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'You could depend on Norman with your life - on and off the pitch'

After it was announced that Norman Hunter had sadly passed away on Friday morning, his former Leeds United teammate John Giles joined Off The Ball to discuss his friend's legacy. 

A little under 24-hours ago, John Giles had opened his regular Thursday night segment on Off The Ball by sending his best wishes to a close friend of his who was severely unwell.

On Friday morning, Norman Hunter, the Leeds United legend who had been part of the England squad that won the 1966 World Cup, had sadly passed away at the age of 76.

"I would regard him as a very, very good friend," explained John Giles of his relationship with Norman Hunter. "He was an exceptional character and you could depend on him with your life.

"He was very genuine, very modest and would never talk about himself. He felt privileged to play football at the level he was at.

"I played with him for 12 years, and it is honestly like being in the army together. Especially in those days, you had to stick together.

"There is a bond from that that never dies."

Norman Hunter Leeds United celebrate winning the FA Cup: (l-r) Mick Bates, Paul Madeley, Eddie Gray, Paul Reaney, Johnny Giles, Jack Charlton, Allan Clarke, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Norman Hunter, David Harvey

One of the legendary figures in the great Leeds United team under Don Revie, were it not for an impression Hunter made on Revie as a young player at the club, his career could have come to nothing.

"Before Don took over in 1961," recalled Giles, "the previous manager had released Norman. So, Don went and brought him back.

"I don't think he ever forgot how near he was not to making it."

A characteristic that made itself apparent in Norman Hunter's relentless determination to improve and progress, it was mirrored by the teammates he was surrounded by at Leeds.

"He never lost his determination," he recalled of Hunter, "even when he became established and played for England, I don't think he ever lost that thought of being discarded at 17.

"But I had left Manchester United too at 22 and had something to prove. Some of our lads had to be coached but they all worked hard had and had the ambition to do it.

"When they did make it then, they never lost that hunger and never got ahead of themselves. Don wouldn't have allowed it anyway"

The best defender Giles ever played alongside, Hunter's role alongside Jack Charlton in the heart of the Leeds United defence provided a bedrock for the club's success.

"They would have played together for at least 10 years," recalled the former Leeds midfielder. "It was a terrific partnership.

"Hunter would play off Jack, cleaning up after him and he had a great knowledge of where to be as a defender. He read the game well, and could see the danger before it ever came near him. He could tackle as well."

Norman Hunter Leeds United's Mick Jones and Norman Hunter (right) celebrate after wrapping up the League Championship.

Known by the sobriquet, 'bite yer legs', though he was a hard tackler - "you had to commit Grievous Bodily Harm in those days to get a yellow-card" - it was an affectionate term, as Giles recalled it.

"It was an affectionate thing from the Leeds fans," he recalled finding out years later. "It didn't bother him and he had a laugh about it.

"Apparently in the Cup final in 1972, they unveiled it in a big banner. But the fans loved him, and we all loved Norman."

Sadly, the current pandemic halts the possibility of Norman Hunter's friends, family and former teammates gathering together to mark his passing as they would like.

Nevertheless, in true spirit of the man, John Giles has no doubts that when it is again safe to do so, his life and legacy will be marked accordingly.

"I'm in a worried state myself at the moment and am keeping my head down," admitted Giles as he spoke to Off The Ball from his home. "I think we will have something when this stuff goes away.

"I think the Leeds lads will get together with Norman's family at some stage, I'd have no doubt about that. We won't let this go."

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England John Giles Leeds United Norman Hunter

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