Alan Biggs at Large: Sheffield United's 'greatest ever player' Tony Currie captured in new book
Think Sheffield United and what the name conjures up. Grit, determination - and one of the game’s greatest conjurors.
Side by side, inseparable by association, Tony Currie the artist and the proud artisan history of the Blades, forged by the steel industry at the heart of the club.It’s a canvas on which a new book paints a vivid picture of startling contrasts.Currie the showman on the field, painfully shy off it. Living the dream while wrestling with depression. Scoring sublime and instinctive goals while at one time battling “to mask the fog in my head with cigarettes, alcohol and staying in my room.”That Sheffield United’s justly acclaimed “greatest ever player” has finally unlocked that room to let us all see inside is a tribute to the persistence of his co-author.It’s not the picture we see in our mind’s eye when we think of Currie; all the more captivating for that.Ghost writers are rightly content to stay in the shadows when books are reviewed but on this occasion Andy Pack, the former Blades press officer among TC’s long-time friends, deserves to take what is sure to be a bashful bow.As I know from many an interview, Tony can be as uncomfortable and stilted in conversation as he was expressively flowing as a player, most notably for Sheffield United, Leeds United and QPR - plus England on shamefully few occasions.Getting him to open up will have required as much probing accuracy as Currie’s own wonderful range of passing. And more application than Pack’s subject was credited with by those who branded him “lazy” in an era of many talents wasted by England on the international stage.Manager of the time Don Revie is not spared Currie’s enduring indignation. But much of his candour is introspective and aimed at himself.What Pack uncovered was as much a surprise to him as it will be to all of those who read this long-awaited autobiography - with Currie now 71 and 45 years on from leaving Bramall Lane for Leeds.That transfer is a story in itself. How general manager John Harris took Tony on a mystery car ride during which, incredibly, neither man spoke. Harris’s head dropped to the wheel of his car in dejection when his favourite son re-emerged from meeting Leeds manager Jimmy Armfield to say he had agreed the move.Why hadn’t Tony asked where they were headed? Why hadn’t Harris confided destination Elland Road and made a plea on the journey? No agents then, of course. You suspect Harris had been told his club needed the fee, rising to £270,000, to pay for the Lane’s new South Stand.Appropriately, for many reasons besides, it is a stand that now bears Currie’s name.He is an indelible hallmark of what the club means to people, even those - now in the majority - not old enough or lucky enough to have seen him play with such charisma and swagger.Off the field, he has presented a very different persona - but then why should gifts be transferable? Not a magnetic personality maybe, but there will always be a fascination with people of such extravagant talent.Between them, Currie and Pack have described the most brilliant light and the darkest shade. That these can have existed simultaneously is what blinds you.All credit to Tony for being so honest, particularly on mental health, a subject that, while widely appreciated nowadays, was taboo during his career.Those privileged to know him are aware of a warmth and humour that his taciturn nature seldom allows to come across in public.It’s a story of dreams and demons. Brilliantly titled also, by the way.* “Imperfect 10. The Man behind the Magic.” Tony Currie with Andy Pack. Vertical Editions. £16.99