Tag Archives: Bobby Moore

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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Cristiano Ronaldo to Sweep Board in Fifa’s ‘Narcissist of the Year’ Awards – by Rob Atkinson

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A tender moment between CR7 and his biggest hero

Sometimes, you catch sight of a headline and, as you feel your eyebrows heading for your hairline, you wonder to yourself: “Did I really read that right?” Such a headline caught my notice the other day. “Cristiano Ronaldo opens a museum in his own honour in Madeira, Portugal“, it read. My eyebrows still haven’t returned to their default position – if fact I may well have pulled a couple of muscles there.

The thing is, the story in itself is not that surprising or earth-shattering. The impact is more of a jolt of self-affirmation – having a deep-rooted prejudice confirmed, right out of the blue like that.  You just think – well, I was right about that lad.  You see, I’ve long felt that Senhor Ronaldo has a touch of the Narcissus Complex about him. Many was the time when some noted Man U mouthpiece such as S’ralex Ferguson would say, with no evident sense of irony “Cristiano is the archetypal Man U player” or some such platitude. And I’d just nod, thinking to myself: isn’t he just. As was Royston Keane, pretend tough guy, for his blithe belief that the rules of the game were for lesser mortals. Cantona too, for his strutting, turned-up-collar arrogance – noticeably absent in his time at Leeds United where the likes of Strachan and Batty would have beaten it out of him.

So, despite Ronaldo’s much-publicised yearning to head off for pastures Iberian, I was actually quite surprised when he left the Theatre of Hollow Myths a couple of years back. He just seemed like a perfect fit for that particular club, an apt representative of the puffed-up, self-regarding Pride of Devon. Since arriving in Madrid, a constant theme has been his desire to be regarded in the same light he regards himself – if such a thing were only possible. Because, alongside his undoubted brilliance as a player and his lavish habit of scoring goals at an unprecedented rate for a winger, there has always been this “look at me” air about him.

This particular manifestation of narcissism is at its most apparent when he’s playing in a high-profile match, at the World Cup finals, for instance. There, the games are played in stadia equipped with those flying cams which zip about aerially, capturing close-ups of players from a position, seemingly, just above their heads. So whenever Ronaldo misses a goal or protests to the referee (he does this a lot), you’ll see him in a match like this, glancing at the nearest robot camera, then maybe checking out his magnified image on the inevitable big screen, admiring the pose even as he’s striking it.  He has a special “poised to take a free kick” pose as well – you’ve probably noticed.  He loves this one – legs akimbo, stock still, seemingly waiting for the crowd to subside to an awed hush. He sneaks little sidelong glances at the big screen then too, checking himself out.  It’s really quite funny and a little bit pitiful. There’s no denying that he’s a very good-looking lad, and yet this too-evident, overpowering self-adoration is curiously unattractive, casting a patina of ugliness onto features usually apt to set hearts, not all of them female, a-flutter.

It’s a character trait that makes it impossible to define Ronaldo simply in terms of his technical ability, his genius with a football at his feet, or even his extravagant goalscoring record. In this way, the narcissistic flaw in his make-up serves to keep him out of the Pantheon of True Greats, players – many of lesser ability – who combined admirable qualities such as humility, modesty, self-restraint on and off the field – things like that – with their obvious talent. Marks of maturity and character all, and reminders that talent alone, even genius, is not enough. Ronaldo’s flaws are less extreme than, say, Georgie Best‘s – and he’s certainly a much better pro – but just as was the case with Best, those flaws threaten to have him remembered at least as much for the negative parts of his persona as the positive aspects of his game.

Ronaldo is simply unable to restrain this tendency to sound overtly, overweeningly in love with himself. As many know, when somebody is in love, they’re totally unable to comprehend how anyone would be able to resist loving the object of their adoration. It’s a type of tunnel vision – the lover cannot see anything but good about the loved. This would appear to be precisely the nature of Cristiano Ronaldo’s intensely passionate relationship with himself. If he ever needed a motto, he could do a lot worse than to open his Bible and paraphrase John 15:13, summing himself up with “Greater love hath no man than I for me”. By comparison, Narcissus himself comes over as having slight self-esteem issues. Ronaldo loves Ronaldo, and you get the feeling that he honestly can’t understand why the world at large can’t share in his joy.

The opening of the CR7 Museum, by the adored CR7 himself, in honour of the said adored CR7, sums all of this up quite neatly. It provides independent verification of mine and others’ long-standing summing-up of Cristiano Ronaldo, and as such it’s really more to be wryly laughed at than fumed over. But it is a pity, in its way: a footballer’s life as an active player is, after all, relatively brief. After retirement, and as the glittering career fades ever further into the past, history can take a more jaundiced view of the former star than those who were there in the instant, cheering and applauding as a virtuoso performer plied his genius trade. The later view of the legend, the “warts and all” version, can even come to focus more on the warts than on much else worthy of admiration.

If Ronaldo wants the eye of history to gaze benignly upon him (and you can bet your last penny he does), then a little humility, a little less obvious awareness of his own talent and gorgeousness would have been a big help. But it’s late in the day for that; even now he’s seen as someone in whom human virtues epitomised by the likes of John Charles or Bobby Moore are sadly absent. In the meantime though, why would Cristiano care? He is playing for one of the biggest clubs on the planet, he has won and will win many medals and trophies – his life is one grand, sweet song.

It’s just that he appears to have been blighted by a crucial part of his development; that few years spent at Man U which can have an unfortunate effect upon an impressionable young man, especially one with a certain arrogance about him, the air of a braggart. It can have him believing in his own publicity and the rightness of everything he does or thinks, an impression reinforced by a complaisant media. Other, similar examples of this type have emerged from the club, other flawed characters who would have benefited from formative years spent in a less privileged and less insular environment. It manifests itself differently in Beckham, Keane, Cantona and a few more who spring to mind – but all of these players have emerged from Man U with character issues to confront, something they’re doing with varying degrees of determination and success. It does have to be said that not everyone is carried away on such a perilous tide; Paul Scholes for instance remained firmly detached from all the hype, to his eternal credit – and simply got on with his job. Andrei Kanchelskis was another such.

Cristiano Ronaldo is simply the most obvious example of the kind of young man who in many ways summed up the character of a club like Man U, but in many more ways was in sore need of being taken down a peg or two when the time was still ripe for his character to develop along more attractive lines. The moral is, I suppose: If you have a talented youth who thinks he’s the bees’ knees – send him to Barnsley where he’ll learn the rudiments and have the more offensive edges knocked off him. You won’t produce quite such a polished player that way, it must be admitted. But you would end up with a much better all-round bloke; one who would perhaps guffaw derisively at the thought of opening a museum in his own honour.