Two World Cup winners, a Peter Stringfellow nightclub and a run through London: the story of Terry Curran's move to Sheffield Wednesday
It’s difficult to imagine one of the most talented young footballers in the country running suited-and-booted through London to push through a deadline day transfer to a club two divisions lower.
But having been caught up in traffic just minutes before a 5pm watershed that would have seen a move to his beloved Sheffield Wednesday go up in smoke, that’s exactly what a 23-year-old Terry Curran did back in March 1979, darting his way towards the FA headquarters in Soho to sign the final paperwork on a £100,000 deal.
It was quite the decision. Just weeks earlier Curran had dominated the headlines after firing top tier Southampton to the League Cup final at the expense of a much-fancied Leeds United. Wednesday, on the other hand, were languishing in the middle of the third division.
And it was in the hours after the first leg of that League Cup semi-final that the tale of his unlikely transfer began, in a scene starring two World Cup winners in a nightclub owned by Peter Stringfellow.
The Saints had drawn 2-2 at Elland Road. Curran had created both.
“I went to Cinderalla Rockerfella in Leeds with Alan Ball,” Curran, now 64, told The Star. “Maurice Setters and Jack Charlton [the Sheffield Wednesday assistant and manager at the time] were in there.
“We were staying up overnight because we were due to play Preston in an FA Cup game a few days later.”
The two Wednesday men sidled over and suggested Curran make the move up to Hillsborough. And to Ball’s surprise, their advances weren’t rebuffed.
“It was at that restaurant where it all started,” Curran said. “Jack and Maurice came up to me and Bally told them: ‘He’s too good to play for your club!’
“Bally and Jack were great mates of course because of the whole World Cup thing.
“They left and he said to me: ‘If you go there you must be crazy. Why would you go and play in the third division? Why would you want to go and play for Sheffield Wednesday? It’s a fantastic club but it won’t do your career any good.’”
But the seed was planted. Setters was Curran’s first boss at Doncaster Rovers and was the object of a great deal of respect by the Southampton flyer, who’s three-year comeback from a career-threatening cruciate ligament injury was close to completion.
He said: “I was back playing well again and I was still young. Southampton wanted to keep me, there’s no mistake about that.
“But they’d told me they wanted to take Wednesday into the first division. Well that was like music to my ears and there was no doubt in my mind.
“They’d offered me a new and improved contract at Southampton and Lawrie McMenemy had promised that he wanted to make me a big part of the rebuild of the team down there.
“But I wasn’t over-keen on McMenemy as a manager and I wanted to get Wednesday back into the first division. It was simple for me.
“Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do for my career, but I was a supporter at the end of the day. It helped get Wednesday back out of the doldrums.”
Wednesday made their approach, but on Curran’s orders and in a style typical of his relaxed approach, only after he had attempted to finish the job of winning the League Cup.
Southampton were set to play Nottingham Forest, the club at which he had suffered his injury, and he felt he had a point to prove. Garry Birtles bagged twice and Forest, European Cup winners a few months later, won 3-2.
“I said I only wanted to move after the cup final. I felt I’d got them there and I wanted to play at Wembley. So they waited.
“But as far as Southampton were concerned I wasn’t for sale. When they asked me to go there I went in three or four times to tell the manager I wanted to leave. I finished up telling him I wanted to go and play for Sheffield Wednesday.
“You can imagine what he said to me. He thought I was barmy.”
Curran pushed it through, the fee was agreed but in the old days of March transfer deadlines, time was running out fast.
And of all the thoughts that crossed his mind throughout that mad dash through the capital, not one suggested he was doing the wrong thing.
“You can imagine the traffic getting into London,” he said. “I ended up flagging a taxi down and I got there with about five minutes to go.
“It was done within five minutes. We hadn’t even agreed a contract or anything.
“I did say to Jack that I wasn’t going to take a pay cut, but I’d been offered twice the money at Southampton. There were no agents, no advisors or anything. Had it been now it would never happened for me with Wednesday.
“Do I regret it? No. Was it a mistake? Yes. For someone with my ability to go and play in the third division, it didn’t do my career any good, but it gave me great satisfaction in playing my part in the resurgence of Sheffield Wednesday.”
It proved to be one of the seminal moments in the club’s history. He played out the end of the 1978/79 season and the Owls finished 14th, but it was the following season, the iconic 79/80 promotion season, that saw his star rise to legendary status.
He proved to be the final piece in the Jackie jigsaw and having been moved from the wing to forward, he fired 24 goals to take Wednesday out of the bottom division. He and Charlton developed a loving but tempestuous relationship that ultimately ended in a spiteful move to Sheffield United - Curran’s deepest regret.
The star man, an overwhelming fans’ favourite at Hillsborough, clashed heads with his manager over playing styles, his position and most tellingly, the sort of players the club should attract to take them into the First Division.
“Jack was a great guy, a fabulous guy,” said Curran. “He was a World Cup winner but he was very down to earth. We had a great relationship up until the point about the three players. It got a bit frosty and he told me to keep my nose out of transfers, that he was the manager and I had to keep my mouth shut. That was the problem.
“Some footballers and managers are a bit off. They fancy themselves, you can’t get to them. He wasn’t like that, I’ve got huge respect for him as a person.”
The relationship froze over and when negotiating a new deal with Wednesday, Curran’s head was turned by the Blades’ owner Reg Brearley, who was smarting after the famous Boxing Day massacre the pain of losing out on promotion to their cross-city rivals.
Under Howard Wilkinson and in Curran’s absence, Wednesday were promoted to the First Division in 1983/84.
“They offered a £11,000 signing on fee and I wanted the tax paying on it. Jack refused,” Curran said.
“It wasn’t a lot of money but it was one of those things. Sheffield United offered me four times more than that. I didn’t go there for the money, at the end of the day I went there to p*ss Jack off like he’d p*ssed me off. And I was stupid for doing it.
“Of course it’s a regret. It’s my biggest regret. I should’ve taken Wednesday into the first division, me and Jack. I wasted my career in the first division to get my club into the top division and I didn’t do that. But that’s all history.
“Looking back, in some ways, that’s silly, but I’d made up my mind to get Wednesday back up to where they should be. At least I played a part in getting them up there.”
Curran would go on to play for Everton where another serious injury put the brakes on a fascinating career. Spells at Huddersfield, in Greece and at Grimsby followed, but it was that 1979/80 season that stands out as some of the happiest times of his football life.
“We had a great bunch of lads,” he beamed. “We would go out together, training was so enjoyable. We all worked hard and mucked in together and we all shared what we wanted to achieve. We got what we deserved, make no mistake.
“Wednesday had been in the doldrums for years and I was one of those players that helped them get out of that. That, to me, is brilliant.”