Why Tony Currie's love affair with Sheffield United continues after over half a century
It has been 53 years since Tony Currie first stepped off the train on a cold, wet and grey day to begin his new life in Sheffield. The London accent is still strong, but his affinity with the steel city – and Sheffield United – is made of even sturdier stuff.
A favourite – nay, a hero – of many a Blades fan who watched him grace the Bramall Lane turf in the 1960s and 70s, Currie was voted United’s greatest-ever player at their 125th birthday celebrations seven years ago. It is a proud honour he accepted with typical modesty – “Alan Woodward should have been first or second,” he said of his legendary former United teammate – but those Blades who worshipped him from the three sides of Bramall Lane would barely recognise the man he became when his playing career came to a premature end.
Back living with his mum in London, after a divorce from his first wife saw him sleeping on her settee, Currie drove a taxi for a while for £90 a week. Customers urinated on his back seats and his car “blew up”, so he got another job on the same money in a video shop.
At his lowest point, he wrote suicide notes to his children and admits he was drunk four times a week, sobering up for the other three. When a journalist visited his mums, ostensibly to write a story about his FA Cup final appearance with QPR and brief time playing in Canada’s ill-fated professional soccer league. The piece came out in a newspaper and Currie remembers the headline to this day. “Broke and Boozed,” it read.
How the Blades saved Currie’s life
Then United stepped in. An offer of a testimonial at Bramall Lane brought him back north, and he never left; using the proceeds to put a deposit down on a bungalow in Dronfield. Later came the offer of a role in the emerging Football in the Community scheme. Then there was a brief spell as a director on the board, the offer to become a club ambassador and arguably the crowning glory – The Tony Currie Stand.
“What an honour,” he says. “I owe this club everything. It is no exaggeration to say they saved my life.”
It is fitting, then, that Bramall Lane’s Platinum Suite, inside the Tony Currie Stand, will host the launch of Currie’s official and only autobiography, Imperfect 10: The Man Behind the Magic, on November 12. Currie and special guests from United’s past will be interviewed on stage by sportswriter and broadcaster Alan Biggs, while fans will be able to obtain signed books and souvenir photographs with their club’s greatest-ever.
Currie’s United career arguably peaked in 1970/71, when he was a key part of the legendary Blades side which won promotion to the first division. They stayed there for five seasons and almost qualified for Europe in 1974/75, before being soundly relegated the following season. Many years later history would repeat itself, with a global health pandemic thrown in for good measure.
“Ex-United players and I still regularly laugh at some of the tatty stuff we wore for the club, even in the top-flight – we called ourselves ‘Rag-arse Rovers!’,” Currie laughs.
“There were socks that had been stitched up, socks that varied in length, different shades of colour, shorts without laces in the waist. It reminded us of playing amateur football when the kitbag was emptied on to the floor and you had to be quick and dive in to get the best stuff!
“The promotion meant that the 70/71 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, about not having a barrel of money with my name and Alan’s.
“It is amazing that the fans of today haven’t even adapted our names to feature their current favourites, and many of them won’t even have watched any of us play! What a tribute to the relationship we had with our supporters.”
The end of an era
Currie even turned down multiple approaches from Manchester United to move to Old Trafford as Bobby Charlton’s replacement, and signed a seven-year deal which would effectively see him spend the rest of his career at Bramall Lane. But relegation changed matters somewhat; Currie, by then an England international, wanted to stay in the top-flight to advance his international ambitions and United had invested heavily in the building of the south stand that now bears Currie’s name.
A fee was agreed with Leeds United before Currie and his then-wife returned to the capital to sign for QPR. A pre-season injury in a friendly against Wimbledon, ironically sustained in a challenge with future Blade Glyn Hodges, damaged Currie’s knee. He watched from the sidelines as Rangers won promotion under Terry Venables, who then told Currie his time at Loftus Road was over.
Currie comes home
The Canada experiment failed when the league went bust and Currie returned home to turn out occasionally in non-league. Then, after reaching his lowest ebb, the call about a testimonial came – over 27,000 fans packed into Bramall Lane to see a Showbiz XI led by Dennis Waterman take on United’s promotion-winning 1971 side, with special guests including George Best, Frank Worthington and Paul Heaton turning out on the day.
“Such a lot had happened to me since leaving the city 10 years earlier and I couldn’t have dared hope for such support after being away for so long,” Currie admits.
“But the fans did me proud at a time when I was most in need of a break, an uplift in my spirits. Sheffield United has been my life.”
An evening with Tony Currie and friends will be held at Bramall Lane on November 12, 2021. Tickets are £30 at www.tickettailor.com/events/imperfect10.