The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) is starting the countdown to the 50th anniversary of the PFA Awards. As we reflect on the illustrious history of this prestigious event, we kick things off by focusing on Norman Hunter, the first-ever winner of the PFA Players' Player of the Year.
Norman Hunter, the former Leeds United defender and icon of the game, achieved the ultimate honour in 1974 when his fellow professionals voted him the best player in English football. The award remained a highlight in Hunter's illustrious career, which spanned two decades and saw him secure numerous trophies and accolades.
Hunter, who sadly passed away in 2020, was an integral part of Don Revie's all-conquering Leeds side of the 1960s and 1970s. He formed a formidable partnership with Jack Charlton at the heart of defense, laying the foundation for Leeds United's dominance during that era. Hunter's unwavering commitment, toughness, and astute range of passing made him one of the most accomplished defenders of his generation.
Throughout his career, Hunter achieved remarkable success, including two Football League Championship medals, an FA Cup, a League Cup, two UEFA Cups, and a European Cup Winners' Cup. He was also included in two England World Cup squads, earning a winner's medal in the historic 1966 final at Wembley.
Inaugural PFA Awards Winner, Norman Hunter (Leeds United and England)
Despite his numerous achievements in a remarkable 20-year playing career, the PFA award held a special place in his heart. Recalling that memorable night, Hunter spoke about the pride he felt upon receiving the accolade.
"To me personally, it meant everything," he said. "It was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. My fellow pros voting for me, a defender, with the reputation I had? It gave me a lot of pleasure and a lot of satisfaction. It was definitely one of the best moments in my career without a doubt and from a personal point of view probably the best."
Famed for his tough and uncompromising style, which earned him the nickname of ‘Bites Yer Legs’ it was the recognition from his peers of his abilities as an all-round footballer, that made the Award all the more significant. "Players weren't going to vote for you if you couldn't do the other things well, it's as simple as that. If all I could do was tackle and supposedly kick people and things like that, all the players of the day would certainly not have voted for me, so for me personally, it was the best recognition. You just don't get that award if you can't play. It's the top award for any footballer."
As we celebrate 50 years of the PFA Awards, we will be honouring the legacy of players like Norman Hunter, who have enriched the history of English football.
Previous winners of the prestigious PFA Player of the Year Award include renowned players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suárez, Lucy Bronze and Thierry Henry. The current holders are Mohamed Salah from Liverpool and Sam Kerr from Chelsea.
The PFA Awards are unique. They are exclusively voted for by the players and so represent the highest recognition within the game. The 50th anniversary celebrations are just around the corner, and will take place at the Lowry Theatre on Tuesday, 29th August.
The landmark event will announce the winners of the PFA Players' Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year, and each divisional Player of the Year and Team of the Year. In addition to these accolades, the PFA will also present the Merit Award, recognising outstanding footballing achievements.