Keith Curle remembers Laurie Cunningham, to whom England Under-21 v Scotland will be dedicated
England v Scotland
Under-21 International Match
Tuesday 13 August 2013
Bramall Lane, Sheffield United FC
Former Sheffield United defender Keith Curle believes dedicating the Under-21s international between England and Scotland on 13 August at Bramall Lane to the memory of Laurie Cunningham is a fitting tribute to an 'exceptional talent'.
The clash between the Three Lions and the Tartan Army has been selected to commemorate Cunningham after he scored the winning goal for England Under-21s when the two teams first met at the same ground back in 1977.
Cunningham died in a car crash in Madrid in 1989, aged just 33, but left an indelible mark on the game he held dearly.
“He was the type of player people would pay the admission fee to watch him alone,” said Curle, who made over 50 appearances for the Blades and claimed three caps for England during his career.
“He was given freedom at West Bromwich Albion under Ron Atkinson and that was indicative of his personality. He played the game with natural flair and ability and put a smile on people’s faces.
"Laurie was an exceptional talent. It has been well documented that Ron informed him to ‘go out there and play’."
The match will also recognise the 20-year anniversary of Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion campaign, and its work in tackling discrimination within the game.
Since its inception in 1993, Curle believes there has been tremendous progress made in addressing these issues.
“What some people perceived as banter, making comments that they thought were funny, the type of comments people laughed at in the changing room, is now unacceptable behaviour," commented ex-Notts County manager Curle.
“I feel there has been a massive step forward in terms of changing people’s attitudes. Anyone who walks into football can now be accepted regardless of their race, skin colour or religion."
Still holding fond memories of the time he spent with the Blades, Curle feels Bramall Lane is the perfect venue to play host to an emotional fixture carrying so much significance.
“The supporters there are absolutely fantastic. If you went 1-0 up at Bramall Lane, they would be like an extra player,” the 49-year-old said.
“It could also be intimidating. If you weren’t playing well, let me tell you, the supporters would let you know! To be a crowd favourite, you need to be a special type of person to be able to perform well in that atmosphere."
He continued: "My time there was a fantastic experience. It was a football club that reached the pinnacle when they got to the Premier League under Neil Warnock. There has been a decline on the pitch since then unfortunately, but off the pitch the supporters are still special."
Curle made his full England debut at the age of 28. Featuring at Euro 1992 in Sweden, he had previously been part of the England B set up and says his journey as a professional footballer made him particularly cherish every time he represented his country.
“I changed positions from a winger at the start of my career, to a central defender," he said. "I played in every tier of English football. I then went on to represent my country. For me it was a phenomenal experience [playing for England] because of the pathways I took to reach the top, I started from the bottom to reach those heights.
"It makes you treasure your England caps. I was disappointed to never play for England in my chosen position. I represented England as a left back, right back and sweeper, but for my country, I would’ve played in any position."
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