Sez Les: When Fred came back from the dead

Former stars at the Blades 125th anniversary celebrations, from left, Keith Edwards, Alan Birchenall and Tony Currie
Former stars at the Blades 125th anniversary celebrations, from left, Keith Edwards, Alan Birchenall and Tony Currie
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The parade of the ‘old boys’ was probably the highlight of Sheffield United’s excellently manouevred 125th anniversary celebrations at Bramall Lane.

Fans love a wallow in nostalgia when former players are paraded and when they are in such numbers and there are so many favourites covering so many eras, as there were last Saturday.

The oldest former players there - alongside the tunnel from where the rest fanned out to form a guard of honour - were both in their 90s. Left winger Colin Collindridge, the oldest at 93 and who first donned the red and white stripes back in 1939, and right back Fred Furniss, now 91, whose first game of hundreds was in 1941.

There would have been hundreds of stories exchanged on the day but perhaps a Fred Furniss story can top the lot. The day his death was wrongly reported (and in this newspaper as well).

It happened about 20 years ago. An obituary notice appeared with someone of the same name and, unfortunately for the reporter concerned, he went off to write about the former Blade.

I’ll let Robert Jackson, familiar to all across the city and the man who, as BBC Radio Sheffield sports presenter was responsible for titling their Saturday football phone-in ‘Praise or Grumble’, takes up the story.

“I saw the report of Fred’s death and rang his bowls club secretary at Whiteley Woods who said he’d been fine the day before,” said Robert. “In that case, the timescale meant the death notice in the paper couldn’t have referred to him so I rang Fred.

“He said he was well and I said that’s good to hear and told him about the report of his death in The Star. Fred was laughing his head off over it. I then rang the reporter to tell him and he then rang Fred to apologise.

“By coincidence, I was playing Fred at bowls the next day in the Civic Merit at Hillsborough,” added Robert. “When I got there, people were saying to me ‘You’ll have a bye, poor old Fred’s died’. I actually played along with it knowing what would happen next. Minutes later, in walked Fred. There were some shocked looks I can tell you.”

Robert went on to beat Fred which gave rise to a few quips along the way... “It was dead easy” and “He didn’t have a ghost of a chance.”