Sheffield United legend Tony Currie remembers legendary promotion season immortalised in song to this day
For a club like Sheffield United, promotions and trophies don’t come around every season – which is why the class of 1970-71 is still revered at Bramall Lane to this day.
Two of the more popular members of that squad, Alan Woodward and Tony Currie, have been immortalised in song, but it was a real team effort – and the promotion features heavily in Currie’s recently-released book Imperfect 10, The Man Behind the Magic.
The Star is running exclusive extracts from the book this week, with chapter six entitled ‘Promotion is soon…’
Our prospects at the beginning of 1970-71 would probably have made us a sound bet for the top six again, but not one of the two favourites. Our signings had been low-key, the away form needed addressing and promotion back then, before the play-offs had been introduced, could be achieved only by a top-two finish.
John Harris was still in charge and included one of his summer acquisitions, John Barnwell, in the starting 11 at Orient on opening day. But a 3-1 loss was a shock start and one that also ended with John Flynn being taken out of the firing line – virtually until the final month of the campaign – allowing Dave Powell to become Eddie Colquhoun’s partner in central defence.
A 16 league-game run without defeat ended at Luton at the beginning of December and if we had managed to turn some of the nine draws into wins, we would have been sitting even more comfortably than the usual seventh or eighth. We were scoring regularly, but clean sheets, despite an overall respectable defensive record, were a bit too thin on the ground.
We weren’t quite clicking and when we hit an inconsistent spell at the turn of the year, which included five successive losses on the road, Harris made what seemed some uncharacteristic and bold moves in the transfer market. There was no hint as far as the players were concerned that it was in the offing and it seemed a mistake to a lot of onlookers.
A fee of £40,000 was invested in the Birmingham City winger Trevor Hockey, who was almost immediately transformed into a busy, aggressive central midfield player and brought character and steel into the centre of the park. But it was the decision to move Tudor on to Newcastle United, in exchange for ex-Wednesday striker David Ford and the relatively-inexperienced goalkeeper John Hope, which prompted some head-scratching.
Tudor had gained popularity with the crowd for his scoring exploits over a few months, but goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson had enjoyed legendary status at Bramall Lane for almost 20 years. Hope’s arrival signalled the end of Hodgy’s career and put huge pressure on his young successor. Yes, Hodgy was coming to the end of a brilliant career for United and England, but it was still a shock to see him sidelined and I didn’t know what the manager had seen in Hope at the time.
I was very surprised and thought it absolutely ridiculous to get rid of Tudor. But Harris liked pace and Fordy, a lovely lad who fitted in with the lads straightaway, was another speed merchant, a tricky winger who was a good addition for us. I’d love to know how John Harris worked out these changes in personnel and just how confident he was that they would make us stronger. If he was, it was a masterstroke.
A flash car and smelly feet
Hock was hyper and you half-expected him to be on pills or something because of the way he got everybody going before we came out. He would be kicking doors, punching fists and shouting encouragement to the rest of us and, most importantly to me, he and I hit it off straightaway on the pitch. We became roommates and he really was a lovely bloke, not always as exuberant as you might have thought; he had a piano at home and ran a sporty Triumph Herald in a flash, bright colour. You couldn’t miss his car wherever he was driving!
But Trevor wasn’t one of the boys who would go out regularly about the time when we’d have our Monday nights out. They couldn’t often attract him, Eddie Colquhoun or Woody for various reasons. Hock also had the smelliest feet in the world – probably because he always wore suede Hush Puppies!
Despite my initial concerns, or maybe just my lack of knowledge about what he could do, I was soon glad that John Hope had been brought in. He set a record of seven clean sheets in a row during March and April of 1971, beginning only seven games after his debut, and played in the final 17 games of that promotion season - keeping 10 clean sheets and conceding just nine goals.
A creditable 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough put us in a very good position with just two fixtures remaining, both at Bramall Lane. Win them and we would be up.
Cardiff City were well-placed with us and were a real threat, but, backed by a fantastic crowd of 42,963, we were unstoppable. After going in at the break with a 2-1 lead, we added three without reply afterwards. But we still needed to win on the final day of the season to be certain of success. And by one of those twists of fate that football so often throws up, the team who were standing in our way were… Watford!
Another 39,000 fans turned up on that sunny Saturday. We would have been nervous about slipping up, especially because Watford played above themselves and Stewart Scullion hit the bar for them before Woody opened the scoring from the spot. That relaxed us and Reece rounded off a superb individual display with two goals in the second half to see us home in second place behind Leicester City.
Promotion was the first thing I’d won at club level and it had been hard work over nine months, but we were back in the top-flight after three bloody hard years. I was most pleased for the quality players who had been there for some time; staying at United in that division without asking for moves was a tribute to their loyalty to the club.
Emotion poured out at the final whistle and we struggled to get off the pitch when the fans came on to celebrate with us. Eventually we did and then shared a few minutes together, drinking it all in and congratulating each other before climbing up to the directors’ box in the old John Street Stand. It was bedlam.
We each had one long-sleeved shirt and one short and I always wore the short-sleeved version because it made it less easy to be pulled back by an opponent. Unfortunately the long-sleeved one disappeared from the dressing-room while we were outside waving to the crowd. At least my shorts survived and are kept in the museum at Bramall Lane.
The promotion meant that this squad continues to be revered until this day, 50 years on, and I can’t tell you how gratifying it is still to hear the Bramall Lane crowd belt out the song they sang back then…
“Oh, we ain’t gotta barrel of money… But we’ve got Woodward and Currie… And with Eddie Colquhoun, promotion is soon… U-NI-TED!”
Imperfect 10, by Tony Currie with Andy Pack, is available from all good bookshops and online via publishers Vertical Editions, RRP £16.99.