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50 years on we speak to SIR ROGER

It is almost fifty years since a wide-eyed youngster from Golborne, Lancashire stepped into the shoes of Billy Liddell and made his first strides on the path towards Anfield greatness.
Back then the quiet, unassuming 21-year-old celebrated a goal on his full debut with a cup of tea in the dressing room, before daring to hope that he would retain his place in the starting XI for the Reds' next Second Division match at home to Middlesbrough.

As it happened, he didn't.

But it's fair to say that the life of Roger Hunt was never the same again in the years that followed that warm September evening in 1959.

"Phil Taylor was still manager when I made my debut," he tells us in an exclusive chat over coffee, deep within the heart of Cheshire.

"I had left the army and scored a few goals in the games I'd played for the reserves. Phil told me I was starting against Scunthorpe - we were in the Second Division back then - and the thing I remember most was running out and seeing this huge crowd.

"It was the biggest gate I had ever played in front of. I was used to playing for the A-team or the reserves and all of a sudden there I was in front of 32,000 fans.

"When you actually run out and see all those faces for the first time, it's quite a strange feeling. It was very exciting and a moment in my life I will never, ever forget."

Nowadays, stars of the Barclays Premier League turn up to home matches in a collection of cars most supporters only get up close and personal with courtesy of no holds barred road testing on Top Gear.

But in the year preceding the revolutionary 1960s, Hunt took a much more grounded route to L4.

"I lived in a small village near Warrington," he says. "So, I travelled to the match on the train and then got a bus up to the ground. I was feeling very nervous and I wondered which of the faces I was passing would be in the crowd come three o'clock.

"It's very different from how they get to the match today, that's for sure."

If the thought of making your debut in front of a packed Anfield crowd wasn't scary enough, then how would you feel when you found out you were replacing the injured Billy Liddell - a man whose impact on the club had been so great that he had coined the nickname Liddell-pool?

"Well you can imagine what it was like can't you?" He says with a wry smile. "Billy Liddell was the star of that team. He had been at Liverpool such a long time and, as you probably know, they used to call them Liddell-pool.

"Anyway, he was getting towards the end of his career and got injured. Hence, I got the call.

"I remember that the game was a lot quicker that what I was used to. I was playing more of centre forward role and I was more of an inside forward as we called it back then."

Hunt's recollection of that Autumn evening is vivid and entertaining. He admits that he felt somewhat overawed at first - but that all changed after the interval.

"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.

"It wasn't in front of the Kop, but it made me feel so much more confident for the rest of the game.

"It was a big moment for me, but there weren't many celebrations afterwards. I had a cup of tea and luckily enough my father had been at the game so I managed to get a lift back home with him.

"The ride home capped a great day."

Promotion, League titles, an FA Cup triumph and a World Cup winners' medal are just some of the extraordinary feats the legendary number eight would go on to achieve, in a career that would rival anyone in the English game - and that's not to mention his record haul of league goals.

But what happened in the years that followed Liverpool?

While some of the greatest names from the club's past have often gone on to carve out roles in punditry and management, Hunt has been happy to carry out his existence away from the spotlight, content with life in his Cheshire home.

"I'm retired now and I tend to spend a lot of my week playing golf, swimming or going to the gym," says Hunt, who belies his 70 years.

"Yes, life's been pretty good," he adds with a smile, before relaying a brief account of his post-LFC days.

"After I left Liverpool I spent two-and-a-half years at Bolton. They were the club I supported as a boy, so that's why I chose them. I didn't really want to leave Liverpool, but Bill Shankly was looking to rebuild an ageing side.

"I was 31 and still in the Reds' first-team. I'd played about 11 games and scored something like six goals. Bob Paisley told me the boss wanted to see me in the office. I thought he was going to give me a bit of praise.

"But he actually called me in to tell me Middlesbrough had made a bid for me and he told me I could go. I knew straight away that was it. I said no to the move, but the writing was on the wall.

"When I finally hung up my boots I then went into the family road haulage business called Hunt brothers. My father and my uncle started it and it's still going to this day. I worked there for 23 years before handing over the reins to two of my nephews.

"I've also been on the Pools panel since 1974. It's great because I've been connected to football without being in the hot-seat. I work alongside Gordon Banks and Tony Green and the three of us meet up once a week In Liverpool.

"Littlewoods have recently changed the name to the new football pools.

"They've introduced some new games to increase interest and it's going well."

A true gentleman of the game, Hunt is remarkably modest when it comes to recounting his career highs.

He was there on the historic, first day that Bill Shankly set foot inside Melwood and emerged as a key figure in the side that would go on to achieve league title success in both 1964 and 1666.

He could almost argue he has too many great memories to pick a favourite, but when pressed about the honours he achieved with the Reds, he opts for the occasion that saw Ron Yeats make history as the first ever captain of Liverpool Football Club to lift the FA Cup.

"They always said the league is the hardest to win," he says. "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 you have to choose you might say you would go for the FA Cup because Liverpool had never won the cup before.

"So 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."

Listening to Hunt recall some of his finest moments provides further evidence of how much the beautiful game has changed over the years; none more so than on the day he was named captain for the first time.

It was an occasion to savour and one he marked with an obligatory goal - but it could so easily have been a nightmare scenario, had he not made a last-gasp dash to the ground on foot.

"It wasn't funny at the time but we were playing Man City and because Ron Yeats wasn't playing I was made captain," he says.

"We used to travel in by car. Tommy (Lawrence) would travel with his family and I'd travel with mine. On this occasion there was a massive hold up on the East Lancs. I used to get there a good hour and a half before the match.

"We had no mobile phones back then so we are just sitting in traffic watching the clock tick down.

"We ended up taking a different route and it was about 2.50 and we were at the top of Utting Avenue. I decided to jump out and run the rest of the way and funnily enough Tommy was doing the same.

"We got there at seven minutes to three. When we got in they'd set about putting Plan B into action.

"Willie Stevenson was going to start in goal with the hope that Tommy Lawrence would get there and take over. Willie would then move into his normal position or be substituted.

"As for me, well I wasn't even getting a game! Thankfully it turned out okay and I actually went on to score in a match we drew 1-1.

"I remember when we first got there Bob Paisley started having a go. But Shanks was very calm about it all and just said: "Hang on, I'll go see the ref. You take your time."

Hunt's Top 5 goals
1) My first ever goal against Scunthorpe in 1959
2) A strike in an FA Cup sixth round replay in '65. We beat our bogey team Leicester and went on to lift the trophy
3) The fifth goal in the 5-0 win over Arsenal when we clinched the title in 1964
4) The two goals I scored in a 2-1 win over Chelsea when we clinched the title in '66.
5) I grabbed the first goal in the 1965 FA Cup final - It was great to score at Wembley and play a part in helping us lift the trophy
"It all worked out okay for us, but I think the incident meant the club was fined! It was a fair amount if I remember rightly!"

It's easy for the modern day fan to forget the huge impact Hunt made on Liverpool during the decades leading up to the halcyon era of the '70s and '80s.

He enjoyed a record of nearly a goal every game during the promotion season of 1961-62 and formed a partnership with Ian St John, that rivals any the club has seen - including that of the much talked about Rush-Dalglish combination.

"From the start we played well and managed to get promotion that season," he says. "It was at this point that I developed a good partnership with Ian St John.

"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."

Hunt would go on to be the club's leading scorer for eight consecutive seasons, in which time he broke Gordon Hodgson's league scoring record for the club.

His strike in a 2-1 victory at Chelsea on January 18, 1969 secured a place in the Reds' record books that he still holds to this day - although Ian Rush would later surpass him as the leading scorer in all-competitions.

"I'm very proud of that," he says. "I had a lot of good players around me that helped me to score those goals. I missed a lot as well! (laughs).

"My goals had dried up before I finally broke Hodgson's record. I hadn't scored at home but I had got eight or so away from home, so I suppose it was no surprise that I got that goal away to Chelsea.

"Of course, everyone knows Rushie left to go to Italy but then returned to take the all-time scorer record many years later.

"Whenever I see him I always say to him: "You should never have come back!"

"But he was a fantastic goalscorer. I don't think players stay as long any more so I think it will be a while before anyone catches me and Rushie."

Hunt's rise to prominence inevitably led to England recognition and after he was named in Sir Alf Ramsey's squad for the 1966 World Cup finals, he played a key part in the Three Lions' march towards the Jules Rimet trophy.

"Obviously that was fantastic," he says with a winning smile. "I think the fact that we haven't won it since 1966 makes it even more special. I enjoyed some great moments with Liverpool but I think I'd have to say the World Cup final is the most important game I've ever played in."

Talk of that Wembley clash against West Germany conjures up images of Geoff Hurst's famous treble and inevitably leads to the question of whether the West Ham man's second of the day should have stood.

"I get asked about that quite a lot," he says with a laugh.

"I'm still convinced it was over the line. I still stick to the same story. If you see it on TV now, you can see that I start to move in as Geoff hits a shot on the half volley. It hit the underside of the bar and I was only four yards away.

"I loved scoring goals and I'd have loved to have scored in the final, but I was so convinced it was over the line and I thought it was about to bounce into the roof of the net.

"I automatically turned away with my hand raised thinking it would do. Weber was marking me and by this time he had reached the ball and nodded it over the top.

"It's still controversial to this day. Some people say it was in and some say it wasn't. Normally as a goalscorer you just follow in. Whether I would have got it or not, who knows.

"All that matters to me and the other members of that side is that it counts in the record books."

Thirty four years on from that historic day in English football history, Hunt was finally recognised for the role he played in that success when he received the MBE from the Queen.

Hunt's top 5 LFC moments
1) Signing for Liverpool as a professional footballer
2) Scoring a goal on my debut against Scunthorpe
3) Winning the First Division for the first time
4) Winning the 1965 FA Cup
5) Breaking Gordon Hodgson's goalscoring record
It was the perfect way to cap a remarkable playing career.

"It was a fantastic moment," he says, as we bring the interview to a close with the recollection of his most recent honour. "It was a wonderful day and I am very proud of it.

"Not that having a title was new to me," he quips. "The Kop gave me the nickname 'Sir' when I returned from the World Cup and it seems to have stuck ever since!

"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," he adds with a look that suggests he would give anything for one last run out on the hallowed turf.

"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."

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