Ex-Aston Villa star David Norton breaks his silence about his Hereford United exit (From Hereford Times)
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Ex-Aston Villa star David Norton breaks his silence about his Hereford United exit
Fans and players' reaction to Hereford United's second relegation from the Football League: http://www.herefordtimes.com/video/
FORMER captain Dave Norton has broken his silence on the events which turned him into a figure of hatred among Hereford United fans.
The ex-defender said he received a death threat, needed police protection and almost lost his house after leaving United.
Norton has, for the first time, revealed the circumstances of his move to Cheltenham Town and what he describes as ‘unfair and unjust’ abuse from Bulls’ supporters.
Norton said he remained tight-lipped for 14 years because of his loyalty and respect for Graham Turner — the man who gave him his Aston Villa debut.
“I attach no blame to Graham Turner about what happened but I have never spoken about my side of the story out of my respect for Graham.
“I still have a lot of loyalty for Graham. It was hard to take the abuse from fans because people don’t know the whole story.
“Someone posted on a message board that they would run me over and crush my head into the kerb.
“A lot of time has passed since then and I know I am better off telling my side.”
After being released by United, Norton leapt at the chance to remain in football when Steve Cotterill offered him a contract at Cheltenham Town.
But that was too much for some Hereford fans who vented their anger towards Norton on message boards and from the terraces.
“When we got relegated, I kept most of the players together and told them we must stick together to get the club back into the Football League,” he recalled.
“I went to a couple of fans forums and organised the ‘On-loan to the Conference’ T-shirts and we sold more than 300.
“Then the fans saw me get injured, retire and then come back for the local rivals and win promotion.
“I suffered a freak injury in training. My knee went forward and pulled my groin muscle which came off the bone.
“It was around the fourth or fifth game of the season. I came back a couple of times but I was in a lot of pain and I needed an operation.
“Graham called me into the office and told me he was not going to offer me a contract at the end of the season.
“The club’s finances weren’t great and they were not going to pay for the operation. I feared that I might never play again.
“Basically, I had to retire from professional football. I loved my time at Hereford and I didn’t want to leave. I got my medical insurance and my pension and I didn’t get my severance pay for around 11 weeks so the PFA offered me £1,000 loan. I almost lost my house.
“The PFA paid for my operation and medics found a lump of scar tissue which they removed and said that I was OK to play again.
“I was passionate about Hereford United but Hereford United didn’t want me and they weren’t interested in the suggestion of me coming back part-time.”
Cotterill, then at Cheltenham, got in touch with Norton and invited him to pre-season training.
“It was an expenses-only deal at Cheltenham and I said I wanted to play part-time.
“All I wanted to do was redeem myself and get my pride back after being a player relegated from the Football League.
“Being relegated from the Football League is the worst experience as a footballer, apart from retiring. I didn’t want my career to end like that.”
He made a swift return to United in Cheltenham Town colours as the Gloucestershire side won the Conference title.
“The other former Hereford players in the Cheltenham side got a standing ovation but the abuse I got was horrendous,” he said.
“The amount of abuse I got when I came back to play at Hereford for the first time was awful and the abuse for me and my family was hard to take.
“When I went to take a corner, there were 40 to 50 blokes who ran forward to spit at me, throw coins at me and hurl abuse at me.
“Probably, to make things worse, we scored from the corner.
“The full story of why I left Hereford has never been told until now — and so the supporters turned on me because they didn’t have all the facts.”
He later came up against Hereford United in an FA Trophy semi-final victory for Forest Green Rovers.
Norton was, at that time, joint-manager at Rovers with Nigel Spink.
“I actually had an escort with two police officers stood next to me when I was in the dug-out for the FA Trophy semi-final at Forest Green.”
Norton lives in Nottingham with his girlfriend Amanda and her children. He runs DNF football coaching.
He now is a PE teacher at two primary schools and plays for Aston Villa veterans.
Norton, who managed Gainsborough and was Phil Robinson’s assistant at Stafford Rangers, is now itching to get back into professional football.
“I am looking to get back into football as an assistant manager or a manager but it’s got to be in the right circumstances,” he said.
“I have thought about coming back to Hereford one day. I just wish the fans had known that I left because the club didn’t want me.”