The handing out of footballing knighthoods is something which has long irked some Liverpool supporters.
Alex Ferguson’s gong in the wake of Manchester United’s 1999 treble triumph led many to question where the recognition was for Bob Paisley who had racked up three European Cup triumphs to the Scot’s one, the quietly-spoken north-easterner’s record of 19 major trophies in only nine years in charge surely staking his claim as a strong contender for the title of England’s most successful manager.
Kenny Dalglish remains the only Liverpool figure to have taken the knee in front of the queen, for reasons which went partly beyond football, but the Kop didn't wait for royal approval to hand out their own knighthood to one of Bill Shankly’s chief lieutenants who helped lay the foundations for the dynasties of success which were to follow.
‘Sir’ Roger Hunt, whose death at the age of 83 has been announced today, will forever be recognised as one of Liverpool’s greatest ever players and also a true legend of English football, having started every game of Alf Ramsey’s 1966 World Cup triumph.
READ MORE:Roger Hunt was worshipped by the Kop and Liverpool fans gave him the title he deserved
That year saw him also add a second league title medal to his collection in three seasons, just a year after scoring the opener in the Reds’ long-awaited maiden FA Cup triumph, while also finishing joint top scorer in the top flight of English club football.
His recognition at national level was no surprise to Liverpudlians who had seen the modest Lancashire-born striker provide the firepower which had propelled Bill Shankly’s ambitious young side from Second Division obscurity to the heights of the domestic and European game.
Hunt arrived at Anfield in July 1959, only three months before the iconic Scot took over as manager, having attracted scout Bill Jones' attention playing for Stockton Heath (later known as Warrington Town) in the Mid-Cheshire League and eight goals in only six reserve matches quickly convinced manager Phil Taylor he was ready for the step up to first team football when the iconic Billy Liddell, now coming towards the end of his stellar Anfield career, was unavailable.
Handed his debut on 9 September 1959 for the Second Division clash agains Scunthorpe United at Anfield, Hunt inevitably marked the occasion with a goal in Liverpool’s 2-0 win and recalled his bow fondly to LFC.tv in February 2009, saying: “The game was a lot quicker than what I was used to. We were one-nil up when we got a free-kick around the hour mark. Jimmy Melia spotted me and played a short pass into my stride.
“I looked up and hit it instinctively. I knew it was in as soon as I struck it and I can't describe how good it felt to see it smash in off the crossbar."
Liverpool supporters hoping their new hotshot may be able to emulate the feats Liddell - a player so influential the Reds were commonly known as ‘Liddell-pool’ throughout the 1950s - soon came to realise Hunt, and in reality no-one, could ever be a like-for-like replacement but they quickly sussed that while Hunt may not then have been an orthodox centre forward, his ability to lie deep and bring others into play while still regularly getting on the scoresheet himself would be of immense value to the team.
And when Bill Shankly arrived that December, he was in no doubt that while there were many players he would need to ship out in order to build the ‘bastion of invincibility’ he envisaged, Roger Hunt was someone he would be shaping his new Liverpool around.
“After seeing him in only one game I knew he could play”, the Scot said.
“His style and control, not only in scoring, but in killing the ball dead, stamped him as a player.
“As he developed his scoring technique he became an even greater player”.
Hunt’s honest playing style also translated to his self-awareness and desire to improve, understanding only hard work and application would see him achieve the levels his undoubted prowess as a youngster suggested.
"I knew perfectly well that I wasn't an out-and-out natural, the sort who can make a ball talk so it was down to me to compensate for it in other ways," Hunt admitted.
"I made up my mind that if I didn't succeed at Anfield it wouldn't be for the lack of determination.
“From the first day, I threw myself into training, ran and tackled for everything and practised my ball skills at every opportunity."
He notched respectable goal tallies of 23 and 19 in his first two Second Division seasons for Liverpool but the signing of Ian St John from Motherwell in the summer of 1961 proved to be the catalyst for Hunt, and along with the arrival of Ron Yeats that same close-season for Shankly and Liverpool themselves, to achieve greatness.
Hunt scored a remarkable 41 league goals in 41 games as Liverpool won the Second Division title by eight points to end eight years of anguish in the doldrums of the second tier and secure a return to the promised land.
Shankly said St John’s “great football brain guided Roger more than anyone” and Hunt himself admitted he had an ‘almost telepathic’ partnership with his diminutive Scottish partner.
“I developed a good partnership with Ian St John,” Hunt recalled.
“He had a good football brain and we linked up well. In those days you had more of your out and out wingers too, so defences were opened up more frequently and it was probably easier to score more goals because of that.”
The promotion season was the first of eight consecutive campaigns in which Hunt topped the Anfield scoring charts and, after a year finding their feet in the top flight again which saw Hunt score a memorable last minute equaliser at Goodison in the impossibly-hyped first Merseyside derby for 11 years (Everton had been relegated in 1951 and passed Liverpool on the way up when the Blues were promoted three years later), he scored 31 goals as the Reds were crowned champions in only their second season back in 1964.
He put the seal on the 5-0 win over Arsenal that sealed Shankly’s first league title and scored both in the 2-1 win at home to Chelsea two years later which saw the Reds crowned champions again but it was May 1965 when Hunt irrevocably wrote his name into Liverpool folklore.
Despite having already won five league titles, Liverpool seemed cursed to never win the FA Cup with Evertonians mocking that the Liver Birds would fly away if the world’s oldest cup competition ever found its way to Anfield.
But after a gruelling 90 minute war of attrition against Don Revie’s emerging Leeds United in what only the Reds' second Wembley final, it was Hunt who made the precious breakthrough in the third minute of extra time, stooping to nod home Gerry Byrne’s cross to send the travelling Kop wild with delight and, after Billy Bremner’s equaliser, strike partner St John headed home the winner nine minutes from time to finally silence those Everton taunts.
Hunt later reflected on the Wembley triumph as the greatest of his club achievements, saying, “It was always said the league is the hardest to win. It was played over 42 games then and Bill Shankly used to say it was our bread and butter.
“But the FA Cup was the more glamorous competition. If I have to choose I would go for the FA Cup because Liverpool had never won the cup before 1965.
“To actually be able to say I was part of the team that won the FA Cup for the first time in our history was fantastic.”
By this stage, Hunt was recognised as one of the country’s top forwards, having scored on his England debut against Chile in April 1962 despite still being a Second Division player at the time.
He travelled to Chile that summer as part of Walter Winterbottom’s World Cup squad and, while he didn’t feature in South America, by the time England hosted the tournament four years later he was a key part of Alf Ramsey’s side.
He scored three times in the group stage and kept his place in the side throughout the tournament despite the clamour for Jimmy Greaves to return following injury in the knock-out stages, his reputation for honesty being noted by team-mates when discussion over Geoff Hurst’s controversial extra time goal against West Germany in the final turned to whether the ball had crossed the line, the Liverpool man having immediately turned away in celebration when he could easily have just knocked the rebound into the net himself.
His England team-mates were also effusive in the praise of Hunt’s selfless running and appreciation of those around him.
Legendary Gordon Banks said of the Liverpool man, “A lot of people seem to have been misled just because Roger seemed to do so much running – but that was one of his greatest assets.
“He would run into space and draw defenders away from other players. He would take men with him. And he was very unselfish.
“He was a great player for his club and his country. Unselfish as I’ve said – and yet when he got in the box he was looking for goals all the time”.
While captain Bobby Moore spoke of how Hunt was under-valued by many who didn’t realise just what he brought to every side he played in.
"Roger Hunt is a player's player”, he said.
“He is possibly appreciated more by those who play with him and against him than by those who watch him."
He became Liverpool’s record goalscorer in November 1967, his strike against Manchester United taking him past Gordon Hodgson’s record of 241 goals for the club and he finished that season with another 30 goal tally, even if like others in Shankly’s great side of the early and mid 60s his impact was beginning to wane, the Scot’s loyal devotion to the players who had helped him take the Reds to the top occasionally clouding his judgement over their longevity.
Towards the end of the following season, the normally mild-mannered Hunt caused a stir when he was substituted in a cup replay at Anfield against Leicester by taking his shirt off and angrily throwing it in the direction of the dug-out.
He would leave the club midway through the following campaign to join Bolton Wanderers but the esteem with which he was still held was highlighted in April 1972 when, on a night of pouring rain, 56,214 crammed into Anfield for his testimonial, with an estimated 10,000 more locked out, thought to be a British record for such a match.
Bill Shankly said afterwards, “For what he did for Liverpool, he deserved what he got tonight” and Hunt himself admitted the occasion meant the world to him.
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“I had a terrific relationship with the Kop and I have to admit, there is nothing better than playing for Liverpool Football Club in front of those fantastic fans.
“It’s a unique and special honour. The support they gave me throughout my Anfield career was terrific and it is something I have cherished ever since.
“I never needed it (a knighthood). I was knighted by the Kop. That means more."
Hunt’s record of 285 goals in 492 games put him way in front as Liverpool’s all time leading goalscorer, a record which stood for decades and needed a striker of the calibre of Ian Rush to top it when he finally scored for the first ever time at Old Trafford in October 1992 to bag his 286th.
But the fact that Hunt still stands alone as the Reds’ leading league goalscorer with 244 - 15 ahead of Rush despite the Welshman playing 65 more league games - says everything about his contribution to the Anfield cause and why whenever Liverpool’s greatest goalscorers are discussed, ’Sir Roger’ takes some beating.