elected Players’ Player of the Year in 1974. By this time, the legendary “Bites Yer Legs” nickname was spoken with affectionate respect; the professionals knew class when they saw it – and Norman had absolutely oodles of class.

He would overstep the mark at times, but no more so than the other quite lovable hard men of the time, the Tommy Smiths and Nobby Stiles, even the likes of Ron “Chopper” Harris at Chelsea. Norman’s trademark angelic pose when whistled for an agricultural foul involved backing away slightly, hands behind back, apologetic smile fixed broadly across his face as the referee berated him.  It was hard not to like Norman.

He was every bit as likeable in his more recent incarnation as match summariser on Radio Leeds. He plainly still loves Leeds United – it was always “we” and “us”, spoken in that pleasant County Durham accent – Norman is , after all, the Gateshead lad who gave his heart and soul to Leeds United. On the radio, he talked sense and didn’t neglect his duty to criticise when necessary, but his support for the Whites always shone through, and for me he was the very best of the old guard for that radio role, his delivery easy on the ear, his opinions commanding respect.

Of course, he will always be regarded first and foremost, by friend and foe alike, as the classic 1960s and 70s killing machine, a combine harvester of a player who would go for the ball and take whatever else was there too.  This was the sort of man around whom legends sprang up. The classic story about him goes that he once arrived home with a bruised and bloody leg to find his wife horrified. “Nasty, isn’t it?” grinned Norm. “You’re not kidding,” agreed his ashen wife. “Whose is it?”

Every generation bemoans the lack of characters in modern-day football. It’s a sign of growing older; it’s one of those things your Dad did and you swore you never would. But sometimes you wonder if it isn’t true, now, more than perhaps it was in earlier times. You look around now for the villains with the charming smiles, like Norman of Leeds, and you just find anonymous terminators who all look alike. When you consider the likes of Big Norm, or Jack Charlton, Tommy Smith, Dave Mackay, Nobby Stiles and so on and so forth, it’s very tempting to say – if only to your ageing self – “They don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Congratulations, Norman. It was a pleasure and an honour to watch you play the game, even if occasionally it was through our fingers as we witnessed you sail into another sliding challenge, leaving ball, opponent and a few yards of rolled-up turf in your mighty wake. It’s a lost art these days, sadly. The game has changed, but probably not for the better. We shall not, I’m afraid, look upon your like again.  Have a great celebration of your long overdue recognition – and thank you for being one of my heroes.

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35 responses to “Leeds United Legend Norman Hunter Inducted Into Football’s Hall of Fame  –  by Rob Atkinson

  1. oldcomrade

    I never tired of watching Norman plying his trade at Elland Road , a Leeds legend in every way, a massive player and latterly a great ambassador for the club, happy Birthday Norman and enjoy your day at Elland Roud on Saturday.

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  2. Mention Leeds united and they’ll always mention bite yer legs hunter , happy birthday Norman

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  3. Robert Heath

    Good article about a great player. Just one error……………Norman, like all good defenders, never slid into a tackle. He stayed on his feet (although his opponent did not always do so!)

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    • I’m SURE I remember him doing this. Or did I dream it? It’s such a pleasing image though that I’m going to retain it right or wrong – if I’ve screwed up, I’ll blame artistic licence 😉

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  4. i spent most of my young life telling’ none leeds’ fans he was’nt just a hatchet man, but one of the best players of his day.he actually ran games from c.b. not many of his 20 yard cross field balls went astray.and most importantley he had great positional sence .missed out on world acclaim because of bobby moore being a no.6

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  5. happy birthday mate from tony

    leeds for every 3 1 saturday

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  6. LIke many of the great Revie team(s), Norman still looks like an athlete. It is the smaller ‘Revie’ midfiled players like Bremner, Collins and Giles who most often perhaps come to mind, when thinking of those great sides, but at the unveiling of the great statue of Don that now graces Lowfield Road, I was struck by the height and wiry strength still evident in the upright physiques of many of the players. Hunter, ‘Big Jack’ (obviously), Madeley, Reaney, Clarke, Jones, Gray, Belfit, Jordan, McQueen, even Lorimer, were all over or around 6 foot in height. Were we a bigger than average side(s) ? My wife – who has seen just one Leeds match in her life – said that this was always the impression she had of that side. Norman is a thoroughly nice man in conversation and like many great players, has a charming modesty about him. Pozdravl’yaiu Norman !

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  7. I’D LIKE TO OF SEEN HIM PLAY BUT I’M ONLY FOURTEEN AND NOT REALLY A LEEDS FAN ANYWAY I LUV MAN U BUT I SOMETIMES PRETEND TO BE LEEDS SO THAT I MIGHT GET MY COMMENTS ON HERE COS I NEED ATTENTION

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  8. Rob , what’s you’re view on our scouting system ? Need I ask !!

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  9. He certainly was more than just a hard man. Let’s not forget he was the first winner of players player of the year. I reckon he could still give a few teams a good run now, but maybe be known as Norman gums yer legs.

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  10. Never saw him play but met him a few times over the years….always a gent and always had time for a chat. Ps…..my dad was a dead ringer for him in the 60’s and pulled my Mam on the strength of it !! When I told Norman this he said ‘yer dad must be a good looking fella then’ !! Top man and happy birthday Big Norm

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  11. leeds oldie

    Happy birthday norman from all who follwed you through the great years and beyond remember the singing crew

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  12. brilliant player , brilliant left foot. happy birthdat norman, good luck and good health .les

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  13. Happy birthday Norman. Always enjoyed your commentry, unfortunately I’m too young to have seen you play.

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  14. I am nearly fifty four, I have always supported Leeds United and Norman Hunter is without doubt my favourite player of all time. He is a total gentlemen, generous with his time and his after dinner talks are superb.

    He is very well known in our house in deepest in Kent. When my wife and I recently bought a new Labrador puppy that spent much of her time nipping at our legs, we both agreed that the dog’s name should be Hunter.

    Happy birthday Norman.

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  15. Eugene Lee

    Happy birthday Uncle Norm! One of the best defenders to have graced the turf at Elland Road. So convicted in all his tackles.

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  16. LeedsFanFor39Years

    Met Norman twice at Elland Road in the Corporate Hospitality bit. He’s a real gentleman and always takes time with people. The second time, I was on the phone to my dad and Norman walked past, glanced in my direction and waved when he recognised me! Must have been a year between meetings! Nice guy and always one of my favourites of that generation.

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  17. David Smith

    Rob – great blog and agree with you regarding his ability as a radio commentator. As many have already mentioned, Norman always appears to have time to speak to Leeds fans and once on a rare visit to Elland Road from Cornwall, I was walking around the outside of the stadium with my ten year old son before the match, when three suited gentlemen started walking in our direction. (Messrs Hunter, Clarke & Reaney). Talk about meeting gods from youth, I was absolutely dumbstruck, but they were so friendly and interested in the fact we had travelled so far and obligingly stopped for photos with my lad. My son has auburn coloured hair and I will always remember Norman turning to Alan Clarke and saying, “we’ve got another Billy here” ! Priceless memories.

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  18. Happy birthday Norman, true legend on and off the pitch.
    Makes you realise how much the standing of modern day prem league footballers has fallen in the way they conduct themselves off the pitch.Having said that my 7 year old went to a training day at Thorp Arch this week and Byram, Mowatt and Cook took time out to talk to the kids and answer questions. Let’s hope they keep their feet on the ground when leading us back to the promised land

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  19. When we’d moved to Nottingham in 75, my Dad to me to watch us play Derby at the Baseball Ground. Buying in Derby, he got seats in the home stand. When Norman belted Franny, i jumped up shouting “Go on, Norman!” forgetting where I was (I was only about 15 or 16 and it WAS an exciting moment!). All was well, but Dad was pretty quiet after that! Good old Norman!

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  20. One thing you never heard in those days was anybody saying Norman Hunter had a poor game today, he never had one.

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  21. Norman Hunter might have been tough on the pitch, but has always been a true gent, off the pitch and still is today.
    Norman has always lived in the Leeds area and he has always backed the football club, diplomatically, to this day, but I really wish that he would be allowed to call in on a Rosler training session, even if it was only for an hour, just to teach the porous Leeds defence, how to defend properly.

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  22. Mark Vadgama

    Great article for a true colossus of the club. One minor correction. Gateshead is in Tyne & Wear, not Co. Durham (speaking as a Co. Durham lad myself). Love reading your articles, Rob! Mark.

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  23. Philip of Spain.

    ” They don’t make’em like that,anymore”.There you go,said it.

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  24. Agree with what everyone has said but especially wanted to agree with you Rob abojt the Radio Leeds commentries. Ian Dennis and Norm’s coverage was superb and never repeated halcyon days of those saturday afternoons I had to work…..’ahhh well its just a bit of handbags at dawn, Ian’ he was often heard to utter in response to Batty just having gone feet first through someone who then leapt to his feet to square up……perhaps thays why Batty will always be my greatest hero from that era as he was often also to be seen with that naughty schoolboy smile as walked away from a great tackle…..

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