Sheffield United: How Chelsea inspired a Blades legend to do magic

Later tomorrow, when he takes his seat inside the directors' box at Stamford Bridge, Tony Currie will take a moment to glance around the stadium and consider just how much it has changed since the afternoon, 46 years ago, when the late great Alan Woodward helped him put Chelsea to the sword.

Friday, 30th August 2019, 12:14 pm
Updated Friday, 30th August 2019, 17:46 pm
Alan Woodward and Tony Currie

The cinder track has gone. So have the Invacars, which famously used to park in front of The Shed. But Currie's recollection of the goals he and his great friend and team mate scored there is still pin sharp. As powerful as the shot he rifled past Peter Bonetti as Sheffield United came from behind to record a 2-1 victory.

"I can still see it in my head now," Currie says, describing the drop of the shoulder which saw him create enough time and space to shake-off his marker and rifle the ball into the top corner of the net. "It just got slid to me and I thought 'I'll hit this now' and that was that. It went in. Woody usually got brilliant ones, because that what he was, brilliant. But he wouldn't mind me reminding people that this one was a bit scruffy. The Cat (Bonetti) tried to stop it with his hands and his feet at the same time and got himself into a bit of a mess if I'm being honest."

Nearly five decades on and Currie, officially United's greatest ever player, remains one of Bramall Lane's most recognisable figures after serving the club in a variety of different roles. Previously in charge of its community programme, he has also been an ambassador and now sits on the board. But United have reason to thank their latest opponents for helping create that legacy. Because, growing up in London, it was two Chelsea legends who inspired Currie to take up the sport.

Tony Currie unveils a plaque on the South Stand, named in his honour

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"I can remember kick-abouts in the garden with my brother, who for some reason was Bolton Wanderers mad," he says. "But I was always The Blues so I pretended to be Jimmy Greaves when I was taking shots at him. It was Greavsie and later on Bobby Tambling. Then, when I had to go in goal, he was Nat Lofthouse and I was Reg Matthews. That was how we started playing. I think that's what everyone does as kids."

"The strange thing was, that goal I scored against Chelsea, it was at the end where I used to stand," Currie continues. "Well, I say stand but there was a tree in one corner when I was a lad and so I used to climb up that to get a better look."

Currie, who turns 70 in January, later joined Chelsea as an apprentice before moving to Watford after being released. But it was at United where he blossomed into one of his generation's most talented performers, making nearly 400 appearances before being sold to Leeds in 1976. As retirement beckoned, following spells with QPR, Toronto Nationals and Southend, the opportunity to join Chelsea arose again. Ken Bates, their then chairman, invited him to discuss a proposal which United also tabled. But neither, for very different reasons, came to fruition.

"Ken wanted to sign me to play in the reserves and bring the youngsters through," Currie explains. "It was pretty common for older players to do that back then. I went to meet him in his office at the ground, it was covered in ivy back then, and talked about it. Then, and I can't honestly remember why, nothing ever got followed up.

Stamford Bridge has changed beyond recognition: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

"United put something similar to me as well, before I came back to do the football in the community," he adds. "Reg Brealey, the chairman here, was really keen on the idea. But Ian Porterfield, who was manager, wasn't so. I think he felt a bit threatened by it and so nothing happened."

The footballing landscape has changed dramatically since Currie's heyday. Chelsea are one of the richest and most successful teams in the country after being bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. United still might not have a barrel of money but, after being shaken back into life by manager Chris Wilder, they prepared for the fixture level on points with Frank Lampard's side and the highest of the newly promoted clubs.

"It's great to see us back here," Currie says. "Hopefully it's the start of something really big. We've got some really talented players and, the good thing is, they won't have to keep one eye out for Chopper Harris like we did back then."