'His club' - Leeds United legend's family mark two years without him in fitting style

Easter Sunday brought the second anniversary of Leeds United legend Norman Hunter’s passing.

By Graham Smyth
Thursday, 21st April 2022, 10:47 am

So much has happened since April 17, 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic that played a major role in Hunter’s death was still so new to us all, that it feels a lifetime ago. Leeds United have lost not only Hunter but Trevor Cherry, Jack Charlton, Peter Lorimer, Terry Cooper and Mick Bates and achieved what Hunter described to club owner Andrea Radrizzani as his dream of a Premier League return. And yet, for the Hunters, the pain of his loss is still raw, not least at Elland Road, the home of his beloved club.

When son Michael thinks back two years, he recalls the support afforded to them.

“The club was very good,” he told the YEP.

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“They let us have the funeral down there when, obviously, you couldn’t do anything. My mate’s dad died a couple of weeks after, nothing to do with Covid, and he couldn’t even go to his own dad’s funeral. You’ve just got to get the support where you can.

“The local football club, Horsforth St Margaret’s, my kids played for them; they were very good as well. When it all happened, they all put the scarves out and everything all around the houses, which was very nice to see.

“Eddie [Gray] rang us straight away, Peter [Lorimer] was still around and he rang me, Paul Reaney rang us straight away. It does help obviously, but it was a family affair - they were so close.”

As a Revie Boy, Hunter’s importance to Leeds cannot be overstated. He was mourned as a husband, father and grandfather by his family, but also as a hero by countless others. Footage of his coffin being carried through the Elland Road tunnel sparked a torrent of emotion from a Whites fanbase who shared a family’s grief, having shared the man himself.

SHARED GRIEF - Norman Hunter was mourned by his family, who lost a husband, father and grandfather, and by his Leeds United who lost a legend. Pic: Getty

“Of course you did [share him],” said Michael.

“I’ve spoken to John Stiles [son of Hunter’s England World Cup winning team-mate Nobby] and he hated it being brought up around that. I never thought of it like that. You had to get used to it; you didn’t know any different. I suppose it’s not until you look back later that things are different.”

Michael was a young boy when Hunter signed for Bristol City and the family moved south, so his footballing memories of Elland Road are not so much of on-pitch moments but visits to the stadium and the players’ lounge.

He’s in no doubt, however, over the strength of the bond Norman formed with the club between 1959 and 1976.

TWO YEARS - Leeds United and England's Norman Hunter, who died after contracting Covid in April 2020. Pic: Getty

“It meant everything; it was his club,” Michael told the YEP.

“He came down when he was 15 and a half, lived in digs in Beeston, met little Billy [Bremner], Paul Reaney, TC [Terry Cooper] and they were his mates. That’s what he enjoyed most. It’s not like a normal working environment; he was with them 24/7 basically, travelling away to Europe and everything like that, so they were all very close. He always said when he was a kid he’d have walked on broken glass to play for Newcastle but, as soon as he’d been through the youth side at Leeds United, that was his club, that was it.”

His ‘Bite Yer Legs’ nickname and hard-man reputation went hand in hand with the idea so many had of Leeds and did no harm to his popularity with the fans, even if his team-mates felt it overlooked his skill. Away from the club he was a different man, although not entirely.

“There was obviously the public image and then the private image was totally different,” said Michael.

“What I liked was he was a well-liked man and he had time for people. He was just happy that he was able to say he enjoyed his life in football and he wasn’t bitter at all, like some of the other players of his generation, about how much money is floating around now, he just said he had a good standard of living.

“When it was sport, he wanted to win. People like Bobby Collins, little Billy, everybody, that’s what they were like and, when you’re around people like that, it’s quite amazing. Some people just can’t get their head around it, but it’s just how they are.

“He never used to let me win at anything. You had to beat him which, I suppose, made you better. We used to play a lot of table tennis together and, eventually, I could beat him at that and golf. It still used to wind him up a bit. Snooker, even when he got older, he was still very good. The golf, he was a very handy nine handicap shall we say ... he was very competitive off a nine handicap.

“He was a big part of life for my lads, one’s 21 and the other is 18 and they’ve both got that competitive edge in sport, but very humble as well when they have to be, which is which is, I think, a nice trait to have.”

Michael, like the rest of the family, misses his dad ‘unbelievably’ and finds matchday at Elland Road difficult.

“We go in the room before and after the game and Tony Dorigo does the speaking now and he’s very good, but you just expect to see [my dad],” he said.

“He was very well liked down there, we still get very well received but you still expect he’s going to be in the room. Things pass on, that’s what happens isn’t it? My mum’s struggling a bit without him.

“She has a very good group of friends and family and she still goes down to the football; they made a lot of friends over that time. We lived in a very busy house with people always there to talk to him; there was always phone calls happening. I think she misses it being a really busy house. It’s a big loss.”

Hunter wasn’t a big drinker but did appreciate a glass of wine with a meal, so that’s what the family shared together on Sunday. They will also mark two years without him with the second annual Norman Hunter Golf Day at Horsforth Golf Club on June 24 for Leeds Hospital Charity and leukaemia research.

“It was Covid, but it was also because he had the early stages of the leukaemia and then the Covid on top,” said Michael.

“My mum thought they were very good with him. Professor Hillman [consultant at Leeds Teaching Hospitals] asked if we could try and raise some money and we took it on.

“We did really well last year with it - raised about 40 grand - so we’ll try to do it again. It’s a nice thing that you’re able to use the name and raise a bit of money.

“People like Paul Reaney, Bryn Law, Eddie and a few of the other lads turned up and it just makes it quite a nice day. Some of the best times I had with him were on the golf course - we used to play with my father-in-law and his friend and he had no hassle, he could be himself and it was nice just to spend four hours without interruptions.

“You were just together and that was one of the reasons he enjoyed the golf course, getting out of the way.

“He obviously got invited to quite a lot of charity stuff. He didn’t mind giving his time for things like that at all. He wasn’t stuck up like some are; he was quite a humble man really.”

To get involved with the golf day, email [email protected]