Tag Archives: Norman Hunter

From Milk Crate to Press Box, 42 Years at Leeds United’s Elland Road – by Rob Atkinson

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Sitting where Frannie Lee wouldn’t dare – within right-hook range of Big Norm

My Elland Road history is one of a gradual progression that has seen me following the varied fortunes of Leeds United from many different vantage points within that famous old stadium. I started out in the much-lamented Lowfields Road stand, its venerable roof famously braced by cross wires to stop it being blown away by anything above a stiff breeze. My spectating debut was in the funny little “shelf” area that ran the length of the stand between the terraces below and the seats above. I attended a good few games there, with our Gray and, solemnly in charge, my Dad – who saw that our match-day equipment included milk crates for us kids to stand upon, thus enjoying some sort of view.

When I first started going to Elland Road independently, I stood on the Lowfields terraces, but found the passion and buffeting of that experience a little too much – softie that I was. So the next move was to the Boys’ Pen, in the North-East corner of the ground. I stayed there until a ticket mix-up meant that I faced a choice between missing a League Cup tie against Everton, and braving the rigours of the Kop. I screwed up my courage to make my debut on that mighty and cacophonous hill – and never looked back. From that time on, I was a dedicated Gelderd-Ender and the Kop years represent my golden era of United support.

When the Kop went all-seater in the wake of Hillsborough and the Taylor Report, it never felt quite the same to me, and I sympathise with those who never experienced the thrill and surge of a packed Gelderd. One moment I’ll always remember is when Dave Batty scored against Man City early in our League Title season of 1991/92. As Batty himself later admitted, he was never much of a goal-scorer “but, against City, I were prolific”. Over a hundred games after his previous goal, at City in the late 80s, Batts hit the back of the net against the same opponents in ’91 – and at the Gelderd End, too. The whole stadium erupted in joy unconfined; I believe injuries were sustained on the Kop that day but, trust me, nobody felt any pain. It was a magical moment, the stuff from which legends are woven.

When my time on the Kop came to an end, my attendance at Elland Road growing less frequent, I became something of a nomad, taking in the view from the South, West and East of the stadium.  I was getting older and more curmudgeonly, less able and willing to tolerate the stresses of a packed crowd, or of bored kids making me get up and sit down all the time as they passed to and fro. I was becoming my grumpy Dad and, frankly, it had ceased to be fun. I was even considering a flirtation with Ponte Collieries, though my heart and soul belong to Leeds and always will. I just couldn’t hack it any more; I’d never got over the loss of the terraces, not that I’d last five minutes there, these days.

But now I’m back, a habitué of the press area courtesy of semi-regular Leeds United newspaper columns and, though I say it myself as shouldn’t, what has become a pan-global blog. Finally, I’m finding myself somewhat cossetted in experiencing an environment a bit kinder to middle-aged sensibilities. Last Saturday, I watched the Ipswich Town match beside one of my heroes, Norman Hunter, a legend of the Don Revie era at Leeds. I was utterly star-struck, but Big Norm was chatty and amiable – until the game started. Then he was kicking every ball, totally absorbed in the action, grievously upset at every United mistake (and there seemed to be a lot). It was an education for me in terms of what an old pro expects of the current crop, with the desk in front of us taking some punishment as Norm fulminated away. On my other side was erstwhile press-box doyen Don Warters, former Leeds United correspondent for the Yorkshire Evening Post. As Norman stumped off just before full-time, on his way to do his corporate bit in one of the lounges, I remarked that he didn’t seem too happy. Don grinned and replied, “He never is”.

I guess such hyper-involvement and the severely critical outlook goes with the territory for those guys who’ve been there and done it, especially at the level Norman, Billy and the rest played. But still, looking on the bright side – we did win on the day to stay top and, despite a couple of awayday blips recently, we’re still doing quite well overall. The football has been genuinely exciting so far this campaign, a real pleasure to watch and even to write about. What’s more, it’s a great view among all the scribes, the club kindly provides sandwiches, coffee and other such civilised comforts – and the company is amazing. All in all, just when I thought I was coming to the end of my Leeds United journey, it’s really wonderful to be back at Elland Road.

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Lowfields Road

Lowfields Road stand, towards the end of its life – but with the “Shelf” easily identifiable

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History Shows A Strong Leeds United is Needed For a Strong England Team – by Rob Atkinson

Art of Football remembers England's - and Leeds' - glory day at Wembley '66

Art of Football remembers England’s – and Leeds’ – glory day at Wembley ’66

Long-standing and esteemed Friends of the Blog Art of Football have been kind enough to send me another quality example of their fine work, something I can defiantly wear close to my heart, to emphasise my status as a proud Englishman. This is a helpful state of mind at a time when, as not infrequently happens, all is chaos and confusion in the world of Leeds United. England have just booked a place at a major tournament in Euro ’16, with a flawless performance in the qualification group, winning ten out of ten matches. That, in itself is a cause for pride, whichever club team you might happen to support. In these cosmopolitan times, national pride and club pride have little in common with each other; most clubs are predominantly staffed by players from beyond these shores – you really do have to look to the England team if you’re a devotee of St. George and fancy stoking up any latent feelings of nationalist fervour.

Time was, of course, when our top clubs were much more parochially inclined. Any League team with pretensions to success would boast its clutch of current England internationals, and Leeds United was no exception in the days when the national team was a real force to be reckoned with. Harking back to the glory days of 1966 – as my Art of Football product clearly does in the picture above – Leeds fans will be proud to recall that our own Jack Charlton played his part on the day, ensuring that Leeds would go down in history with the likes of West Ham, Liverpool and even Fulham and Blackpool, as clubs that contributed players to England’s finest hour. For Leeds, there was also Norman Hunter in that legendary squad – and it’s good to know that his presence was belatedly acknowledged when he was finally awarded a World Cup winners medal in 2009.

The fact that the World Cup Final in July 1966 remains England’s solitary impact on World Football’s honours board, though, is a more sobering thought. The decisive moment reproduced on the front of Art of Football‘s evocative product could fairly be described as England’s last real mark on Football history. Next summer, when the current crop of national heroes are doing battle in France, it will be 50 years since the late, great Kenneth Wolstenholme so memorably remarked on Wembley pitch invaders thinking it’s all over – adding “It is now!”, as Geoff Hurst‘s late thunderbolt hit the back of the German net. Half a century on, it’s really difficult to imagine such a moment happening again, with almost every major nation having long since overtaken us in terms of international honours.

Still, that’s probably a bit too carpy and whingey, considering that the current wearers of those Three Lions shirts have breezed so effectively to qualification for next year’s finals – and especially when you consider that Scotland have maintained their recent form by failing yet again to make it to the party. And the fact that, if England by some miracle did succeed in France, it will be without the involvement of any Leeds United personnel – well, I’m not going to let that bother me either. I’d be chuffed, delighted, flown with patriotic pride if the lads did it, even given that some of those lads, and at least one past-it striker, ply their trade for that lot over the Pennines whom I shall not dignify by mention of their name. What the hell, after all. When they play and win for England, they’re English – petty matters of club rivalry are for less momentous occasions.

The fact remains for the moment, though – and barring that unlikely miracle I was talking about for our lot in France next year – that England only wins a cup with at least one Leeds lad involved, and another in the background. That, in itself, is a matter of unshakeable pride for long-suffering Leeds United fans. So I’ll wear my iconic design proudly, as a tribute to those lads of so long ago – but most especially with a glow of pride for our Jack and our Norm, who did their country proud – and immortalised themselves in the process.

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.