Misunderstood 'dirty Leeds United' and Norman Hunter driven by fairness and joy - Daniel Chapman

Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.

Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 5:28 pm

Don Revie’s ‘Dirty Leeds’ were a team driven by fairness and joy. That can be seen clearly in the famous incident when Norman Hunter bust Franny Lee’s lip.

You can see it in a photo from the 1972 FA Cup final, too. It’s taken from behind the Leeds goal, as Allan Clarke’s diving header wins the cup at the other end. Norman Hunter, with a big blue number six on the back of his white shirt, is leaping for joy, six feet in the air. It must have felt like 600.

Leeds had lost two FA Cup finals, and winning was what it was all about. Hunter used to talk about looking around the pitch at all the wonderful players he could pass to. Eddie Gray says the same; in the changing room with all those guys, he didn’t think they could ever lose. They all came from hard upbringings to play football together; how could you be so fortunate, and not try making the most of it?

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To have Billy Bremner and John Giles in your team and not to compete in every game would be a sort of injustice. And there was enough of that in the world without Leeds United adding to it.

Which brings us back to the ‘Dirty Leeds’ tag. The great misunderstanding was that Leeds, more than many teams, understood football was a game with rules and a referee to apply them.

The ref was part of the game, like an opposition goalkeeper, there to be tested.

Hunter’s famous line about refs giving you the first tackle free, so it was rude not to make the most of it, had a lot of truth behind it. By studying Italian teams, Don Revie and his staff realised there was a lot further to go within the rules, and that’s where Leeds would play.

JOYFUL: Leeds United legend Norman Hunter sadly passed away last week. Pic: Getty.

They were always looking for the line, but not so they could cross it. There was no point trying to cheat, because the referee would stop you playing, and Leeds wanted to play.

That was the theory, anyway. Hunter’s famous punch-up with Lee has been replayed thousands of times, not least to demonstrate some supposed irony in last year’s FIFA Fair Play award.

Shouldn’t Dirty Leeds, by definition, have been disqualified since way back?

But the replays always miss the start of it, when Lee threw himself to the ground in the penalty area.

Hunter’s hands went straight up, because he hadn’t touched him, a point he was still making to the referee after Charlie George scored Derby’s penalty, and while going down the tunnel at half-time, and in a break in play at the start of the second half.

Lee had cheated and there was to be no justice.

That was the line Leeds wouldn’t cross. Then Hunter saw him squaring up. Diving and fighting was not how Hunter wanted to play the game.

There are few better examples than when Hunter, for England, went in late and hard on Bremner, of Scotland. Hunter said later he thought he was getting one back on Asa Hartford, and he looks embarrassed as the ref calls him over, chuckling and ruffling Billy’s hair, while his Leeds skipper swore revenge.

That was the game: if a tackle was a foul, it was a free-kick. I got you, now you try to get me back. The ref will keep it fair and we’ll shake hands afterwards. Now let’s play.

You always had to remember it was a game. Cheating was a sign you were taking things too seriously, in the wrong way. David Batty understood this too, although not many understood it in him. Playing was the good bit.

Where was the fun in the rest?

The perception of the Hunter-Lee incident now is that it’s just one of those things that used to happen in football, but Match of the Day in 1975 made it a scandal.

One editorial asked whether it should have been shown at all, or would influence the terraces’ ‘manifestation of urban terror’.

All the attention was on Lee, for his dive and for carrying on the fight after they’d both been sent off.

He was given a longer ban and a fine, and was so fed up he wanted to retire from the game. At the same disciplinary hearing, Hunter was cleared of bringing the game into disrepute, ending a month of unpleasant headlines just in time for Christmas.

And just in time for him to fly back to Leeds and go on stage that night at the City Varieties, playing ‘Baron Diver’ in manager Jimmy Armfield’s latest pantomime.

That made the photo for the back pages and, apart from the costume, it wasn’t so different from the photos of Norman Hunter on the pitch.

More often than not, he’s laughing. He’s in the moment, giving his all, having fun. That big grin was for the sheer joy of playing.