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6) Norman Hunter (1960-1976)
Country: England | DOB: 29/10/1943 | Position: Defender | Apps: 724 | Goals: 21
Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter joined the Leeds ground staff as a youngster in November 1960, after playing for Birtley Secondary Modern School, Birtley Juniors and Chester-le-Street. Hunter was one of the fiercest competitors ever to pull on a Leeds United shirt. The United defender renowned for his tackling, relished the awesome reputation that often disguised the fact that he was also an excellent footballer. The former electrical fitter turned professional in April 1961 and made quick progress through the ranks and never looked back after his first-team debut at Swansea in early 1962-63. His central defensive partnership with Jack Charlton was the corner stone of United’s success for over a decade.
Leeds were promoted as Second Division Champions in 1963-64 and a year later came very close to the "double" of League Championship and FA Cup with Hunter to the fore. However, they lost the title to Manchester United on goal average and were beaten 2-1 by Liverpool in the FA Cup final, though Hunter's accurate long pass into the Liverpool area did start the move which led to Billy Bremner's goal. Leeds progressed through the 1960s, never once coming lower than fourth in the title race, and Hunter picked up a medal as they won the League Cup and their first European honour with the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1968.
A year later he won his first title medal and then in 1969-70 he was part of the team which ceaselessly sought a unique "treble", but won nothing. Leeds chased the League championship but lost the race on the last day of fixtures to Everton, went close to the European Cup but were beaten by Celtic in the semi finals, and went after the FA Cup but lost after a replay to Chelsea. Hunter spent a short part of that season injured but despite his race for fitness and disappointment at the end of the campaign, he was still in Alf Ramsey's squad for the summer's World Cup in Mexico, coming on as a substitute in the 3-2 defeat by West Germany.
Leeds were again thwarted in 1970-71 when Arsenal took the League title with a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. Defeat or a score draw for Arsenal and the title would have gone to Leeds. In the FA Cup, Leeds fell victim to one of the competition's great giant-killing acts when Colchester United beat them 3-2 in the fifth round. They were 3-0 up, with Hunter then scoring one of Leeds' goals as they attempted a comeback. Leeds did, however, win their second Fairs Cup that season.
In 1971-72, Hunter's joy as he fought the Leeds cause was captured in one of football's most magnificent photographs. Leeds once again reached the final of the FA Cup, a competition they had yet to win, and at Wembley they faced holders Arsenal. In a tight and not thrilling game, Leeds opened the scoring midway through the second half when Allan Clarke headed home a cross from Mick Jones. Hunter's defensive position meant that he was at the opposite end of the pitch to Clarke when the Leeds striker launched his diving header, Hunter, like most central defenders, only went forward for set-pieces or when running with the ball at his feet.
Thanks to Leeds Utd Memories for the photograph.
A photographer behind the Leeds goal, at the opposite end to Clarke, captured the moment as Hunter leapt high in the air in celebration with arms and legs spread, as if in the midst of a star-jump. Leeds held on to win 1-0 and Hunter had his FA Cup winners' medal at last. At the end of the game, Hunter climbed the steps to the Royal box twice, once to collect his own medal, and then again to help the badly injured Jones negotiate his way up and down. Jones had been receiving treatment for a dislocated shoulder while his team-mates had been getting their prizes.
The next year, 1972-73, Leeds reached two finals, that of the FA Cup again, and also the European Cup-Winners Cup. Yet again, however, there would be disappointment for Leeds. Sunderland surprisingly won the FA Cup final and then AC Milan were victorious in the Cup Winners Cup final in Greece, though the latter was tainted by a despairingly biased performance by the referee, who sent Hunter off late in the game after "missing" a foul committed on the Leeds defender who retaliated in frustration. The referee was quickly banned by UEFA from officiating again, but the result stood.
Hunter was remarkably consistent, playing in five ever-present seasons and featured in all United’s Cup Finals from 1965 to 1975, finishing with two League Championship medals, an FA Cup Winners’ medal, A League Cup Winners’ medal and two Inter-Cities Fair Winners’ medals and a Second Division Championship medal to add to the honour of being voted the PFA’s first-ever “Player of the Year” in 1973. His glorious reign at Leeds ended when he went to Bristol City in October 1976 and he became a firm favourite at Ashton Gate, making a hundred and eight League appearances and scored four goals.
He won twenty eight full International caps for England, making his full debut against West Germany in February 1966. Only the presence of England Captain Bobby Moore stopped him earning more international honours. He was in the squad which won the 1966 World Cup but never kicked a ball. He did however receive a winners medal in 2007 for the 1966 tournament after FIFA retrospectively awarded all squad members of winning teams before 1978 winners medals as has been the custom from 1978 onwards.