The events of December 26, 1979 – forty years ago on Thursday – provided the best Christmas present ever for the man affectionately known as TC and countless others of a Sheffield Wednesday persuasion.
Pink Floyd were famously riding high at the top of the UK charts with Another Brick in the Wall. But in front of a disbelieving, but mostly ecstatic holiday crowd of 49,309, Sheffield United’s own particular defensive wall got well and truly smashed as Wednesday thrashed the Division Three leaders and their bitter city rivals 4-0.
The events were to become universally known as the Boxing Day Massacre as Wednesday, then sixth in the third tier, handed a lesson to Harry Haslam’s Blades and things were never quite the same again that season for the visitors.
The day had started out with enough testosterone to fill Ladybower Reservoir as two sets of pumped-up players lined up against each other in the tunnel ahead of walking out side by side onto the pitch in an attempt to defuse the tension ahead of kick-off where defeat for either the Owls or Blades was unthinkable.
Some hope of that.
Curran told The Yorkshire Post: “Both teams walked out together in the tunnel and some of the United defenders were saying what they were going to do to me and were saying that they were going to put me out of the game and that I would be carried off after ten minutes, so ‘good luck and all that!’
“There was stuff like: ‘I hope you are going to be able to play before the season ends’ and all that. It was all things you get when you play in local derbies and you accept that.
“I used to turn around and say: ‘lads, you are not really good or quick enough to get me’. It is only banter.
“I am friends with (former Sheffield United centre-halves) Tony Kenworthy and John McPhail. I know Tony really well and we always used to bump into each other and you went into the same nightclubs – but not the same pubs.
“With footballers, the animosity was on the pitch. But once you came off it, say 92 per cent of players get on.”
For McPhail and Kenworthy and those others in red and white, that sense of ‘camaraderie’ was sorely tested at the sight of Curran – a man from a pit village in West Yorkshire who bleeds the blue and white of Sheffield Wednesday – lauding it over the other half of the Steel City.
Wednesday’s first-half opener from Ian Mellor in front of a packed-out Kop was a head-turner – a ferocious rising drive which positively flew into the net – but this was a day in which Curran truly took centre stage.
Curran headed home the Owls’ second in the second half in front of thousands of Unitedites in the Leppings Lane End, memorably rubbing it in by sliding on his knees in front of them to compound the pain.
The mercurial forward then set up Jeff King for the hosts third and was then fouled by Blades keeper Derek Richardson – with Mark Smith coolly stroking home the penalty to make it 4-0, with Christmas most definitely over for the red side of the city.
Now 64, Curran recalled: “Ian Mellor scored an unbelievable first goal and they missed a hell of a chance to equalise through Micky Speight. I scored with a header and laid one on for Jeff King and made the penalty for Mark Smith.”
As for his ‘individual’ celebrations, he added: “I did two really. I did the one when I had scored and ran to the United fans at the Leppings Lane End and got on my knees in front of them and then got my hands up to say: ‘Take that.’
“There were a lot of people throwing coins and if I had have picked up those coins that day, it would have been more than my wages!
“There was another incident where we got a corner kick and I had gone over to the far side and laid down and put my head on the ball near the corner flag as if I was doing a bit of sunbathing. That set the crowd off a little bit.
“With me being a Wednesdayite, I loved anything like that where I would wind them up a little bit and put them in their place.
“At the end of the day, United are back in the Premier League now and have done exceptionally well.
“But Wednesday are the ‘big brother’ and United are the ‘small brother’. We are the (historically) bigger club. Little brother always wants to be the big brother and we had to put them in their place!”
Derbies may have been commonplace over the festive season for much of the post-war era in British football, yet this was an extra-special one that captured the imagination of the Steel City like few others.
It was why fans queued up at Hillsborough before the dawn. A game which had been talked about in the workplace for months, let alone weeks.
It was also why the game kicked off at the early hour of 11am – before opening time – on the insistent of Sheffield City Council, with fans having to walk to the stadium with no buses due to it being Boxing Day.
Some five hundred police greeted both sets of supporters inside and around Hillsborough in one of the biggest-ever operations by the local constabulary in Sheffield.
Thankfully, there was no disorder and the game passed out relatively peacefully. Although there were injuries nursed by Unitedites – namely a collective wounding of pride after such a heavy defeat.
As someone who always preferred a half of Coca-Cola to a half of lager, Curran elected not to toast that famous win with alcohol – evoking memories of how ex-Liverpool manager Bob Paisley drunk in the occasion when the Reds won their first European Cup in Rome in 1977.
Curran said: “I was not a drinker, but the lads did have a couple of drinks and then we went home. But once Christmas was out of the way, we had a little bit of a get-together and enjoyed ourselves.
“It was such an occasion. It can either lift you or make you a bag of nerves.
“Everyone is different and you don’t know how people will react to a pressure game. We needed to win and in one sense, they could afford not to win and still be sat at the top of the league. We needed to get a bit closer and give us a good chance of promotion.
“It was a great atmosphere and thousands of people were still outside and the kick-off was brought forward as in our day we were getting a lot of hassle with some elements of the crowd.
“At least two weeks before, we were getting letters saying: ‘don’t let us down, we have got to beat these and put them back in their place’.
“Our fans wanted to go back to work after the Christmas period with the bragging rights and we gave it to them.”