My First Game: 'He was our George Best... one of the Fab Four' - The day I made my Sheffield United debut... alongside Tony Currie
As part of our #myfirstgame series, The Star will feature one supporter’s memories of their first experience seeing Sheffield United on these pages every day this week.
Today, Kevin Johnson shares his memories of making his Bramall Lane debut… on the same day as Tony Currie.
February 1968. I’d been pestering my Dad for weeks asking him to take me to Bramall Lane and I was even more determined leading up to this game as it was the visit of Tottenham Hotspur with legends like Jimmy Greaves, Dave McKay and Pat Jennings to name a few.
You have to realize that back then all you had available to find out the latest news on your favourite team was The Sheffield Star (back page), The Green ‘Un on Saturday evenings. No internet. No social media, and you were very lucky if your team warranted a mention on the BBC or ITV.
Ours was a Blade household and despite my Dad telling us that, as a lad, him and his mates went one week to watch United and the other to watch Wednesday, we saw absolutely no sign of any warmth towards the inhabitants of Sheffield 6.
My Grandad was a true Blade and he would call to pick up my Dad to watch the latest home game.
I would be at the front window hoping and praying that they would shout: ‘Come on then, you can come with us’ - but it never happened for what seemed like an age, saying I was too young to go to the match with them.
My brother had been to a couple of games with them but when I quizzed him about the experience all I got was ‘it was alright’ – which seemed like a massive understatement even to someone of nine years old.
I was certain that if I moaned and asked long enough, including dropping several hundred hints to my grandparents, they would take me to my first game if only to shut me up.
The day of the game arrived and I was excited all day although nobody had said I was going. Early evening arrived and a couple of friends called asking if I was coming to play football.
‘No’, I replied, ‘I’m off to the match to watch United play Spurs’.
‘Who bloody says?’ said my Dad who unknowingly to me had listened to my conversation.
‘But you said you’d take me’ I protested.
‘No, I said I’d take you soon’ he replied.
‘That was ages ago and soon then is now and you said you take me to the Tottenham game’, I lied.
Just then my Grandad came up the steps.
‘He wants to come to the match Jim. What’s tha’ reckon?’
My grandad looked at the desperate hope and pleading in my facial expression and said, ‘Well if his brother goes with, they can go on the Kop together’.
I immediately spun to look at my brother who had that smug look older brothers have when they have their younger siblings’ fate in their hands.
He paused for what seemed like an age before saying, ‘Yeh, alright then’.
I jumped up and down several times with extreme jubilation. This was it. I was going to the match little knowing that this experience and ongoing devotion would remain until death.
My mother started making a fuss. ‘You look after him. Woe betide you if you don’t’. They were now itching to get off and my mum decided that spitting on a handkerchief and wiping my face with it constituted a good enough clean.
‘Have you got clean pants on?’ she demanded to know.
‘Yes Ma. Clean on this morning’, I lied again.
‘Good,’ she said. ‘I don’t want people to think you’re from a ‘mucky’ house.’
I never understood this repeated question when you went anywhere outside the normal five surrounding streets you inhabit when you’re nine.
‘Sorry Mrs Johnson, your son was crushed in the crash but the good news is he had on his clean ‘undercrackers’ seemed the last thing anyone would be bothered about.
Dressed in my Sunday best duffle roat and with a red and white block-coloured scarf wrapped around my neck, we travelled down the Parkway towards the city centre. The Parkway then only ran as far as Handsworth and terminated near to Moore & Wrights factory on which one of the large supermarkets now sit.
We drove up Shoreham Street and managed to park on John Street quite easily opposite the then players’ entrance. There was a good amount of people about so I can only assume that most went on buses or walked if possible. Having a car then was a bit of a luxury for most working-class families and my Dad didn’t own one. My Grandad had a Vauxhall Cresta and we thought he was rich.
I proudly wore my scarf amid lots of others who mostly appeared to be sons with fathers.
The thing that struck me first was the hot dog stall. It reminded me of the seaside when we visited my Grandad’s caravan in Skegness. See, I told you he was rich.
‘Can I have a hot dog?’ I asked.
‘No tha’ can’t. Tha’s just had thi tea’.
I didn’t remonstrate as I was at the match. Any hysterics would have deemed me ungrateful.
The adults took us to the turnstiles which gave entry to the Kop. They would take up seats in the wooden John Street stand and we were ordered to go to the very front of the Kop and peak through the white railings directly behind the goal where they could see us.
As luck would have it one of the gatemen that night was our neighbour, Mr Hague who lived opposite.
‘Jump over,’ he said. ‘Are you sure?’ asked my Dad. ‘Yes Ray, no bother’.
‘Thank you, Mr Hague,’ we said.
Could this night get any better? First match and free entry. My Dad was well chuffed.
My brother held my hand and led me up the stairs to the back of the Kop where one of the most striking and memorable sights hit me. Gazing down from the back of the Kop I had never seen anything so green and beautiful as a floodlit Bramall Lane. I can still remember the feeling today and despite the many thousands of visits since, nothing can come close to seeing that image for the first time.
We positioned ourselves just to the right of the goal behind the famous white railings and waited. I looked across to the John Street stand to see if I could see my Dad and Grandad but to no avail.
All at once and as if in seconds the ground filled to virtual capacity. I was United through and through but getting the opportunity to see Greaves in the flesh was so exciting as he was and should be regarded as one of the best, if not the best finishers of all time in any league.
The teams came out of the John Street tunnel. Spurs came first closely followed by United. There was no fanfare, or meeting in the middle to listen to the team announcements followed by the now obligatory handshakes.
Spurs went to the ‘away end’ and United came towards the Kop. All at once the Kop burst into song.
‘Hodgy, Hodgy, Hodgy, Hodgy, Hodgy’ they sang and the legend that is Alan Hodgkinson pointed towards the fans with two fingers on both hands pressed together as if firing imaginary guns towards the adoring supporters.
The captains met in the middle and the game kicked off. I must admit I spent the first few minutes looking for Jimmy Greaves, who I’d only ever seen on a small black and white television.
Pat Jennings looked like a mountain and also Dave McKay who I think every player feared at that time due to his well deserved hard man reputation.
I got a relative close up of Greaves who seemed to move around the pitch in short, fast bursts like a swift on the breeze. Make no mistake. This man was a true legend and had it not been for injury would surely have been in the team as one of the famous 1966 World Cup winners.
The thing I found the most disappointing was the fact that these players who featured heavily in Charles Buchan’s Christmas Football Annual for several years looked as if they belonged to a different generation.
Great players undoubtedly but they looked decidedly old.
My attention, like a lot of the attendance that evening moved focus from the established internationals to a young and as I was to find out later someone making his debut that evening. One Tony Currie.
He was mesmerizing. It was like watching Lionel Messi today. He ran past players with ease, he controlled the midfield, he tackled back. He was instrumental in every attack the Blades made. He scored. On his debut. Eighteen years old.
He played with a swagger and confidence I’ve never seen since but more importantly was the fact he was blond, good looking and young. He made Greavsey, McKay etc look like old men.
He had a sort of Mod haircut which wasn’t plastered with Brylcreem. He was our George Best. One of the Fab Four. He was, is and always will be my hero.
At the final whistle we had beaten Spurs 3-2. Gil Reece scored the winner and we had come back from 2-1 down.
As we left the ground to meet back at the car as per instruction all anyone was talking about was the debut of Tony Currie. People were happy, smiling and couldn’t really believe what they had just witnessed.
As we got to the car some Spurs fans came towards us. ‘What a player you have there lads’, they said in admiration.
There was no tension, no issues, just a warm friendly exchange ending with various adults shaking hands with the visiting supporters offering their congratulations.
We sat in the car and the only time I can remember my Grandad ever getting close to profanity of any kind was when he said, ‘Bloody hell. What a debut’.I couldn’t sleep that night and all I could think about was getting to school the next day to tell all my friends and anybody else that would listen about the Blades and the soon to be legend and eventual greatest Blade ever Tony Currie.