| 19.5°C Belfast

How Norman Hunter inspired Leeds and left George Best's Manchester United utterly humiliated

 

Close

Bobby Charlton facing Norman Hunter in the early 1970s

Bobby Charlton facing Norman Hunter in the early 1970s

Bobby Charlton facing Norman Hunter in the early 1970s

It was the day that Norman Hunter didn't have to bite anyone's legs. For the hardest of football's hard men probably never had an easier afternoon as his Leeds United side demolished Manchester United in one of the most famous victories in the Elland Road club's illustrious history.

And I'm happy to say - borrowing one of the legendary Malcolm Brodie's favourite lines - I was there.

The memories of that amazing 5-1 humiliation inflicted 48 years ago on a Man United side that included George Best, Bobby Charlton and Brian Kidd came flooding back the other day after the mighty Hunter - what an appropriate name that was - died, falling foul of coronavirus, the one opponent the England defender with the fearsome nickname couldn't stop.

Back on February 19, 1972 I'd travelled to Leeds with friends who were all Red Devils fans to watch their title-challenging heroes take on Don Revie's side who were also pushing for honours in the old First Division.

I didn't support either team but I salivated over the prospect of seeing the aforementioned Manchester superstars and Leeds giants like Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and Johnny Giles in the flesh.

But the game far exceeded my - and everyone else's - expectations in front of a crowd of 45,399 which, remarkably, wasn't actually a full house.

We stood among the massed ranks of Leeds fans behind one of the goals and I pleaded with my friends not to let their allegiances slip out. But it was never a problem.

For the Red Devils, who were under the management of the uninspiring Frank O'Farrell from Cork, didn't give their supporters much to shout about.

The mercurial Matt Busby, who had just a few years earlier led Man United to European Cup glory, squirmed in the grandstand as Leeds made child's play of humbling his erstwhile Babes.

Even George Best looked a pale shadow of himself. He'd reportedly been on the booze and it showed.

Bobby Charlton was getting on a bit. He was almost 35 and he didn't trouble his older brother Jack or Norman Hunter at the heart of the Leeds defence.

But bad as United patently were, it was the magnificence of Leeds that stands out in the archive of rarefied recollections.

The imperious Johnny Giles, who'd been foolishly transferred from Old Trafford, seldom played better.

Like Andre Previn, the Irishman was the sublime conductor of the Leeds ensemble who at one point strung together 20 passes, mocking the chasing Man United pack. Brian Granville wrote in the Sunday Times: "The spectacle was almost that of the matador toying with a weary bull, the delighted roars of the crowd at each new piece of virtuosity, the equivalent of the 'Oles' of the bullring."

The first half had ended scoreless but in the second period, as Leeds attacked 'our' goal, it was a different story.

Two minutes after the re-start, Mick Jones - whose cousin was on the terraces beside us - scored and seven minutes later Allan 'Sniffer' Clarke made it two before Francis Burns pulled an undeserved goal back for Man United.

That was the cue for Leeds to turn on the style again with Jones scoring two more goals and Peter Lorimer netting another to seal the winning of the war of the footballing roses, though Revie's revelations could and should have been even more convincing victors.

Highlights of that 1972 Leeds performance, which was compared by one newspaper to a Real Madrid masterclass, are still available on YouTube and include an interview with Norman Hunter, whose reputation for taking no prisoners masked his immense talent.

Hunter gleefully eulogises over his team, who "had quality all over the park".

But 10 months before the Man United destruction, Leeds didn't look quite so devastating as Norman Hunter and co came to Belfast to play Glentoran at The Oval.

The hosts won 3-1 with goals from Tommy Morrow (2) and Johnny Jamison, but there was no gloating from Glenmen.

A friend who attended a post-match reception said he knew that when it came to bantering Norman Hunter, he should bite his lip.

Belfast Telegraph