BY DAVE MARPLES – @DavidMarples
To delve into this book from E.J.Huntley is to enter a world of straggly hair, greasy chip butties and gifted individuality.
Ordinarily, this is a world in which the football fan of a certain vintage would happily grab your hand and gleefully skip merrily down a yellow brick road to spend time kicking a discarded bottle of pop around a piece of wasteland in order to recreate classic goals from men with unfeasibly long and impressive sideburns.
Tony Currie would undoubtedly be one of those whose skills, tricks and passing range you’d wish to emulate. Huntley’s motivation throughout appears to be to ensure his subject is remembered as one of the definitive flair players from the 70s that was woefully underused and underappreciated by the national team but also to challenge any notions of him being lazy and injury prone – a particularly difficult task given that Currie managed to injure himself running out of the tunnel at Roots Hall to make his debut.
Rather than the mud and itchy football kits of the 70s that one might want to jump off the page, it is the occasionally sanctimonious tone of the author towards modern football that does, implying that if it isn’t drowning in gravy and woodbines, it isn’t worth the time of day. Huntley notes the hobbies and interests of a number of Currie’s teammates from the Sheffield United team of 1970-71 listed in the Promotion Souvenir Brochure:
“Colquhoun listed reading and brass bands as his hobbies; Hockey listed reading books on archeology, while Dave Powell was a fly-fishing enthusiast who drove a Mini Clubman!”
Sure, football has changed, but to declare that: “It seems light years away from the overpaid, Ferrari driving, speeding ticket dodging, Cristal glugging, toilet-seat stealing scofffaws who now populate the beautiful game” seems sepia tinted at best. Despite the beautiful use of the word ‘scoffaws’, it seems a shame to resort to a simplistic binary view of football then and football now.
Where the book does pique interest is when Huntley reflects upon the infamous England vs. Poland World Cup qualifier at Wembley in 1973. Here, the author gathers views from various persons involved in order to examine the game and present a challenge to the received narrative of England battering the Poles all evening only to be undone by a fluke breakaway. When Huntley is less concerned with challenging the stereotype attached to Currie, the book is all the better for it. Indeed, with so many repeated mentions of the accusation of laziness, the reader could be forgiven for accepting the theory through mere spite.
Throughout, Huntley’s perspective is an odd one. In his introduction he lays out his intentions. He performs a roll-call of the classic 70s flair players – Peter Osgood, Stan Bowles, Rodney Marsh, Charlie George, Frank Worthington and Alan Hudson, all of whom, “have written or at least put their names to, autobiographies (which in some cases sit beside other tomes celebrating their careers on the book shop shelves), it was the fact that Currie has not been similarly honoured that inspired the first edition of this work, entitled A Quality Player: The Life and Career of Tony Currie, back in 2007.”
Perhaps as a result, the book adopts the tone of a sympathetic close friend: “It was the first time Tony had to face serious injury.” Such a tone, can be hard-wearing after a while, leaving the reader hungry for a little more probing, prodding and questioning of his quarry. For instance, on leaving Sheffield United after enjoying a sparkling period to go to Leeds United, the reader wants to grab both subject and author and shake them until deeper and more insight interpretation comes jingling out of their pockets:
“I was on an end-of-season trip in Gibraltar with the team and I was told to go and report to John Harris when I got back. Nobody told me why and I didn’t ask, because you didn’t in those days. You just got with it. So I went to John Harris’s house when I got back and I still didn’t ask any questions. Forty-five minutes later we were driving into Leeds United. I still didn’t ask John what was going on. I didn’t want to. Maybe I was scared.”
Hang on a minute, Tony. You mean to say you it genuinely didn’t cross your mind that you might, just might, be in the process of being sold to Leeds United? Did you honestly think it was a little sojourn out to buy some memorabilia from the Leeds club shop?
“Even when we drove though those [Elland Road] gates I didn’t think the club would let me go. It hadn’t sunk in what was happening.”
Still a bit in the dark here, Tony? Still not even a glimmer of an idea as to what is going on?
“Then John Harris let me go on and see Jimmy Armfield and, by the time I’d come out, I’d signed.”
And just like that. In the blink of an eye, like dropping a glass of milk, Tony was driven up the M1, sat down with the Leeds manager, signed a contract and just like that, ended up being a Leeds United player rather than a Sheffield United one. Weird.
Diverting as the book is, the reader is left feeling that this ‘matador’ remains peacefully unprovoked.