Leeds United great Norman Hunter has died in hospital aged 76 after contracting coronavirus.
The tough-tackling centre-back, nicknamed ‘Bites Yer Legs’, was a key player in Leeds’ most successful era.
He won two league titles during a 14-year first-team career at Elland Road, and was a non-playing member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad.
Hunter was admitted to hospital on 10 April after testing positive for coronavirus.
Former Leeds team-mate Eddie Gray said Hunter was an “iconic figure” at the club.
“He was a truly great player,” Gray, 72, told the BBC. “I don’t people realise because of the ‘Bites Yer Legs’, it took away from his actual ability as a player.
“He never got as many caps as he deserved because of the great Bobby Moore, but he was as good as any defender that played the game.”
Leeds said the defender’s death leaves “a huge hole” in the family of the club.
“His legacy will never be forgotten and our thoughts are with Norman’s family and friends at this very difficult time,” the Yorkshire club said in a statement.
Hunter joined Leeds aged 15 and went on to play 726 matches in all competitions for the club – the fourth-highest individual total in their history.
As an integral part of Don Revie’s famous side, Hunter won the First Division title in 1969 and 1974, helped them beat Arsenal in the 1968 League Cup final, and then returned to Wembley in 1972 as Leeds defeated the Gunners to win the FA Cup.
He also played in the 1975 European Cup final defeat by Bayern Munich in Paris – a year after Revie left to manage England – but he did taste European success as Leeds won the now-defunct Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1968 and 1971.
Speaking in 2013, when he announced he was selling his Leeds memorabilia at auction, Hunter said his one regret from his time playing for the club was that he never lifted the European Cup.
“Someone asked me if I was selling my shirt from that game [against Bayern] but I honestly don’t know where it is,” he added. “I was that upset that I don’t know what I did with it.
“Medals don’t mean much to me. For me it was about being at Leeds United and playing with that group of players and staff.
“It was magic.”
Although a member of the squad, Hunter did not play during England’s triumphant 1966 World Cup campaign, with their central defensive partnership formed by Jack Charlton – his Leeds team-mate – and captain Bobby Moore.
The England national team said they were “extremely saddened” by Hunter’s death and that “all of our thoughts are with his family, friends and supporters”.
After leaving Leeds in 1976, Hunter also played for Bristol City and Barnsley, managing the Tykes and Rotherham after he retired from playing.
The Professional Footballers’ Association said: “Football has lost a legend and we join the entire football community in mourning this loss.”
‘He loved Leeds like nothing else’ – tributes to Hunter
England World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst: “Enormously shocked and saddened to hear the awful news about my friend Norman Hunter, he will be very sadly missed. My heartfelt thoughts are with his wife, Sue, his family and the England and Leeds United fans, a huge part of the 1966-70 England squad back in the day.”
Former England captain Gary Lineker: Grew up watching that great Leeds side of which Norman Hunter was a huge part. This awful virus was one crunching tackle too far but he’ll be biting yer legs somewhere. RIP.
Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton on BBC Radio 5 Live: “Norman always had a laugh. He was very professional, a hard worker and someone who was good to have around in the squad.
“He was somebody you never liked playing against because he did let players know he was around. He was a great player. He had a lot more than just being a tough man.”
Former Leeds defender Danny Mills on BBC Radio 5 Live: “He loved Leeds like nothing else. It’s incredibly sad that he won’t get to see Leeds promoted back to the Premier League.
“His knowledge of football was immense. He could be critical of the players and the team but he did it in a charming way. He could be critical but never offended anybody.”
Former England defender Casey Stoney: “I was extremely privileged to sit next to Norman at a PFA awards a couple of years ago and he was one of the nicest, warmest and friendliest men I’ve met. He shared stories that were amazing to hear and was so kind to me and I was just a stranger.”
BBC Radio 5 Live senior football reporter Ian Dennis: “I worked with Norman Hunter at BBC Radio Leeds. I had four wonderful years with him, it was an absolute education.
“My condolences to his family. He was a gentle giant. He was the opposite off the pitch to how he was on it.”