Steve still on the Hunt for success!
Not too many people ever had the courage or the need to lose their temper with Brazilian footballing legend Pele, arguably the world’s best ever player — especially when they were playing in the same team as him!
There again, only a handful of players were privileged enough not only to play alongside Pele, but also another Brazilian ace, Carlos Alberto, and German World Cup winning captain Franz Beckenbauer. But Steve Hunt did!
That is just one chapter in the incredible life of Steve, a music-loving former footballer, who made his England debut in the same game that Gary Lineker also made his first international appearance. This season, much-travelled Steve will be taking on a new challenge, that of manager of Cowes Sports in the Sydenhams Wessex Premier League.
Steve, moved to the Isle of Wight with wife Kirsty in 2001, and among other jobs he spent 10 years coaching football to youngsters at Carisbrooke High School. Now, by coincidence some of those same High School lads are in Steve’s Cowes Sports squad this season. He smiled: “I recognised about a dozen from Carisbrooke. None of them has ever asked me about my past, and I’ve never told them.”
So I asked him — even though I have known the smiling 60-year-old since his days when he played top flight English football for Aston Villa, Coventry City and West Brom.
Born in the Birmingham suburb of Witton, only a goal kick away from Villa Park, Steve joined his beloved Villa as a 17-year-old apprentice, and then became a full-time professional a year later, after initially graduating through the club’s boys team.
But he had made just seven first-team appearances for Villa, when he had a ‘big decision’ to make. He recalls: “Villa manager, Ron Saunders called me in and told me there was someone in the club’s canteen to see me. It was Joe Mallett, the manager of American Soccer League club, New York Cosmos.
“Saunders had already told me I would be playing in the reserves at Preston that weekend if I didn’t go to the States. But Mr. Mallett said if I joined Cosmos I would go straight to pre-season training with the team in Bermuda, followed by matches in Las Vegas and Hawaii. I was only 20 and had just got married. But Preston or the United States? It was hardly a difficult decision to make!”
Steve soon made a name for himself in the New York Cosmos team, even though the side struggled to make a real impact early on. It was only the arrival of Carlos Alberto and Beckenbauer in mid-season that sparked an upturn in fortune. Cosmos went on to win the League title, and in Pele’s last ever professional game against Seattle, Steve was voted the game’s ‘Most Valuable Player’ — the American equivalent of Man of the Match.
He said: “It was real razzmatazz over there. At one match in Denver, Pele and their captain, Dave Clement, were on horseback wearing stetson hats to lead the rest of the players onto the pitch. At the start of the season we had about 10,000 spectators watching us, but by the end of the season we had crowds of 80,000.”
Steve was soon being hunted by clubs back on this side of the Atlantic, and Coventry City manager Gordon Milne travelled to the US to watch him play, only to find he had been suspended for that game — by his own club!
Steve sheepishly explained: “In a pre-season friendly I had a shot at goal, and Pele immediately told me I should have passed the ball to him instead. I lost my rag, swore at him, and gesticulated with my hands. I was immediately substituted, with our manager growling at me ‘don’t you ever do that to the great man again — it’s like burning the American flag’. I realise now I shouldn’t have, but I was only 20 at the time, and maybe a bit lively.
“Anyway, I thought it was a great shot at goal; it only just went wide, so why should I have passed to Pele? But I think that was the only time in my life I wish I had gone to Preston instead of New York!”
After Pele’s retirement, Steve stayed with Cosmos for another season, still playing alongside Carlos Alberto and Beckenbauer, and playing against such stars as Portuguese ace Eusebio, and the great George Best. Cosmos galloped to another League title success, before he quit New York in favour of Coventry City, where he spent six seasons.
Steve recalled: “Coventry weren’t the best team in the world, but we managed to survive in the top division, and that was an achievement in itself. While I was at Coventry, I went back to Cosmos on loan for a summer season, but by then everything had changes. We won the title again, the third time for me, but the bubble had burst for football in the US.”
He moved to West Brom in 1984, and during his two years there he won his two England caps — playing against Scotland at Hampden Park, and against Russia at Wembley. He returned to Villa in 1986, playing another 62 games before retiring as a player. Although he coached a number of non-league teams in the Midlands, he never had any ambition to become a top flight manager, and even spent 10 years working in a factory in Leicester, as well as running his own haulage company.
When he and Kirsty moved to Bembridge, Steve worked at Hursts for a couple of years, and Carisbrooke School asked him to take football coaching sessions. He also promoted the ‘Bournemouth FC in the Community’ scheme on the Island, playing some of his team’s games at Cowes Sports ground.
That led to Steve being asked to become Cowes Sports manager this season, a role he is relishing. He said: “It’s a real good club. We were back in pre-season training on June 8th, so I hope the lads will be fit and ready. Their response has been fantastic, and my aim is to make them better players individually and as a team.
“I’ve had a great life. I played for Villa; also played against and alongside some of the best footballers the world has known; won a couple of England caps, and met Springsteen – so when the time comes, I can die a happy man.”
Away from football, Steve’s huge passion is music — especially Bruce Springsteen. He said: “I saw him for the first time at Villa Park in 1988, and have now been to about 60 of his concerts, including the Isle of Wight Festival. Last year I went to New York to watch him, and then my wife Kirsty managed to arrange for me to meet him at a book-signing session in Piccadilly last October. A dream come true!”
By Peter White – Sponsored by Sydenhams