FORTY-FIVE years have passed since he made his Sheffield United debut but Tony Currie remembers it like yesterday.
“It was against Tottenham Hotspur and they had Jimmy Greaves, who was my idol, in the team,” he said.
“So when I scored I didn’t really celebrate. I just jogged back into position because I was a bit in awe of the names I was playing with and against.
“Great footballers like Greavsie and Alan Gilzean. I was still a teenager and it was a really big thing for someone my age to be in that sort of company.
“But the buzz I got every time I walked out at Bramall Lane has never left me. It was wonderful. It really was.”
Another 377 appearances and 67 goals later Currie, whose anniversary coincides with this evening’s League One fixture against Leyton Orient, departed for Leeds having written his name into the history books of Bramall Lane.
Supporters, seduced by his ability and showmanship, still regard him as one of the greatest players to ever wear a United jersey.
Teammates, opponents and, as Currie told The Star last night, Old Trafford’s coaching staff held his talents in equally high regard.
“A lot of people criticised me for going at the time. They thought I’d walked out on the club,” he said. “But what they didn’t know was, not long before, I’d been happy to sign my career away for Sheffield United.
“Manchester United had been on the phone to me all the time. They’d been ringing me up saying ‘Come and play for us. We want you to replace Bobby Charlton’.
“Those who did know thought I was mad but I turned them down and signed a new deal because I didn’t want to leave. I loved Sheffield United, still do in fact, and I didn’t want to turn my back on the fans who showed me so much respect and love.
“That meant so much to me. It still does. It’s things like that money can’t buy.”
He added: “If you speak to most of us who played through the 70s, even though we didn’t earn anything like the money some footballers do now, I don’t think we’d change the era in which we played.
“We wanted to entertain people because they paid good money to come and watch us. But we still wanted to win.”
Currie’s exploits in United colours following his move from Watford in 1968 have been well documented.
The switch from centre-forward to midfield which, he acknowledged yesterday, came following a heart to heart with then manager John Harris.
The skill, showmanship and flamboyant goal celebrations including that now famous embrace with Alan Birchenall.
Less so, though, the anecdotes and personal memories he collected before returning to take charge of the club’s community scheme in 1988 following spells with, among others, Queens Park Rangers, Toronto and Torquay.
“I made some great mates,” Currie said. “I’ll never forget rooming with Trevor Hockey. What an experience that was because he had the smelliest feet in the world.
“Trevor was absolutely bonkers but you couldn’t wish to meet a nicer bloke.
“He had a pink piano at home and a crushed velvet seats or whatever in his car.
“We were a team in the true sense of the word. How the likes of Len Badger and some of the others didn’t play for England is an absolute crime.
“I don’t regret not playing for England more because you can’t regret something that happens when it’s out of your control. If Alf Ramsey had stayed in charge I think I would have done but when Don Revie came in he made it clear that the likes of Alan Hudson and myself weren’t his favourite type of player.”
Scroll forward four decades and Currie, who collected 17 senior caps, will celebrate his landmark cheering on Danny Wilson’s side from the stands.
“I really hope we go up,” Currie said. “Not least because it would be a reward for all the work that Danny’s done. He deserved it last year because he built an attack-minded team, stuck to his principles and produced the type of stuff which was a really enjoyable to watch. And us old uns haven’t always been able to say that in recent years.”
Teams and ref
UNITED (possible): Long, McMahon, Collins, Maguire, Higginbotham, Flynn, Doyle, McDonald, Robson, Murphy, Kitson (4-4-2).
LEYTON ORIENT (possible): Jones, Clarke, Cuthbert, Vincelot, Baudry, Cox, James, McSweeney, Cook, MacDonald, Mooney (4-4-2).
Phil Gibbs: The West Midlands official will be taking charge of his first match at Bramall Lane since November 2011. Has issued 63 yellow cards in 25 outings so far this season and produced two reds. The last of those came when Oldham’s Robbie Simpson was dismissed during their defeat by Yeovil in December.