Four decades in Sheffield have barely softened Tony Currie’s
The South Stand has been renamed in his honour, which is fitting since Sheffield United once sold him because they were struggling to manage the debt run up when they built it on the cricket square.
Moreover, it cements his status as the club’s greatest ever player, who has served them in community and ambassadorial roles for the last 32 years and who was recently invited by chairman Kevin McCabe to join the board as a non-executive director.
Tony Currie has had Sheffield United’s South Stand at Bramall Lane renamed after him
Tony Currie (left) was interviewed by Sportsmail’s Matt Barlow after the unveiling
At 68, he weaves through corridors as smoothly as arthritic knees allow, out of the tunnel on to his stage and settles into the dug-out just yards from the source of a goal which had John Motson gushing. ‘What about that?’ roared Motty in the commentary booth. ‘A quality goal by a quality player.’
It is rated as his finest by many Blades faithful. ‘The most important thing about that goal is that I won the ball,’ smiles Currie. ‘People say I never used to tackle. Well, there’s proof because I won it, gave it to Woody (Alan Woodward), he gave it back to me.
‘Everybody thinks I beat half West Ham’s team but I didn’t, they just kept backing off. I just kept going in the mud. Like slow motion. I turned the defender inside out. Kevin Lock, I think. Wrong-footed Mervyn Day and it trickled into the corner of the net. Everybody says it was my greatest goal.’
Was it? Currie exhales, leans forward in his seat, points towards the Bramall Lane end and recalls a screamer against Liverpool.
‘From 35 yards on an angle past Ray Clemence, that was a goal and half,’ he says.
‘There was one at Anfield like Pele’s in the 1958 World Cup final. Lifted it over Ron Yeats and whacked it past Tommy Lawrence. It was Easter 1968, the year we went down. The first of three games in four days, take note the pros of today.’
Currie scored 54 goals in eight years as a Sheffield United player. Very few were ordinary and he recalls them with great precision: the dates, the result — what it meant.
Currie enjoyed eight years at Sheffield United as a player after signing in 1968
He is forever reeling off lists of talented team-mates, as though not entirely at ease as the star in a team sport but TC — as he still is known — was the darling of S2 from the moment he stepped off the train in February 1968.
A teenage striker signed from Watford for £26,500, he scored on debut against Tottenham and would mature into a flamboyant midfield maestro. ‘I liked to show my skills,’ he admits. ‘The fans loved the way I played, the freedom, the long balls, the dribbles, the shots, the goals.
‘We had a good team at Sheffield United, lightning-quick players, which suited me because my vision and passing were my biggest assets. We could beat anybody, but sometimes we lost heavy.
‘Arsenal beat us 5-0 here. That was a roasting. Alan Ball sat down on the ball in front of me. We were good pals in the England team, me and Bally. He took me under his wing, smashing bloke.
‘Two years later, we’re four up after 20 minutes against them here and we’re in our penalty area, so I sat on the ball in front of Bally. He clapped and shook his head with his little smile.
‘As I got up, I bloody tripped over the ball and they nearly scored, but they didn’t. We won 5-0 and in the bar Bally says, “Well done, I’ll have another for you next season”. So we played at Highbury and he put his foot on the ball, undone his lace and then did it up again. I just let him do it. I could have probably took the ball, but I just smiled at him. I never got him back for that one. That’s how it was in them days. You’d swear at the ref and he’d swear back. You’d talk to the crowd. The away fans would have a go and the V-signs were just to wind them up.’
And, of course, there was that kiss. They were playing Leicester in the penultimate game of a season when Sheffield United finished only four points behind champions Derby.
Currie recounts ‘that kiss’ with Alan Birchenall that ended up in magazines across the world
Currie and Alan Birchenall collided, spun in a synchronised somersault, landed side-by-side and turned face-to-face.
‘Birchy went, “Gis a kiss, TC” because we knew each other. So I did. One bloke snapped it and sold it all over the world. Must’ve made a fortune.’
In the internet age, it would have gone viral. In 1975, it was published in magazines across Europe, the two footballers were hailed as gay icons and the image caused such a rumpus there were references in Parliament.
Currie is easily bracketed with football’s glam-rock stars of the era. He oozed natural talent and loved to entertain. His hair was long and his shirt was out. But off the pitch his style was more mundane.
‘I was married at 18, with two kids by the time I was 21,’ he says. ‘We’d go out on a Monday night if there wasn’t a midweek game, get in at two in the morning, but that’s never been my thing.
‘I didn’t touch alcohol until I was 21 and by the time I was 24 I’d grown out of the nightclub scene.
‘I’m an extrovert on the field and an introvert off it. Well, I was. I’m a bit more out of myself now.’
Currie has recalled how Don Revie brought him in to say he wouldn’t be a part of his plans
Don Revie, however, did not care to notice, which goes some way to explaining why Currie’s international career became a source of frustration, both to him and those who knew him.
‘One day, after a training session, he got me, Alan Hudson, Charlie George, Rodney Marsh, Frank Worthington and Stan Bowles together at Bisham Abbey. There was no game, it was just a get-together,’ Currie recalls.
‘And he told the six of us we didn’t figure in his plans. No explanation. We looked at each other and walked off. I was in most of his squads but he only played me once in three years, Switzerland away.
‘It might have been different had Alf Ramsey kept his job. It was a big mistake getting rid of him. I think they realised that in the end. It set us back 10 years. We never qualified for the World Cup in ’74 and ’78, and they were my years.’
Ramsey made Currie captain of England Under 23s, gave him a senior debut and selected him for a cluster of successive games which, unfortunately, culminated on a night when Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski became a Wembley legend.
The former Sheffield United player believes it was a mistake not to pick him for England
‘We should have beaten them by at least 10,’ says Currie, who performed brilliantly against the Poles, but did not play in another competitive international until Ron Greenwood was in charge.
‘Joe Mercer picked flair players like Frankie Worthington, but I was injured at the time. Then Revie came in. He didn’t know his best team. He took 80 players to the Piccadilly Hotel in Manchester just to have a chat. He must have capped most of them.
‘I found it strange. He did a fantastic job at Leeds United, where he had skilful players and he trusted them, and they loved him and yet he totally lost it as England manager.
‘He didn’t trust those he thought were playboys. Me and Huddy (Hudson) were the best midfield players in the country at the time. I’d have played us two in midfield. But he played Martin Dobson and Brian Talbot in there. He played Trevor Cherry in midfield.
‘Seventeen caps in seven years. It’s not a lot. Frustration, really.’
Tommy Docherty, who later signed Currie for Queens Park Rangers, tried to sign him for Manchester United in 1973.
‘They wanted me to replace Bobby Charlton, who’d packed in. People were on the phone saying, “We want you”. So, what did I do? I signed a seven-year contract at Sheffield United. I was 23 and I signed my life away. I didn’t like change.’
Currie revealed Tommy Doherty wanted him to replace Bobby Charlton (left) at Man United
Three years later, when the Blades were relegated, Currie was told to go and see John Harris, who was the manager when he arrived, but had since taken the role of general manager.
‘I went to his house,’ recalls Currie. ‘We got in his car and he drove me all the way to Leeds without me knowing where I was going. I didn’t ask him. And he didn’t tell me.
‘We pulled up at Elland Road. He said, “Go on son, they want to sign you”. When I came back, he said, “What happened?” and I said, “Well, I’ve signed”. He sighed and his head dropped. I didn’t want to leave. But I was angry with the board.
‘The chairman promised to build the team around me, buy all sorts of players, try to win the league, stuff like that.
‘Instead, we sold players like Geoff Salmons and went down. I was an England player. I needed to be in the top division. They turned down three transfer requests. Then all of a sudden it happened.’
At Leeds, there were three semi-final defeats in the three years and a goal-of-the-season award for a curler against Southampton. Only when he moved to QPR was his great ambition realised.
He says: ‘In the old magazines, where they’d list your favourite foods and things, there was always a question, “What’s your ambition?” I’d put: To meet the Queen at Wembley in a Cup final.
‘Well, it was Princess Anne, but I did it at 32. And I played against Glenn Hoddle, who is the best midfield player I’ve ever seen.’
Currie achieved his greatest ambition at 32 with Queen’s Park Rangers as he won FA Cup
From QPR, Currie chased the ball to Canada and then Southend, on the invitation of Bobby Moore who was on the board at Roots Hall, only to tear a calf muscle warming up for his debut — and a three-month contract expired without playing a game.
There was a brief spell at Torquay, when he trained alone in Hendon, travelled to Devon by train on the day before a game and stayed over at the Hotel Balmoral, an experience which still reminds him of Fawlty Towers.
His knees told him to quit the professional game, although he went into non-League, turning out for Goole Town at the age of 37 and, once, for Chesterfield Sunday League side Brampton Rovers.
‘I’d have gone on playing for ever,’ says Currie. Unsure what the future held, he declined a job as player-manager of Wigan to be close to his children, in London.
‘That’s probably my biggest regret,’ he admits. ‘Nothing else came along. I didn’t have a job for five years. I never even took the dole. I felt embarrassed.’
After retiring from the game, Sheffield brought him back and he has remained ever since
Amid this despair came a call from Sheffield United to front their Football in the Community scheme and here he remains at Bramall Lane.
‘I’ve been shocked, surprised and humbled,’ says Currie, as he recalls the tributes to mark 50 years since he signed, from a ‘This is Your Life’-style gala dinner in February, the renaming of the stand and his directorship.
All at a time when Chris Wilder’s team have helped fans envisage a return to the Premier League.
‘They’ve been through pain and anguish and difficult times and they’ve stuck with us and now we’re playing some great football,’ says Currie.
‘For me to say that tells you something because I can be quite critical and hard to please.’
Fluent in South Yorkshire grudging respect — who says he doesn’t speak the lingo?
In Sheffield, TC will always be one of their own.