28. Feb, 2022

“The third man”-Tony Norman

Now rather than delve into my iffy wrestling reference in my title (see nineties WCW) the other reason I’ve named this blog “The third man” is because if you played Hull City during their rise up the divisions from 1982-86 and you didn’t score, it was almost certainly down to one of or a combination of three men, two of which I’ve covered in the blogs. First with “Stan McEwan was my hero” https://www.thelikesofhull.co.uk/451109954 and then last week with “You’ll never beat Peter Skipper” https://www.thelikesofhull.co.uk/451831090 the third man? Well that was almost certainly going to be Anthony Joseph Norman who was a generational talent that still might just be the greatest ever Hull City goalkeeper.

Sometimes when I’ve been writing pieces on City past I’ve realised things I didn’t at the time, and so was the case in this one. The three players mentioned (and I guess latterly Richard Jobson) were so elite that it covered the fact that we really didn’t produce particularly good full backs. Laurie Pearson was a nice enough footballer, Gary Swann was perhaps the best we had and at least brought a bit of edge with him but Bobby McNeil or Mick Holifield aren’t likely to get nominated for the Hall of Fame any time soon, no offence to any of the above but they were steady players. This thought has been whizzing around my mind in the last few days, and yes, I am that sad, but, we came…

2nd in Division 4 1982-83 (Promoted)
4th in Division 3 1983-84
3rd in Division 3 1984-85 (Promoted)
6th in Division 2 1985-86

And we didn’t really possess a particularly great full back during any of that run? That’s a fairly incredible fact, but with an entirely feasible answer. You might get the better of City down the flanks, but if you did, you’d have to deal with Peter Skipper and Stan McEwan and even if you did that, you’d then have to beat Tony Norman but that was no easy task at all and actually sometimes it was verging on impossible.

Often it becomes clear the how good players were when they were gone and you tried to replace them. I think I said previously that in reality it was probably over fifteen seasons until we had centre backs who you really could say were top class again after Skip and Stan, maybe with keepers we had some slightly better ones in Fettis or Oakes but I’d say it’s not until Myhill that you could truly say we had somebody who belonged in the Tony Norman conversation.  

All this and yet between the three of them there weren’t really a great deal of flash, maybe Stan’s hair highlights? But all three were workers and grafters and did what needed to be done for the team. Perhaps it might be humble beginnings for them, they’d all played in less than dominant teams (both Skip and Tony were part of City team struggling in at the end of the seventies and early eighties) and I think that perhaps meant they were highly unlikely to want to go back to losing ways.

Norman was meticulous in all aspects. My Dad would often take me and my cousin to games quite early and we’d see his warm up. He’d do more work during that than some lads did in a game. His kit was always just so, his standards were so obviously high and that set a precedent from the back. It was no accident that Tony Norman was so good, it was clearly bloody hard work. His ball handling was always assured, his shot stopping sharp and I’ve lost count of how many times you’d think we’d be about to concede until Tony would somehow flash across goal and palm something away.

One of the shames about him was that in any other era he would have played at least fifty international games but he came up against the greatest Welsh keeper ever in Neville Southall, who would almost certainly have walked into any country’s team in the eighties. Perhaps it was a blessing for City though as he amassed a mind boggling 226 consecutive appearances between August 1983 and September 1988. A run that I can’t see ever being beaten and you’d have to imagine he played hurt on a regular basis.

I’d be very interested if a City historian can confirm this (Brian Lee I’m looking at you) but Tony was one of the first keepers I ever saw flip the ball out of his hands and kick it from the floor regularly.  I mean, I guess someone else did it first, but in his era kicking it long was a real asset for many, after all we were seeing the rise of Wimbledon and Watford who had perfected the long ball game. We however didn’t really possess blinding pace down the middle, so driving the ball out towards a Billy Askew, Brian Marwood or Steve Massey in wide positions gave us a much better chance of finding the best from Whitehurst, Edwards, Bunn or Flounders. He had culture about him did our Tony and it helped us play better football.

It’s also amazing that we kept him as long as we did, considering he was a talent that belonged in the highest league. Therefore, when Sunderland came knocking for him in 1988 you couldn’t really hold it against him. He deserved a crack at the big time, although receiving Iain Hesford for him was perhaps the biggest one-off drop in talent in one position the club ever executed. We got Big Billy back and that was grand but we would then have a Tony Norman sized hole in our defence as we tumbled inevitably all the way down to where we started in the next decade.

He packed in at 39 in the mid-nineties after ex city gaffer Brian Horton had brought him to Huddersfield and has since been a goalkeeper coach at several clubs, mainly in the north east. Like I said earlier and at risk of repeating myself, you could really measure Tony by how incredibly hard it was to replace him. You couldn’t really buy a talent like his, you had to gamble on talent and hope that you could nurture someone towards the levels he could produce knowing that mainly you’d fail in the attempt. I’d still say he’s the greatest ever, I think quite a lot of fans around my age would too.

 We’ve produced some really promising players in the last few years through the academy plus with good scouting and we’ve also got lads who get what it is to play for this club. Suffice to say if Jacob Greaves, Harvey Cartwright and Alfie Jones can become half of what Skip, Stan and Tony were. We’re going be alright.

Thanks for reading.