Sheffield United: Legend Tony’s pride at ‘greatest’ ever honour

Tony Currie, Sheffield United's greatest ever player, in action for the club
Tony Currie, Sheffield United's greatest ever player, in action for the club

He could do magic, writes James Shield.

But, as Tony Currie admits, being voted Sheffield United’s greatest ever player at the club’s 125th anniversary celebration, left him struggling with words.

Sheffield United forward Tony Currie in action.

Sheffield United forward Tony Currie in action.

“I didn’t know what to say when it happened,” Currie said. “Because I was choked, it meant so much.

“It’s the meaningful thing I’ve ever been given and I’ve been fortunate to collect some very treasured awards in recent times. I was so proud to represent England but, in a sense, this means more than those caps because it was voted for by the fans rather than just one man as it were.

“When I went up on the stage I mumbled a few words but I didn’t really say everything I wanted to so I want to put all of that on record now.”

Currie, the former United and England midfielder, did exactly that in an interview with The Star earlier this week.

Forty-six years have passed since the youngster from Cricklewood first breezed through the doors of Bramall Lane. Over 300 appearances, one promotion and 54 goals later, it was apparent that, behind the blond locks and cheeky grin, was a sharp footballing brain. Something which, coupled with his polished technique and eye for extravagance, had enabled Currie to become the finest talent in a very special team.

“People forget that, at one stage, we came within four points of being crowned champions,” Currie, reflecting on Derby County’s 1975 title winning campaign, said. “It was a tight race that year and I still maintain that, if we’d have had a few more players to cope with injuries, we’d have done it and what an achievement that what have been. Unfortunately, we lost to Derby home and away and that was the difference between first and sixth.”

“We had folk like Woody (Alan Woodward), Eddie Colquhoun, Ted Hemsley and Badge (Len Badger) in the side and, between all of us, we felt as if we could beat anyone at any given time,” Currie added. “It didn’t matter who they were, we knew we had it within us to come out on top.”

Badger, Hemsley, Woodward and Colquhoun were all present in the audience when Currie, now aged 64, received his latest and perhaps most treasured accolade during last month’s landmark event at Ponds Forge. The latter two, together with their old friend and colleague, also attended an evening designed to give Woodward, described by Currie as “the greatest player I ever worked with” a fitting send-off before his return home in America. High praise indeed for someone who grafted alongside folk such as Billy Bremner and Bobby Moore.

“Woody was something else,” Currie said. “We just had a telepathy out there on the pitch and seemed to know exactly what the other was going to do.

“How Badge never played for England I’ll never know but Woody was exceptional, he really was.”

Currie, who was also capped 17 times by his country, represented Leeds and Queens Park Rangers after leaving United in 1976. After retiring from the game, he was appointed as chief of their football in the community programme in 1988.

“We didn’t get paid, we had to generate our own funding,” Currie said. “But we did it because we loved the club.

“Back then, we used to work with the unemployed to help them get coaching badges and among the first was Tony Minichello who, as everyone knows, went on to become Jess Ennis’ coach. He quite clearly had a knack for the job didn’t he.

“Another thing we did, to generate our funding was birthday parties and training camps. I still get people coming up know saying they remember having one of those so goodness knows how many fans we helped create.”

“Speaking of the fans, ours our the best in the business,” Currie continued. “We’ve been in the third division for four seasons and 20,000 of them still turn up every week.

“This club means everything to me, it’s my life, but it’s those supporters that make it what it is.”

Tomorrow, at Crewe Alexandra, Nigel Clough’s United will resume their bid to try and end the club’s three year exile from the Championship. Ranked sixth in the League One table following Tuesday’s victory over Yeovil Town, they finished seventh last season despite languishing in 21st place when Clough took charge following David Weir’s brief but troubled reign and captured the nation’s imagination by reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

“I had a tear in my eye at Wembley,” Currie said. “I’ll always remember walking to the stadium from the pub where we’d all gathered beforehand and it seemed like everyone wanted a picture which meant so much.

“Even more so, though, was the sight of us being back on that type of stage. The type of stage where, as far as I’m concerned, we belong.

“Nigel, as far as I’m concerned is doing a great job. Fingers crossed we’ll be up there this time next year.

“It won’t be easy because this is a difficult division to get out of. Not least when you are Sheffield United because everyone wants to beat us. It’s like winning the cup for other teams.

“I’ll always remember when Crawley came here not so long ago and, an hour -and-a-half before the game when there wasn’t anyone in our stands, their players were walking around taking pictures with their cameras. That tells you everything you need to know.

“But, before I get much older, I want to see us back in the big time. Let’s go up and then do it again.

“Because that would be the greatest thing for me. It really, really would.”

A quality touch from a quality player.

*Twitter: @JamesShield1