Generations owe Leeds United icon Norman Hunter a huge debt of gratitude - David Prutton
AMIDST ever growing global coronavirus concern, a familiar name rang out from the headlines on Friday morning with the announcement that one of Leeds United’s genuine all-time greats, Norman Hunter, had sadly passed away.
We’ll save the nickname for further down the article but the outpouring since then has reflected the man, as well as the footballer, that Norman was.
Universally hailed as a true gentleman who had time and a word for everyone he crossed paths with, I can only add my agreement to this having had the pleasure of a handful of meetings during my playing days at Elland Road.
A lovely man with a fearsome playing reputation, he had the humble and relaxed demeanour of someone totally at ease with himself and his place in the world, as any true great should, having had the astonishing playing career he had.
Our generation knew of him and owe him a debt of gratitude.
The club he helped turn into one known, feared, revered and followed around the world enabled footballing misfits like myself to stand on the shoulders of giants and breathe that rarified air of Elland Road on a match day with points at stake.
That all-conquering Leeds side he played in set the template for how Whites fans hold their club dear.
Success is demanded, blood sweat and tears will be shed and, if you don’t fancy that, then this isn’t the place for you son.
The gauntlet was thrown down then picked up over the years by the likes of Wilkinson, Strachan, McAllister, O’Leary and Radebe and tantalisingly held right now, on hiatus, by the current crop.
My father-in-law is Brian O’Neill, a former midfielder cut from the similar formidable cloth and the same generation as Norman and who found himself, alongside his Southampton team-mates, on the wrong end of seven goals at Elland Road almost half a century ago.
Ruefully smiling as I asked him about Norman, Leeds and that day, a deep exhalation summed up what he had witnessed.
“We started well then ... they just smashed us to pieces. One of THE great sides”
And Norman? The smile grew broader.
“He was a dirty bugger ... but such a lovely fella and what a player”.
Sentiments echoed everywhere by former team-mates and fans over the last few days and one we shall hear for years to come.
The Leeds United family has to say bye for now to one of its most cherished and beloved members, a very personal loss to this great club in this globally worrisome and most difficult of times.
Norman ‘bite your legs’ Hunter shall be remembered loudly, fondly and regularly by Leeds fans when they emerge the other side of all of this, and Elland Road will get to stand as one to commemorate, commiserate and celebrate the life of one who truly befits legend status.
A great man taken tragically too soon but never, ever to be forgotten.
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