George Hunt – The Chesterfield Tough

BY Vince Cooper

IN the days before the Smithies, Mooreos and Parksys footballers often had nicknames that evoked their playing style as much as their own name. So we had ‘The Wee Blue Devil’ as Rangers legend Alan Morton was known for his trickery or ‘Rabbit’ for speedy West Ham and Chelsea winger Eric Parsons. Without even seeing centre-forward George Hunt kick a ball, his nickname, ‘The Chesterfield Tough’ gave you a good idea not just of his place of footballing origin but also of the type of player you might expect to see.

George Samuel Hunt was born in Mexborough in South Yorkshire in February 1910. He started out playing for his school team Barnsley Regent Street Congregationals – where another future England star Fred Tilson also begun playing – and scored 146 times in three seasons including 14 hat-tricks. This saw him given the chance of following his grandfather in playing for local team Barnsley but he turned the club down as he was not happy with the terms offered.

Young George went for trials at Sheffield United (where he scored four goals in a game) and Burslem Port Vale both of whom also failed to agree a deal to sign him with the player clearly having a decent idea of his value. Finally he joined Chesterfield, scoring on his debut as a 19-year-old against Rochdale.

He stayed only nine months and played just 14 times for the Spireites, finding the net on nine occasions (he also scored 25 in 28 Midland League appearances) and becoming known by that wonderful moniker.

Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman had already been alerted to Hunt’s progress but he held off on signing him just long enough for Percy Smith to nip in and ink him for Spurs in June 1930, spending £1,000 on the 20-year-old.

Hunt was kept out of the Spurs side for the majority of the 1930-31 season by the sparkling form of Scottish international Ted Harper. Harper who was signed for a club record fee of £5,500 from Sheffield Wednesday the previous summer struck a then-club record 36 times in only 30 games as the team battled unsuccessfully to get promotion from the 2nd Division.

An early debut against Stoke City when Harper was ruled out at the last minute through injury showed that Hunt still had plenty to learn and he was sent to hone his craft in the reserves until another injury to Harper gave him a chance towards the end of the campaign. He responded superbly with five goals in eleven starts but despite those strikes Spurs just missed out on a return to the top flight finishing 3rd behind Everton and FA Cup winners West Bromwich Albion.

Such was the impression Hunt made in his short spell in the team that Harper was sold to Preston North End soon after the start of the following season for £5,000 in a joint deal which also saw George Rowley move north, so the main strike role now belonged to ‘The Tough’.

Hunt top-scored in the 1931-32 season with 26 goals but it was a disappointing campaign for the Lillywhites as they managed just 8th place in the 2nd tier with inconsistent play the big problem. Often Spurs could look like world-beaters one week whilst performing like relegation candidates seven days later and they lost a number of times when heavy favourites. One contemporary report stated that the team ‘often follow good displays with such hopeless football that barrackers work overtime’.

The promotion-winning team

In the following 1932-33 season the striker did even better, and the team proved much more consistent. Starting with a brace in the opening day 4-1 win over Charlton, Hunt scored 36 goals in the campaign finishing one behind former teammate Harper who netted 37 times for Preston North End in the race for top scorer in the division.

Just to prove that crowd trouble is not a recent thing, Spurs’ game at Swansea that season was halted after two fans invaded the pitch and remonstrated with the referee after he failed to give what they thought was a free-kick. The fans ran back into the crowd and the ref halted play while he sent police in to look for the culprits.

While former star Harper’s Preston finished way down in 9th place, Spurs, who only made one major addition with the capture of Billy Felton from Manchester City, were a greatly different proposition finishing runners-up behind Stoke City and regaining the 1st Division place they had lost five years previously.

Hunt was ably assisted by Taffy O’Callagan, Willie Evans and Willie Hall as the team, known as ‘The Greyhounds’ proved too fast and agile for many of their more cumbersome opponents.

The White Hart Kane men had made a miserable start to the season and as October came came along they were in the relegation zone. But a run of 35 games with just three defeats saw them over the line and they were promoted despite a late-season 1-0 loss to West Ham, thanks to Fulham’s loss to Grimsby on the same day. Hunt finished the season with 36 goals, 33 in the league.

England at Hampden 1933. Hunt is second from left in the front row

That sparkling form saw Hunt called-up to the England team towards the end of the season and he made his international debut on 1 April 1933, scoring at Hampden Park in front of a world record attendance of 136,259. Unfortunately for him and his country, Jimmy McGrory scored on either side of his strike, netting in the 5th and 83rd minutes to give the Scots a 2-1 win. The Spurs man’s strike was described in Reynolds News as ‘glorious’, finishing off a flowing move that went through full-back Tom Cooper, inside-right Ron Starling and inside-left John Pickering with a fine left-footed shot.

Hunt then went on his national team’s summer continental tour and played in the games in Italy (a 1-1 draw) and Switzerland (a 4-0 win). But he failed to score in either and was then discarded from the national team set-up after an international career lasting a mere 46 days.

Hunt’s qualities included pace, aerial prowess and, crucial in those times, the ability to withstand the fearsome treatment often handed out by defenders despite his relatively diminutive size at 5ft 8in. Often in match reports of the time he is reported as having ‘taken a battering’ but he kept getting up, regularly giving it out as well as he took it and going back for more. And of course, he was a great finisher, cool in front of goal and always on hand to finish off moves.

The step up to the top flight did little to slow Hunt’s marksmanship qualities and he top-scored in the team’s first season back in the 1st Division. He started the campaign in great form and a September hat trick against Chelsea in a 4-0 drubbing handed out at Stamford Bridge took him to the top of the scoring charts and Spurs up the 2nd in the league.

Aided by crosses from Welsh wing pair Evans and Willie Davies and fine play from another Welshman in O’Callaghan,  Hunt would end up finding the net 35 times in all competitions including five hat tricks and good for 2nd place in the scoring charts behind Derby County’s Jack Bowers, the man with whom alongside Arsenal’s Ted Drake, he was competing for an England place as ‘The Greyhounds’ fell away slightly but still finished in an excellent 3rd place in the top flight behind arch-rivals Arsenal and Huddersfield Town

In November 1934 Hunt looked set to win a fourth cap when he was chosen to lead the England attack against Italy in a match that famously became known as ‘The Battle of Highbury’. Sadly, arm and groin injuries forced him to pull out of the squad with Drake called up as his replacement for a match England won 3-2.

That represented Hunt’s last call-up for the national team so he finished with three caps and a single goal.

The Spurs programme pays tribute

During that 1934-35 campaign Spurs were bedevilled by injuries, not just to Hunt but to almost every team member and they used an unprecedented 38 players, finishing bottom of the table

On the way to a cup tie at Bradford with teammate Alf Day

Those injuries, obviously related to the tough punishment he had taken, allied to a general loss of form saw Hunt’s goals slow from a torrent to more of a trickle and Johnny Morrison became the first choice at centre-forward. In 1937 Arsenal boss George Allison made a surprise bid of £7,500 for the player to move to Highbury and stand in for the injured Ted Drake. Spurs decided this was good money for player who, although he was only 27, now seemed to be in decline and, despite protests from fans, he was allowed to leave, becoming the first payer to cross the North London divide since Scotsman Peter Kyle in 1906. He left White Hart Lane with an excellent record of 138 goals in 198 league and cup appearances.

Hunt of Arsenal

Hunt made 18 appearances for the Highbury club in that 1937-38 season and scored just three times but this was enough to give him a Championship winners medal. With Drake now back at full fitness, the Gunners then sold him on transfer deadline day 1938 to Bolton Wanderers for £5,000.

When the 2nd World War broke out, the majority of the Wanderers players joined the 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment. However, Hunt joined the local police force alongside teammate Jack Atkinson with both continuing to turn out for Bolton in wartime matches (he also appeared for Rochdale). After finding the net 24 times in 45 starts for the Trotters including a top-scoring tally of 23 in 1938-39 when the team finished in a highly-respectable 7th place the war, of course, interrupted his career. He scored many times in unofficial wartime matches but was out of favour by the time peace returned, losing his place in the first team to Ray Westwood.

That demotion led to one final move and it was to a club from his own county, signing for 2nd Division Sheffield Wednesday. Now 36, he spent two seasons at Hillsborough and passed on some of his tricks of the trade to the promising Derek Dooley who would go on to scoring 62 times in 61 games for the Owls before tragically losing a leg after an injury in a match against Preston North End.

In 1948 Hunt hung up his boots and returned to Bolton, where he had continued living, to take up a position as coach. There he played a big role in the development of another rising star in Nat Lofthouse, helping the future ‘Lion of Vienna’ to hone his goalscoring skills. He was still a key member of the coaching staff at Burnden Park when the team won the FA Cup in 1958. Lofthouse would later pay tribute saying; “George was always a great help to me.

“With us both being centre forwards he showed the way a lot during my early career”.

Hunt spent 20 years at Bolton as coach and trainer before finally retiring in the late 1960s. He passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease in 1996 at the age of 86.

The fact that George Hunt was never part of a ‘big’ trophy-winning team during his time at White Hart Lane certainly goes against him when remembering all-time greats at the club. However it is hardly his fault that the club was unable to surround him with enough good players during his time there to give him more than promotion from the 2nd Division to look back on. But a Championship medal at Highbury was no doubt some consolation.

A superb goalscoring ratio throughout his career and a hand in the development of two great strikers, plus that wonderful nickname give the ‘Chesterfield Tough’ an honourable place in football history.