Tony Currie – Patreon
Wednesday, 10th Nov 2021 08:49 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon
Maverick star of the 70s, and QPR's FA Cup final replay skipper, Tony Currie takes an emotional journey through his time with Rangers and England, talking Terry Venables, Don Revie, his regrets from the two games at Wembley and his fond memories of his time at Loftus Road.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 17 years and publishing them free-to-view. Now, to help support both this website and the iconic AKUTRs fanzine, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the full interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read for free below…
Starting right at the start, you were born in Edgware and were in QPR’s youth team to start with so why didn’t that work out?
In those days going back 50-odd years you could only be signed on at a club when you were 14 on amateur schoolboy forms. Me and a lad called Bob Turpie who ended up being an apprentice at 15 had that year there together, 64-65. I played in the A Team and the B Team in the South East Counties League and so was Bob. Then when it came to leaving school they signed him and regretfully, painfully, didn’t think I was going to be good enough. I didn’t hold it against them, I got my head down and carried on.
I was going to ask who you supported as a kid but I think it’s Chelsea isn’t it?
It was. My Uncle Burt who was like a dad to me, my dad left home when I was four, he took me under his wing and took me to Chelsea, he was a Chelsea nutcase. So I grew up watching Jimmy Greaves in 1958 as an eight-year-old which was fabulous. QPR was my nearest, only 15 minutes down from where we lived in Cricklewood down All Souls Avenue through Willesden, Harlesden and past the Scrubs.
Got the big start at Watford, how did that breakthrough come?
I had to start in the building trade in 15 at a local firm in Cricklewood. I did that for six months and while I was doing that I played Sunday football on Regent’s Park and Hackney Marshes like you do and I got spotted by Frank Grimes who was a scout at Watford. God bless him he was a lovely bloke, I bought my first car off him he was the youth team manager at Watford - it was a white Ford Popular with red interior, 704 PPP I loved it to bits, broke the bank at a hundred quid. So I got a trial with Watford, trained Tuesday and Thursday night with their juniors, and then Ken Furphy gave me a deal in 1966 as a 16-year-old.
Known throughout the game for your time at Sheff Utd where you were voted the club’s greatest ever player, and then went to Leeds, how does somebody go from being Sheff Utd’s greatest ever player to moving to Leeds cos they hate each other don’t they?
That’s right. None of us in the 1970s at Sheffield United liked Leeds, though I suppose that was more jealousy than anything. Me being a Londoner I didn’t realise the Yorkshire rivalry between Sheffield and Leeds. We were jealous of them reaching finals, up there with Liverpool as the best two teams in the country vying for the cups and the leagues. I went from not getting on with QPR when I was 15 to being an 18-year-old in the top flight with Sheff Utd and an England youth international. Those two years make or break a footballer and I went from strength to strength, I was one of the fortunate ones.
You were in the England team for the infamous 1973 game against Poland, Alf Ramsey’s last game. What was it like to be a part of that night?
We were still confident as the game wore on, well I certainly was, we were getting chance, after chance, after chance and we felt surely one would go in eventually, but it didn’t. The dressing room was like a morgue at the end of the game. Somebody was having a bit of a shout, Alf just said “shut up, calm down, you’ve done your best”. It was just one of those nights. Tomaszewski just saved everything. I still watch it back every now and again, maybe a couple of times a year, I do the same with QPR’s cup final a couple of times a year. It’s ingrained in the memory. It was a bad night. One of those things.
What was the feeling among the players about Bobby Moore not being in the team?
I don’t remember that much about it but I don’t think he’d been in the team the previous game against Austria when we won 7-0. I think Bobby had been out of the team because he’d been at fault for the two goals when we lost 2-0 in Poland, though that doesn’t sound like Bobby Moore. He played the game after that and then Alf brought Norman in. It was perhaps just the time for him to be left out. A fantastic player who I have great memories of because he was such a fantastic bloke and captain on and off the field. He was great to me, as Alan Ball was.
Did you come away thinking you should have got more than 17 England caps?
Of course. I was confident in my own ability. It was unfortunate that Alf got the sack, it put the England team backwards. Joe Mercer came in and did well for six games which I missed with a cartilage injury. Had we qualified and won against Poland I couldn’t have gone to the World Cup anyway because I did that in March and missed the whole summer so that would have been a blow. Mercer did well, brought in Frank Worthington, Keith Weller, household names with a lot of flare. And then Revie comes in and I only played one game in three years in his squads. Three years of my international career was gone and I only got 17 caps. It wasn’t enough for me, I thought I should have had 40 or 50 at least.
Not your favourite manager.
No. Alf picked me five times in a row after we’d lost in Poland I played against Russia, Italy, Austria, Poland and Italy again and I felt I was first choice midfielder then. It saddened me when Alf went because he was one of my big supporters. Every manager has their favourites. Quite a few of us, Worthy, Stanley Bowles, Rodney, those players didn’t figure in Revie’s plans. I wasn’t the only one, a lot of us were in the same boat – Charlie George.
It seems mad now because people my age hear about the 1970s as a time of maverick number tens doing amazing things on difficult pitches and yet the England manager was dead set against all of that and none of these people got many caps. Very strange.
I find it strange because when you look at the Leeds team he had from 65-75 which was probably the best, if not the best club side in the world then certainly in the top five, they were fantastic players – Giles, Bremner, Clarke, Jones – they could all play, all had flair. They had 22 internationals in their squad, same as Liverpool, and won all the trophies. He had all those flair players and yet when he became England manager he didn’t seem to want to know. It was strange. I can’t work it out.
It would have been better for you maybe, in general would it have been better for Brian Clough to get that chance?
Yeh. I did a big article in the paper, and this might have been my downfall, somebody said to me “we think Brian Clough is the favourite to get the job, why not do an article with us on him and it might do you a bit of good”. So I did and the editors headlined it Currie Says Clough’s The Man For The Job and of course he never got it, Revie did.
Would England have been better off or was the personality too big? Would it have gone well?
They’re all opinionated these big managers. He had his views. Some of them were outrageous but he didn’t care. He was confident, he loved himself, you had to admire what he achieved in the game and he did that his own way. I think it would have been good for England. But I’ve said that once already and it didn’t do me any good then.
So, moving to QPR, how did that come about? An England player, brilliant for Sheff Utd and Leeds, moving to Second Division QPR…
I was 29. My wife at the time wanted to move back, she was from Hendon and didn’t get used to the north at all. We were up there nearly ten years and she never liked it and wanted to come back to London. I had to ask for a transfer and that was it. I got injured in what turned out to be my last game for Leeds away at PSV. I tackled somebody, it was like tackling a brick wall, my foot came right up to my shin and stretched out all my Achilles. I signed on at QPR with Jim Gregory and Tommy Doc on crutches. Ridiculous really. And a blank contract as well.
It was lovely, QPR, great, that’ll do me. I was in Finchley and got a message to ring Leeds so I did and they told me Tommy Doc wanted to speak to me so I drove down past the Scrubs, had a chat with him and signed there and then. Although it was a division down it was a club I loved, my local club, and I wanted to go and show what I could do there. Unfortunately I don’t think you ever saw the best of me at QPR with my injuries – 90-odd games in four seasons isn’t enough for me I like to play every game. It took me three months before I actually played at all, Tommy Doc said to me “are you ever going to play for this club?” It was a terrible injury, nothing was working, and I ended up going up to Pinner to have acupuncture and that seemed to do the trick. I had to have injections and pain killers but it finally settled down.
I felt we underachieved at QPR with the players we had in the first two years. Six of us all signed together – Steve Wicks, Stevie Burke, Mickey Walsh, David McCreery and the keeper Chris Woods – dear me, along with the players they had there at the time like Ian Gillard a lovely bloke and great player, Don Shanks, Stan Bowles.
You played half a dozen games with Stan, there wasn’t a lot of crossover, were you bought to play with him or replace him?
I would have loved it to have been together. The games we did play there was great telepathy there. It was a shame he left. It was the same with Gerry when he came back. I didn’t play that many with him, what a player he was, he was suffering with his back and Venables brought him back when we played on the hard stuff – the omniturf, not the drink – which was a nightmare for us old ‘uns.
Yes playing on that surface can’t have been great for the injuries.
I forgot to mention Bob Hazell who signed on with us, he was my roommate for a bit, lovely bloke I love him to bits, he’s up in Birmingham now I think and we still speak.
Yeh, that stuff it was like playing on concrete. It jarred the spine which works everything. It was awful. Preston, Oldham, Luton and QPR all had one and ours was the worst of them. When the keeper kicked it out it would come down and then bounce back up higher than it had been in the first place. Having said that, we did master it and played great on it. The only team that ever gave us a game on it was Watford. It beat a lot of teams, it might have got us to the final beating Palace.
Jim Gregory and Tommy Docherty were enormous characters. Was it just location that drove the move or did those two sell you a vision?
Jim Gregory was great. He loved the club and wanted to do great things. Tommy Doc had success and even though he was getting on a bit he still wanted it. They did sell the club to me but they didn’t need to. Obviously they told me what other players were signing on and I thought ‘this is great’. I wanted to get it done and dusted because I knew my then wife was in a pretty bad state and I was thinking more about that than anything else. I wasn’t thinking about my England place, though I was still in the squad at that point, Ron Greenwood invited me to come along with the squad even when I was injured which was lovely. I lost my place in that set up but that wasn’t front of my mind at the time it was about getting settled back in London.
You score from 30 yards on your debut against Fulham, we’ve tried in vein to find a video of it, can you talk us through it?
Oh I would love to see it again. I think it was Bowlesy who put me through. He’s more of a forward than I am but I was more advanced of him this time and I’m sure it was him who put me through. It was going towards the goal and bouncing up and I just thought to myself ‘you’ve got to hit this’. It was a lovely dipping volley, we used to do this routine in training where you’d throw the ball out of your hands and before it hits the ground you strike a volley and try to get it to dip over the keeper, me and Bowlsey used to do it ten times out of ten and take the mick out of John Burridge when he was here, he used to get angry. Yeh, it was 30 yards out, and I can still see it today. I hope it was Stan, I loved him. It was him, if we don’t have the footage to check then it was him.
Fulham, a local derby. I’d scored two on my debut for Watford, one on my debut for Sheff Utd, I didn’t stay on long enough in my England debut I got subbed after an hour, and Leeds I must have had 30 shots in that first game against West Brom when we drew 2-2 and none of them went in. I had to go off in that one too, Alistair Brown went over the top and put a bullet hole in my shin one of his studs went right through my shin. It was horrible, like a big bullet hole in my shin, I never did get him back for that.
Terry Venables, transformative manager at QPR, where does he rank in your managers and what made him so good?
He was number one. Right up the top. He was the best. I obviously haven’t worked with the new managers now but at that time he was very progressive. Whether he learnt things from abroad or they were his own ideas I loved what he did, I loved his training methods, he was a tactician, a man manager, the press loved him, the public idolised him, all fans loved him, and it was only the FA that didn’t otherwise Venners would have been the England manager, for me, for a minimum of ten years. He was so far and above in his views and his methods. The two years I was under him at QPR he got us to the cup final and then the promotion in the second, unfortunately I only played one game in that and didn’t get a medal because of a knee injury. A shame for me but again something for Venners, a fabulous two years of success.
What was he doing that was so different to other managers at the time?
I’ve only had a few managers in my time but his methods seemed bright and easy. Everything was easily explained and he was just made to be a coach. Fantastic coach and the man management was brilliant as well. He had all the attributes. He got the back four, for a start, playing the offside trap. He liked the wide players in midfield, which I was one of them a lot of the time, to push players inside. He didn’t like anybody going down the line and getting the ball over, that was seen as a crime and you didn’t want to be on the wrong side of Venners – it was rare but you would get a roasting. We’d shove them inside, the back four would step up, and we’d catch them offside 99 times out of 100. His theory was if we lost two or three goals because we got caught out doing it he was happy with that. We worked on that a hell of a lot and it was successful.
Memories of the FA Cup run, a couple of replays, a semi-final at Highbury where Bob Hazell was magnificent.
I remember getting subbed off at Middlesbrough for Warren Neill and we ended up winning that game with him scoring. That worked well, I was disappointed about going off but there you go. We had Palace at Loftus Road with the famous Clive Allen goal celebration. The West Brom game at Highbury was against a First Division club and I remember Andy King playing for them and he’d been at QPR with me, a big mate of mine, John Wild played for them. We were superb that day. Glenn Roeder had a fantastic game at the back and me and him got us over the line at the end keeping the ball. Clive’s goal, great block tackle and flew in the net. He’ll take that.
What was it like going out at Wembley against a First Division team. Memories of the day and how you felt the game went.
Getting through at Highbury you were just on cloud nine. It’s a minimum of four weeks through to the final and you’re just walking on air. I was injured for most of that time, I just thank heavens Venners picked me because I think I only played one league game before the final and I wasn’t fit for it, 70% maybe, it was a shame I couldn’t get fully fit for it. He played me, I got through both of them. It wasn’t an opportunity missed in the first game, it was the second game. Tottenham ruled the first game, Fen got the equaliser and we managed to get the replay but in the replay their legs had gone, they’d played 500 matches that season and apart from some idiot giving away a penalty in the first ten minutes we ruled the game. The replay was the opportunity missed.
Can I ask you about the penalty?
Still haunts you.
Blimey, yes it does. I apologise to all the listeners. My only defence is I was tracking Graham Roberts for 30 yards near enough, he picked it up on the halfway line and our boys seemed to stand off and let him run through, I’m thinking ‘why aint they tackling him, why aint they tackling him’, and then in the end he’s 12-yards out at an angle and I thought ‘he’s going to hit this now’ so I went for the ball but caught his ankle and knew there and then. Funnily enough somebody asked me yesterday up this way where I live now, “was it a professional foul and was it because you were too slow?”, and I said “well I wasn’t the quickest but that is a bit of an insult. I was about as quick as Graham Roberts. If it had been a professional foul I’d have been a bit stupid to do it in the penalty area.” So I put him right there.
So that was an awful start. The goal that Hoddle got in the first game went off the inside of my calf, I thought I’d blocked him and the bloody ball went through my legs and went to the side of Peter Hucker. He was another roommate of mine, played crib a lot and I used to beat him all the time, a good friend and he’s been up a couple of times to see me. He’d have saved it otherwise. He’d saved everything else, he was man of the match as you know, it just took it away from his hand slightly. So that one’s down to me and so was the bloody penalty. I can only apologise.
Was the feeling afterwards that we were unlucky? Was there animosity towards the referee? What was the mood afterwards?
If I remember rightly Clive White waved play-on when Hoddle scissor kicked Waddock on the halfway line in the same move and had he have given the free kick there I wouldn’t have had to waste my time chasing Graham Roberts and giving away a penalty. Back to Venners, he had a plan. We had deadball situations we’d planned in training, but he also had a plan for Hoddle. Ardiles and Villa didn’t play because of the war so we only had to snuff out Glenn. He had a plan to surround him every time he got the ball, Waddock would be one side of the ball and I’d come around the other with a third man coming in to shut off the outlet. It worked quite well. They had a few chances in the first game but Waddock had a good game, he was a great player.
How did we go from second best in the first game to dominating the second one even though Roeder and Allen were both out. Two key players missing, but you got better, was it down to Venables?
Absolutely. They were big misses. Clive was hurt early on in the first game we’d basically been down to ten men with him then. Glenn missing, blimey, was an even bigger miss. They had played a lot of games that year and it was perhaps one too many for them, I think that was the bigger factor in why we had a decent chance to win the game. We just couldn’t stick the ball in the net. We didn’t have a lot of chances even though we had quite a bit of the play.
Like you say, you didn’t play much the following season, how did you come to leave? A tap on the shoulder, or the physio?
At the end of that season, my fourth, the contract was up and Venners called me over and said there’s a club in Canada that want you why don’t you go and earn a few bob. My knee wasn’t great and I was hoping for another year, I could have got it if I’d stuck out and said I’m not going. I decided to go. I don’t know whether the doctors told Venners my knee was shattered and I wouldn’t last. It just happened, off I went, I was very disappointed, I didn’t want to go abroad, especially all that way I’ve never been a good flier. I went out there and within two months the league folded, a brand new soccer league because prior to that when you got to 18 in Canada you didn’t have a professional league to go into. It was a six month contract, bit more money than QPR but not a lot, and I only got one week’s wages. I was there two months, the league folded, we kept on playing for nothing, the owner was a multi-millionaire but he pulled the plug after a week because the gates weren’t as big as he wanted.
Go over there and earn a few bob didn’t quite work out like that?
No, no. He should have said ‘go over there TC and see if your luck changes’. And it didn’t.
Sorry I shouldn’t laugh.
You feel free.
Other players you played with at QPR, I get the impression you rated Gary Waddock, Simon Stainrod was another. Who stands out from that team for you?
Well I’ll never forgive Simon for taking my number ten off me while I was injured before the cup final, I ended up playing number seven. I wasn’t happy about that. Mind you, 17 caps for England, I don’t think I ever wore ten there either. Simon was fantastic. He could have played for England if he’d got his attitude completely right, he used to strut about, he was a great player. Anybody would have Waddo in their team, he was fantastic, I was so pleased and proud of him that he got into a manager’s job – I never thought he would because he was such a quiet lad off the field, but he’d kick his own grandmother on it. He was just fantastic. Gilly was a fantastic full back and great servant. I’ll name a few names and I’ll leave somebody out that I shouldn’t. John Gregory was a very decent player, very fit, very athletic. Glenn Roeder, like Bobby Moore, a gentleman. Bowlsey, and I never played with Marshy, but they’re the two top legends at QPR, the number tens, fantastic footballers. Marsh came in just after I left in the 60s. Dave McCreary was a lovely bloke I roomed with him, Bob Hazell, Wicksy a tower what a player and a good looking lad. Great memories at QPR, four great years with some big laughs. Don’t forget Gerry, another lad who suffered so many injuries and would have played so much more for England.
Was leading the team out for the replay the highlight? Did you realise it would be the case with Glenn missing?
No of course not. I was obviously hoping but just getting through the first game was all I was looking for. Just to get a game in the replay was fantastic but for Venners to say ‘you’re leading them out’ was extra special. Walking behind him, leading the team out onto the field, thinking we’ve got a bloody good chance of winning here. This was my chance of fulfilling the childhood dream. You used to get Shoot Magazine and fill in the quiz that said “what’s your ambition in life?” and I’d put “meet the Queen at Wembley in the cup final”. Alright, it wasn’t the Queen, it was Princess Anne, but I was thinking ‘at the end of today you could be lifting the cup up’. I’m choking up here thinking about it. It’s everybody’s dream. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. It’s a shame. A shame.
It’s been a long time now. It’s 40 years next year since that cup final. We had a get-together for 30 years, half a dozen of us in one of the boxes at Loftus Road. It’s the fortieth next year so I’m hoping the club will have a nice little reunion, it’ll be good to catch up with everybody. Andy Sinton is brilliant at that.
I know you do a lot for Sheff Utd, you watch a lot of the modern game, they’ve been in the Premier League recently, a message board poster asked about your opinion of the style of the game now and emphasis on physicality and fitness over perhaps those maverick stylings we talked about of the 1970s.
There are a few number tens. I’m talking about The Number Ten, not this stupid ‘playing in the number ten position’ – what’s all that about? You’ve got Grealish. They’re a bit slow playing out from the back, sideways and backwards, teams seem to play with the theory that if they haven’t got the ball then they can’t hurt us but for me I’d be tearing my hair out. I’d want the ball as soon as possible and I’d be looking straight away to see if something was on. Nowadays midfield players, a free kick happens, they put the ball down and play it 20 yards back straight away, they don’t even look forwards. It’s all about backwards and sideways, possession, keep the ball moving, but there could be something on, there could be something on forwards. It annoys me. A midfield player now gets so much rest, they do 10km in a game, but when it’s being played about at the back they’re getting their rest then. We used to be box to box, hardly ever walking about. So that annoys me a bit as well. They are fitter than we were but only in the fact they get treated better, they eat the right food, do far more weights than we ever did, they have fitness coaches that we didn’t have and get looked after well. But, in our day we had to be fit because after the first five or six games, especially at Loftus Road, it was three inches of mud, or in the winter three inches of solid mud. You had to be fit to plough through that, particularly up and down as a midfielder. We were fit, but it’s a different fitness now. If there’s a game I want to watch now I’ll tape it and cut out all the two minutes for a throw in, three for a corner, five for the referee to take people’s lottery numbers down, and I can get a game over in half an hour.
Yes we’ve been talking a lot this year about the amount of time the ball actually spends in play in the Championship.
Absolutely. I don’t think people want to see sideways and backwards, right back to left back, or I’m showing my age a bit now I think it’s called the number three position, the number two position, the number ten. Anyway… what a load of rubbish. When they get into the attacking third I put my telly back on and you see all this lovely play, players buzzing about, and it’s fantastic. But it’s so slow getting there.
We’ve had our day. It’s not sour grapes.
If you played now you’d be multi-millionaire Tony Currie. Does that play on the mind?
I daren’t think about it. I’d be a multi-millionaire. But we got well paid in our day, or we thought we did, compared to the average man. It’s just on a different planet now. I’d have earned a lot of money yeh, midfield player, maybe £200k a week minimum? Not a lot is it. Can look after your family on that.
Book coming out, stuff in there for QPR fans?
I hope so, I hope you all enjoy it. The QPR tracksuit I’m wearing today is on the front cover along with Sheff Utd and Leeds. Leading the team out at Wembley is on the cover, I’ve managed to squeeze myself back into it for today. It’s out in November and I’m hoping to come down and have a signing in the club shop for the Stoke game.
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