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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 23 September 2020

'A very good friend, a great colleague and a first-class person' - John Giles pays tribute to Norman Hunter

The Leeds United legend and World Cup winner passed away today at the age of 76.

John Giles (file pic).
John Giles (file pic).
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

JOHN GILES HAS paid tribute to former Leeds United team-mate Norman Hunter, who passed away today at the age of 76, after last week being admitted to hospital with coronavirus.

Giles last saw Hunter in December at an event to commemorate Leeds United’s centenary year, and said he had been in “good form,” while the former defender continued to work for the club on match-day up until the break this season.

The former Ireland international spent 12 years playing with Hunter at Leeds. He was also assistant to Giles, when the Dubliner managed West Brom.

Giles described Hunter as “a very good friend, a great colleague and a first-class person”. 

“He was a very genuine lad, very modest and never talked about himself,” Giles told Off the Ball. “He felt he was very privileged to be playing football at the level he played at.

“When he was at Leeds as a young lad, there was a manager called Jack Taylor, and when it got to [Hunter's] 17th birthday, he didn’t sign him, so he went home.

“Luckily enough, Don Revie, who was a player at Leeds at the time, took over as manager and brought him back.

“I don’t think he ever forgot that that’s how near he was to not making it at all and he worked — in the time I was at Leeds, Norman probably worked harder than anyone else on his game, felt privileged to be playing and never took it for granted.

“He played 28 times for England at a time when Bobby Moore was playing, but I don’t think he ever lost the thoughts of being discarded at 17.” 

Giles added that Hunter was “the best defender I played with” and as with several members of the Leeds squad, felt he had “something to prove” when that team started out in the Second Division.

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Hunter went on to enjoy great success, including two First Division league titles and an FA Cup, while being part of England’s World Cup-winning squad in 1966 and claiming the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award in 1974.

Of his famous ‘Bites Yer Legs’ nickname, Giles added: “It was an affectionate thing from the Leeds supporters themselves.

It didn’t bother him, he had a laugh about it. It was in the cup final in ’72 that the Leeds supporters rolled out the banner [with the nickname], because he was a hero with the Leeds crowd. They loved him. We all loved him. Everything he gave, he gave for the team.

“Leeds had a bad reputation, but all the teams [were the same]. You had to cause grievous bodily harm to get a yellow card. Norman could tackle and get stuck in with the best of them — he had to.

“But he wasn’t [committing] stupid tackles, in those days you could tackle in a way that you can’t today.”

You can listen to Off the Ball’s full interview here.

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Paul Fennessy

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