It was back in June 2009, almost 43 years on from his country’s sole World Cup final success, that a tangible memento of those halcyon days of 1966 in the shape of a winner’s medal was belatedly awarded to Hunter alongside Peter Bonetti, Ron Springett, Jimmy Armfield, Gerry Byrne, Ron Flowers and Terry Paine.
When England lifted the World Cup, it was customary that only the 11 players on the pitch at the final whistle were awarded medals and not squad members.
World governing body Fifa eventually relented many years later following public pressure to award medals to every winning squad player from 1930 to 1974.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown handed out the accolades to England’s remaining 1966 World Cup members and families of backroom staff – including team physio Les Cocker and team trainer Harold Shepherdson – at a Downing Street ceremony.
It was overdue recognition for Hunter and his contemporaries.
Along with six others, the Leeds United icon was not afforded a morsel of action in England’s glorious campaign, with just 15 players used by Sir Alf Ramsey and seven being ever-presents, including keeper Gordon Banks and the back four.
Hunter didn’t much fare better on the personal front four years later in Mexico, tasting just nine minutes of action in the infamous World Cup quarter-final exit to West Germany in Leòn.
The centre-half would pick up 28 caps between 1965 and 1974, but unfortunately played at a time when England was blessed with outstanding centre-halves from McFarland to Moore and Todd to Labone.
Even accounting for that, Hunter’s total should have been many more according to those who knew him best.
Leeds team-mate Eddie Gray commented: “There was never a better international player than Bobby Moore, but Norman was probably a better club player.
“Norman would have got 100 caps if it hadn’t been for Bobby.”
Trevor Cherry, the player brought in as Hunter’s long-term replacement at Elland Road in 1972, is also adamant that his revered team-mate’s international career would have been more extensive if it was not for the presence of Moore and co.
“I think Norman was very unlucky to get only 28 caps as he was around at the time that Bobby Moore was and the likes of Roy McFarland and Colin Todd,” Cherry remarked.
“He was competing with greats and Norman was great as well. He was a great player and great lad.”
Hunter made his senior bow in a 2-0 friendly victory against Spain at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu on Decem,ber 8 1965, at the age of 22 and in the process he made a piece of history by becoming the first player to make his England debut from the bench.
According to folklore, Alan Ball famously put his hands together as Hunter came on and said: “For what they are about to receive.”
Hunter’s final international appearance came in the 3-0 win over Czechoslovakia at Wembley on October 30, 1974 – ironically Don Revie’s first match in charge of England.
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