Tony Currie tribute to Frank Worthington, Trevor Cherry, Peter Lorimer and Norman Hunter
It was in June, 1972. Dressed in high-heeled cowboy boots, a red silk shirt and a lime velvet jacket, Worthington had earlier prompted a shocked Alf Ramsey to utter a rare expletive when he met the England manager at Heathrow Airport after a call-up for an England Under-23 tour.
Currie was similarly taken aback when he had his first chat with Worthington. It was the start of a long friendship with the former Huddersfield Town striker and fellow football icon – who passed away last Monday.
On that first abiding memory of Worthington, Currie told The Yorkshire Post: “Somebody got ill and went home and Frank was subbed in (the Under 23s) and called up.
“I was rooming with him and came back from training and he had arrived from England and the first words he ever said to me were: ‘What do you think of my Elvis shirt?’ It wasn’t ‘Hi TC’ or anything like that.
“He was a huge Elvis fan and he signed his bloody autograph ‘Elvis’ in brackets.
“He just made me laugh and I didn’t know what to say. He just got the shirt out of the wardrobe as he’d unpacked.
“But what a lovely man. We built up a great friendship. We later played celebrity golf for 20 years, travelling all over. We used to have a right laugh.
“We went on holidays together with our wives to Lanzarote for two years running. That’s how close we were. He was a lovely bloke who would not say boo to a goose.”
The early Seventies was a time of industrial unrest and grim three-day weeks, Cod Wars and the like. Football’s own version of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ were the mavericks who rose above the mundane.
Making up the select class who took on the reins from George Best were Stan Bowles, Charlie George, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh, Peter Osgood, Currie and Worthington, nicknamed ‘Gunslinger’ by Hudson.
All these great entertainers were non-conformists and the subject of a book entitled: The Mavericks: English Football When Flair Wore Flares.
Their skills would have blessed the great continental sides of that era; Ajax, Bayern Munich, Leeds United, Liverpool, Saint-Etienne.
Unfortunately, their individualistic talents were not appreciated by their national team managers as their number of England caps testify. It is a crying shame, more especially in a decade when England failed to qualify for World Cups in 1974 and 1978. Their place in the hearts of football supporters from that era – regardless of club colours – at least remains undiminished as the gushing and genuine tributes to Worthington bore testament to.
Currie added: “What a player Frank was. So skilful and great in the air. He could hold the back four off, he was that good; he used to back into them, shield the ball and bring players into the game. He was brilliant.
“I was in quite a few (England) squads with him and I know he only played eight (times). Bowlesy only played five and Marshy nine. It was criminal.
“I got 17, so I don’t feel as hard done by, although I felt I should have got about fifty caps. Don’t ask my mum how many I should have got!
“Frank was one of the cynics that (Don) Revie got around in a circle after training and said: ‘You lot are not involved in my future plans.’ It was me, Frank, Marshy, Charlie George, Alan Hudson and Bowlesy.
“We were in a few squads. I was in loads of squads from ’72 to ’79. I think Frank was a bit in and out. I don’t know why, because I don’t think he had an injury in his life. I don’t think he ever pulled a hamstring.”
On the enduring respect and love from those punters who watched the likes of Worthington and himself in their heyday, Currie is gracious and humble.
He continued: “Obviously, these people are fifty years old now and above, but it is just fantastic for me, Frank, Bowlesy and all that group of players who are spoken about like that.
“My daughter in Romford sends me web comments up all the time – from Leeds, QPR and Sheffield United websites with these comments which are just fantastic. I get tears in my eyes and it just chokes me up.
“If Frank was playing now, being a striker, he’d probably be on 250 grand a week or more. It is not worth thinking about. People ask: ‘How much do you think you would be worth now?’ As a midfielder, I say: ‘About 150 grand a week.’ I don’t like talking about it!
“It was great to be in Frank’s company when we were together and when there were a few punters at the golf talking to us, he’d point to me and say: ‘What a player he was – the best midfield player blah, blah.’ It was a bit embarrassing, but it was what Frank was like. A fantastic bloke.”
Worthington’s passing came just two days after the death of another famous name in Seventies football in Peter Lorimer, someone who Currie knew well from his time at Leeds.
Two other ex team-mates in Trevor Cherry and Norman Hunter have also passed away in the past 12 months. Currie has fond memories of all three.
On Lorimer, Currie – who moved to Leeds from Sheffield United in June 1976 – commented: “I didn’t realise how great a player Peter was until I came to Leeds. He could nutmeg you with his eyes closed. He was a great player and a joy to play with.
“I played with the two hardest shots in football – Peter and Alan Woodward. It was a toss-up who was the hardest. But Pete had more than a hard shot. You had to train and play with him to realise what a player he was.
“I also remember he used to have a Lancia. I lived in Collingham and he lived in Bardsey. I’d be going down the A58 when we were a bit late for work and all of a sudden, he’d be coming on the outside of all the traffic and frighten me to death!
“Trevor was my room-mate with England and also came on the celebrity golf with us. He would play across the back four or in midfield – in any position other than striker. Man for man marking, he was as good if not better than (Paul) Reaney.
“He probably cost me a few caps as he also played in midfield when I was and sometimes they picked someone to shore the midfield up. He was a great lad and a really good room-mate.
“When I first went to Leeds, most of the class acts were still there. I’d come in for Johnny Giles and it was great to look and admire them and talk in a group and be with the lads and have a drink with them after training and games and on tour. The stories and the laughter...
“Norman was another lovely bloke, without the ball at your feet.
“For me, that Leeds team from 1970 to 1975 were the best team in Europe, if not the world. They could handle themselves and were called Dirty Leeds. But what a skilful team they were.”
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