Norman Hunter dies aged 76 following England 1966 World Cup winner testing positive for coronavirus


Norman Hunter, the Leeds United legend, has died after a brave fight with coronavirus.

The 76-year-old, who played 726 games in 15 years at Elland Road, was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 earlier this month.

A Leeds spokesperson said the club was ’devastated’ at the sad news.

Leeds United have announced the death of legendary defender Norman Hunter 

Hunter, 76, contracted coronavirus last week and passed away in hospital on Friday

Hunter, 76, contracted coronavirus last week and passed away in hospital on Friday

The defender enjoyed a 20-year career, playing for Leeds United, Bristol City and Barnsley

The defender enjoyed a 20-year career, playing for Leeds United, Bristol City and Barnsley

NORMAN HUNTER PLAYING CAREER

1962-1976 – Leeds United

1976-1979 – Bristol City

1979-1983 – Barnsley 

1965-1974 – England (28 caps) 

A club statement read: ‘Leeds United are devastated to learn of the passing of club icon Norman Hunter at the age of 76.

‘Norman was taken to hospital last week after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and despite continuing to battle and the best efforts of NHS staff, he sadly lost his fight earlier this morning.

‘He leaves a huge hole in the Leeds United family, his legacy will never be forgotten and our thoughts are with Norman’s family and friends at this very difficult time.’ 

Hunter played 726 games in 15 years at Elland Road. In the great sides managed by Don Revie, he won First Division titles in 1969 and 1974, the 1972 FA Cup and League Cup and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup twice. 

Hunter was nicknamed 'Bites yer legs' due to his uncompromising style as a defender

Hunter was nicknamed ‘Bites yer legs’ due to his uncompromising style as a defender

The Leeds icon became the first ever winner of the PFA player of the year award in 1974

The Leeds icon became the first ever winner of the PFA player of the year award in 1974

Only three Leeds players — Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner and Paul Reaney—- have made more appearances for the club than Hunter who, as one of the best centre halves of his era, also won 28 England caps.

None of those came at the 1966 World Cup, where he was behind Charlton and Bobby Moore, but as a squad member he was belatedly handed a winner’s medal in 2009.

Of course, Hunter’s place in footballing folklore goes beyond numbers and trophies. 

The former defender was part of the England squad that achieved World Cup glory in 1966

The former defender was part of the England squad that achieved World Cup glory in 1966

Hunter (right) pictured with Jimmy Greaves at Downing Street after winning his medal

Hunter (right) pictured with Jimmy Greaves at Downing Street after winning his medal

While invariably rated as a footballer of the highest quality by those who saw him at Leeds between 1962 and 1976 and then for three years in the Bristol City side who reached the top flight, his reputation is generally tied to his uncompromising style.

He drew the nickname ‘Bites yer legs’ after a banner carried the message at the 1972 FA Cup final and famously got into a punch-up on the pitch in 1975 with Derby County’s Francis Lee — after the pair were sent off! 

The defender was an integral cog in the Leeds winning machine of the 1960s and 1970s

The defender was an integral cog in the Leeds winning machine of the 1960s and 1970s

Hunter leaps in the air to celebrate Allan Clarke's winner in the 1972 FA Cup final

Hunter leaps in the air to celebrate Allan Clarke’s winner in the 1972 FA Cup final

Hunter (second right) celebrates with his Leeds team-mates after their 1972 FA Cup triumph

Hunter (second right) celebrates with his Leeds team-mates after their 1972 FA Cup triumph

Hunter was born in Eighton Banks, Gateshead in 1943 and joined Leeds when he was 16 years old. He made his debut for the Yorkshire club in 1962 and go onto form a defensive partnership with Jack Charlton that lasted a decade.

He was an integral component of Leeds’ progression from the second to the first division, and rarely picked up injuries. In an age where sports science is nowhere near the level it is now, Hunter played over 50 games a season for nine seasons in a row. A remarkable feat. 

He won his first League title in 1969, having won the League Cup in 1968 before clinching the FA Cup in 1972. A picture of Hunter leaping into the air following Allan Clarke’s winner against Arsenal is enscribed in FA Cup folklore. 

He won the League twice as well as the FA Cup and League Cup during his time with the club

He won the League twice as well as the FA Cup and League Cup during his time with the club

Hunter helped Leeds go on a 29-match unbeaten run at the start of the 1973-74 season, as the club went on to romp to their second League title in four years. His performances saw him clinch the first ever PFA Player of the Year award.

He featured in two European Cup finals for Leeds in the 1970s, where the club lost to AC Milan and Bayern Munich. In 1976, Hunter waved goodbye to Elland Road and joined Bristol City for £40,000. 

He spent three seasons with The Robins, scoring four times over 122 appearances for the club before joining Barnsley where he ended his career as a player. He was also Barnsley manager between 1980 and 1984. 

Hunter with the PFA Player of the Year award after his fine season for Leeds in 1973-1974

Hunter with the PFA Player of the Year award after his fine season for Leeds in 1973-1974

In 1998, Hunter’s contributions to football were recognised as part of the Football League’s centenary celebrations, with the Leeds legend recognised on the list of 100 League Legends.

Messages of condolences have flooded in on social media after the club announced the passing of the legendary defender. 

Gary Lineker wrote: Sad news. Norman Hunter has passed away. Grew up watching that great side of which he was a huge part. 

Messages of condolences flooded in on social media following the tragic news

Messages of condolences flooded in on social media following the tragic news

‘This awful virus was one crunching tackle too far but he’ll be biting yer legs somewhere. RIP Norman.’

Piers Morgan wrote: ‘RIP Norman Hunter, 76, from #coronavirus. One of the hardest men to ever play football, earning himself the nickname ‘Bites Yer Legs’. 

‘Also one of the best defenders to grace the game, & was part of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad. Very sad news.’ 

Hunter’s England team-mate Peter Shilton wrote: ‘Very shocked and deeply saddened at the loss of Norman Hunter I played with him @England and continued to meet him at various football events over the years it was always great to catch up with him, a wonderful man Condolences to the family such a terrible loss.’ 

LEEDS UNITED FULL STATEMENT  

Leeds United are devastated to learn of the passing of club icon Norman Hunter at the age of 76.

Norman was taken to hospital last week after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and despite continuing to battle and the best efforts of NHS staff, he sadly lost his fight earlier this morning.

Born on Friday 29th October 1943 in Eighton Banks, County Durham, Hunter left school at the age of 15 to become an electrical fitter.

Playing for Birtley Juniors, he was scouted by Leeds and following a trial game was offered a place on the club’s ground staff.

Making his Leeds debut against Swansea Town at the age of 18 on Saturday 8th September 1962, he helped Don Revie’s side to a 2-0 victory and would go on to become one of the greatest centre-backs the game has ever seen.

Hunter amassed a huge 726 appearances for Leeds United over a 14 year period, the club’s most successful to date, earning the infamous nickname “Bites Yer Legs”.

Helping Leeds rise from the Second Division, Hunter was at the heart of the defence as the club became champions of England twice and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup winners twice, along with successes in the 1968 League Cup, 1969 Charity Shield and 1972 FA Cup.

He won a total of 28 caps for England and was in the 1966 World Cup winning squad, whilst was also the first winner of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year in 1974.

Hunter left Leeds to join Bristol City in 1976, prior to a spell at Barnsley, who he later went on to manage along with Rotherham United.

Norman remained part of the furniture at Elland Road throughout the years, being a regular speaker in the suite named in his honour, and was in attendance as recently as last month’s victory over Huddersfield Town.

He leaves a huge hole in the Leeds United family, his legacy will never be forgotten and our thoughts are with Norman’s family and friends at this very difficult time.

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