When I think of Leeds United and Swansea City I think of Andy Robinson, Federico Bessone and Alan Curtis. Some would say that none of them actually set the world alight at Leeds and maybe they’re right. However, whilst Robinson came with a big reputation at the level he was playing but failed to live up to expectation and Bessone was bombed out after a handful of truly awful performances; there was Alan Curtis, a talented player who was very unlucky.
Curtis was born in Pentre, near Pontypridd in April 1954 and signed for Swansea City in July 1972. After some stunning displays for the Swans during the early part of their remarkable rise through the divisions, he signed for Leeds United in May 1979.
The £400,000 fee was a record at the time for a player who had come out of English football’s third tier. Transfer speculation had been rife and his manager, John Toshack, offered his fellow Welshman some timely advice:
“John accepted that I would be moving on. We had just won promotion to the Second Division but although he would have been happy for me to stay, he knew I would have an opportunity too good to turn down. He advised me that the only two clubs to consider were Liverpool and Leeds United.
"Jimmy Adamson at Leeds came in for me and I had talks with him before Crystal Palace declared their interest and made a move. I briefly spoke to Palace and when I informed them that I had given Adamson and Leeds United my word and I was heading for West Yorkshire, they replied, 'OK, tell us what you want then?'
"In truth, it wasn’t about the money and I could have earned more by staying at the Vetch Field than I did at Elland Road.”
Leeds United had a plethora of Welshman at the club and following his move Alan Curtis settled in very quickly and became good friends with the groundsman, John Reynolds.
As the 1979-80 campaign kicked off Leeds were fancied to do well having finished fifth the previous season and Alan Curtis admits that there was some extra pressure on his shoulders:
“The pressure was on me due to the amount of money Leeds had paid for my services but all the lads knew the pressure was on. That comes with playing for a club like Leeds United.”
Curtis made his debut on the opening day of the season in a thrilling 2-2 draw away at Bristol City, playing up front with Ray Hankin and he made an immediate impact:
“I scored twice. I always remember the game and it was a fantastic feeling to get the goals especially as there were so many Leeds fans inside the ground.
"I enjoyed playing up front with Ray; I likened him to a Welsh rugby forward. He was so big and powerful and took the knocks.”
On the 15th of September, Curtis scored his first goal at Elland Road in a 1-1 draw against League Champions Liverpool and his father, who was at the game, said that he had never heard such a roar from a football crowd like the one at Elland Road when the ball hit the net.
As a result of the previous seasons fifth place finish, Leeds were back in Europe and entered the UEFA Cup only to bow out in the second round against Romanian opposition Universitatea Craiova:
“We had comfortably beaten Valetta in the first round and I had scored in the second leg at Elland Road. However, it is the trip to Romania that sticks in my mind. Everywhere we went, there were rats running around.”
It was all going well for Alan Curtis, he was an ever present in league and cup until he picked up a virus over Christmas and as a result missed the holiday games against Norwich City and Derby County:
“Next up was Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round and due to the fact I wasn’t 100% fit, I wasn’t named in the original squad. However, somebody got injured in training and I was told I would be playing.
"I chased a loose ball but Peter Shilton got there just before me. My foot had gone underneath him but as I fell over him, my knee locked and I suffered severe ligament damage which was operated on the same day.
"It was a career threatening injury that would finish my season and the physio Geoff Ladley was fantastic in aiding my recovery.”
Alan Curtis began his rehabilitation with the aim to be fit for start of the following season and that is something he achieved:
“I played the first two games but I was struggling. My awareness wasn’t there and I had another spell out of the side.”
By the time Alan returned, the manager who had signed him had been replaced by Allan Clarke,
“I played a few games for Clarke but he didn’t fancy me. He wanted his own players in and I could understand that. However, I along with many others wondered what planet he was on when he told us immediately after getting the job that he would win the European Cup within two seasons! He ended up taking Leeds down.”
The final goal Alan Curtis scored for Leeds United came in a 1-0 win at home to Everton and the following week at Wolves he played his last game in a Leeds shirt:
“In the December of 1980 I was on my way back to Swansea in a cut price deal. It was a regret leaving Elland Road but I had not had the rub of the green."
Whilst at Leeds, Alan Curtis won six of his 35 Welsh caps, scoring in a win over the Republic of Ireland and a heavy defeat to West Germany.
It was Leeds who suffered a heavy defeat the next time they encountered Curtis when on the opening day of the 1981-82 season, newly promoted Swansea stunned Leeds 5-1. To rub salt into the wounds, Curtis scored but admits it was a ‘bitter/sweet’ feeling.
In 1983 he was on the move again, this time to Southampton where he played alongside a young Ian Baird before spells at Stoke City, Cardiff City and a third stint at Swansea.
After spells in the Welsh league he returned to Swansea in the role of Football in the Community Officer. He is now part of Michael Laudrup’s backroom staff and recently enjoyed the clubs historic League Cup final win over Bradford City.
Despite the fact his Leeds career didn’t go to plan, Alan Curtis has some fond memories from his time at Elland Road:
“It was a pleasure to play with some top players and I have to say that Eddie Gray is the best player I have ever played alongside, what a great left foot he had. Even to this day I keep in touch with Eddie.
"My home debut was something I will always remember, a midweek fixture at home to Everton with 30,000 in the ground. That was a brilliant occasion and a very special night.”
Thank you to Alan Curtis for giving me his time and the opportunity to write this article.