Matt Healey continues the series.
Paul Hunt was born in Hereford on the 7th March 1959. He loved sports from a young age, but a life changing moment for him was the 5th February 1972. Hunt tells me “I went to the Hereford United v Newcastle United FA Cup game. I was one of the kids who invaded the pitch in my parka jacket. I then started to get into my football and played for a team in Leominster. I was then spotted by a Coventry City scout in a county match and I signed for the them after a trial on an apprenticeship”
Hunt gives huge credit to his parents and his sister Debbie who who were extremely supportive in his early football career “They would take me to Coventry every Sunday and on the Saturday I was playing for Knighton in the Mid Wales league. It was a great footballing education as I was still very young, but playing men’s football”
Hunt was involved in plenty of reserve games for the Sky Blues “I played alongside Larry Lloyd who is best known for winning the European Cup with Nottingham Forest” Hunt is a massive Manchester United supporter and had the privilege of playing against George Best. “We had a friendly match against Northern Ireland and I was marking Best, by then he was past his prime and the drinking had taken it’s toll on him, but his feet were magical”
Hunt would leave Coventry in 1978 and has some regrets over his decision. “I wasn’t released, but was asked to stay at the club on non contract forms. A few of my mates had left and I just wanted to get back to Hereford. Which on hindsight I probably should have fought for my place. I ended up joining Swansea City on a trial basis. Bob Dennison used to manage Hereford United and he had connections at Swansea, so when I left there he put me in touch with Tony Ford who was the youth development manager and I signed for the Bulls. I remember at Swansea we would train on the beach in all weathers”
Hunt was one of many of the decent young players at Edgar Street in the late 1970’s “We had Chris Price, Andy Feeley, Kevin Sheedy and Stewart Phillips who were all fantastic local lads”
Hunt’s Hereford career didn’t start that well “I was playing in the reserves and in my first match I got sent off against Plymouth for two late yellow cards. In my second game we were at Oxford and I earnt another red card. This was a straight one for kicking the goalkeeper in the head. I was through on goal and had rounded the keeper, he grabbed my legs to prevent me from taking the shot and in my frustration to break free I kicked him in the head. I did score, but the referee pulled the game back and sent me off. John Sillett (Hereford Manager) was livid with me afterwards. Those were the only two red cards of my career”
Hunt has plenty of respect for his former manager John Sillett “He was a right character. I remember he would run us to death. I was good at sprints, but hated long distance, we had to go up Haugh Woods once and after our running was done. He told us to run back to the ground, me and Frank McGrellis hitched a lift back to Edgar Street in a van and we stopped off for a drink at a cafe in Widemarsh Street, as soon as we saw the other players running back we ran out and joined them, unfortunately the management found out and we got fined, but John was great for me as a manager”
It was Mike Bailey who would give Hunt his full debut on Boxing Day 1978 “We beat Stockport County 2-0. I played nine games in my first season, we had a good young squad. Sometimes the Assistant Manager Bobby Gould would take charge, we didn’t see eye to eye on occasions during the game, but you could tell he would go on to be a great manager”.
The 1979/1980 campaign was Hunt’s most profitable, but when Mike Bailey and Bobby Gould departed to Charlton a new manager arrived who hindered Hunt’s progress. “Frank Lord came in from a club in South Africa, he wanted to go with experienced northern players, so my chances were limited. I had a great start to the season. I played in most of the games and scored a couple of goals, but got injured away at Bournemouth and found it hard to get back in”
I point out to Hunt that he played in plenty of positions during his time at Edgar Street “I was naturally right footed, but learnt how to play with my left foot as well, I played everywhere for Hereford United apart from being in goal. I loved a tackle, but as long as I was playing I didn’t care what position I was”
In the last game of the 1979/1980 season. Hunt played up front with Fred Binney and was on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win over Rochdale on the 6th May 1980.
Hunt made sporadic appearances during the 1980/1981 campaign, but recalls the highs and lows of the FA Cup. “We went to Southend in the first round, they were top of the league and favourites to win, we came away with a 1-0 victory, Gary Jones scored, then we went to non league Enfield in the next round and got beat 2-0. It was a horrible day, listening on the radio on the way back it was all about us being beaten, but thats what the FA Cup is all about”
A tragic training ground incident would end Hunt’s Hereford career. “We were playing in a practice match. Me and Julian Marshall went in for a tackle. He ended up breaking his leg and in the collision I injured my knee. I had to go part time as I couldn’t cope with the full time training”
It would be a former Hereford United player who gave Hunt the opportunity at non league “Alan Birchenall was at Trowbridge who were in what is the National League Premier, he signed me and Andy Feeley, the travelling was hard, but I enjoyed it down there. The former Hereford Chairman Frank Miles was involved as well”
Hunt would then play out his career at Worcester City, Gloucester City and Wellington “I was married and we were about to start a family so it made sense to be closer to home. When I was at Worcester we reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup and played Coventry, we lost 3-1, but gave a good account of ourselves”
Hunt would retire from the game and was involved in the financial industry.
Things would take a serious turn for the worst in 2007 when Hunt was given three days to live “I was at a football tournament in Aberystwyth and fell ill. I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and given three days to live. My heart was working at 8% capacity. I was terrified of falling asleep in case I died. my heart was in such a bad state that I couldn’t get a heart transplant and my kidneys were failing too. The doctors put me on a new drug called Ramipril and it saved my life. I started to get stronger and got back home. Due to the current covid situation I am not allowed to leave the house and haven’t been out properly for fourteen months. if I walk more than ten metres I am out of breath, but I’m still here, even though I have to take daily tablets and have regular injections”
Hunt’s two sons are both footballers “Josh plays for Evesham, he was a youth player at Hereford and my youngest son Alex is at Hinton, it’s such a shame that they aren’t able to play at the moment. Football is such a short career and some of the lads are missing the game badly and then the effect this has on their mental health”
Hunt though speaks fondly about his football career “I never played in the top flight, but I played in the Football League for my hometown club, we had a great set of lads there, being paid to play professional football is one of the best things in the world”
*Photo’s supplied by Ron Parrott