THE prospect of Elland Road legend Norman Hunter scoring against his beloved Leeds United would have been laughed off with incredulity by thousands of Whites fans busy idolising the hard-as-nails defender during his pomp.
But supporters no doubt shaking their heads in disbelief at that very notion throughout Hunter’s heyday in the late 60s and early to mid 70s - when white blood coursed through his veins and you sensed he would die for the United cause - got a seismic shock one dank autumnal day. October 8, 1977 to be precise - just over 40 years ago.
Hunter, who made 540 appearances for the club between September 1962 and October 1976, was for many the embodiment of Don Revie’s all-conquering Whites in one unyielding figure and the archetypal ‘one-club man’.
But that changed following the long, hot summer of 1976, with Hunter - just shy of his 33rd birthday - allowed to leave Elland Road to join top-flight newboys Bristol City, who host United this weekend.
Hunter may have enjoyed a wonderful 17-year association with Leeds, having signed aged just sixteen-and-a-half in 1959, but proof that time stands still for no-one arrived when boss Jimmy Armfield - aiming to build a ‘new’ side with a host of greats in the twilight of their careers - let him head south for £40,000.
Hunter then had to wait six months before returning to the ground he graced for countless years in April 1977 when hosts Leeds triumphed 2-0.
Yet after being feted by the Kop that day, the United supporters had cause to rue the presence of their former hero later that year when he struck City’s killer third in their 3-2 victory over visiting Leeds on October 8, 1977.
Captain for the day, Hunter netted with a sweet left-footed strike making it 3-1 to the hosts and raising the biggest cheer on a cold, wet afternoon.
It was a milestone moment for Hunter in every sense, with the veteran centre-half netting his first goal in the red of City, his effort one of just four he plundered in 108 appearances for the Robins, having managed just 18 in his mammoth stint with United.
While big striker Ray Hankin pulled one back with a late second for Leeds, it was no to avail as the red half of Bristol toasted a famous win - just their second in nine league games.
I went there and I’ve got to be honest, I’ve got nothing but great memories of my time there.Norman Hunter, recalling his time at Bristol City.
“Playing against Leeds for the first time was a strange one, although I got a very, very good reception, but unfortunately, we got beat,” recalled Hunter.
“But funnily enough, in the game at Ashton Gate later that year, we beat them 3-2 and you’ll never guess who scored ... and from the edge of the box. It was amazing as I didn’t get many goals, but I happened to get one against Leeds United that day.”
And on whether he laid off the celebrations after his strike, Hunter added: “Well, I must be honest, it was that type of club and it was little Bristol City playing against Leeds ... so we celebrated alright!”
The West Country outfit, fresh from promotion to the top-flight for the first time in their history in 1975-76, were the new top-flight kids on the block when Hunter arrived, with Ashton Gate boss Alan Dicks beating off strong interest from Lawrie McMenemy’s FA Cup holders Southampton to land the defensive lynchpin - with rumoured interest from Hull City where Billy Bremner was captain - and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest not fully materialising.
And Hunter insists he enjoyed every single minute of his time at City - who won just once in six games against Leeds during his time there - with the years from 1975-79 arguably the golden era in the history of the club, who by 1982 found themselves back in the bottom tier and very nearly out of existence.
Hunter’s arrival and subsequent signings such as ex-Leeds team-mate Terry Cooper, Peter Cormack and Joe Royle helped provide City with an experienced and hardened top-flight winning edge, with the first division stalwarts dovetailing successfully with the stars who took them to promotion such as Tom Ritchie, Geoff Merrick, Chris Garland and Gerry Gow.
Hunter, who later left Bristol to become player-coach under Allan Clarke at Barnsley in June 1979, said: ”It was a huge wrench for me to leave Leeds. I would have stayed at Leeds United and played in the reserves and brought on the young players. But they didn’t want me at the club.
“There were only two clubs who came in for me. Southampton, which was far enough away and then Bristol City. But I chose Bristol City because of the manager Alan Dicks and Tony Collins was there as his assistant, who used to be at Leeds. Tony really talked me into going to Bristol.
“I went there and I’ve got to be honest, I’ve got nothing but great memories of my time there. In my brief, what I had to do with my experience was keep them in the old First Division. When my contract was up, there was talk I could have got the manager’s job, but I didn’t think I was ready for that.
“When I went there, we had to change the way of thinking. It wasn’t just about winning at Ashton Gate, but learning to win away from home. There was a good mix there, we had some good Scottish players and some good local lads, while Peter Cormack came in and Terry Cooper.
“The local lads - such as Geoff Merrick, Gary Collier, Trevor Tainton and Keith Fear - were brought up through their academy and it really meant a lot for them to play for Bristol City in the top division. And they didn’t want to go anywhere else to play their football.
“And the Scottish lads who came down, such as Gerry Gow and Gerry Sweeney, were good players. There was a very, very good mixture.”