Norman Curtis: Sheffield Wednesday full-back whose thunderous penalties won him a place in fans’ hea

Author: By Ivan Ponting

Then, without breaking stride, the energetic marksman would unleash a shot of
pulverising velocity, and on 19 occasions out of 24 the strength of the goal
net underwent a stringent examination. On the other five, it is said, the
woodwork took the blow and shivered accordingly.

Inevitably, such a spectacular routine earned Curtis a timeless niche in
Hillsborough folklore, but it should not be allowed to obscure his all-round
competence at his primary function, that of defending to a consistently
lofty standard throughout what was, for the Owls, an unnervingly chaotic
decade. Indeed, three times they were relegated from the top flight, but on
each occasion they bounced back immediately as Second Division champions,
with the Yorkshireman integrally involved in his yo-yo club’s every
emotional extreme.

Curtis hailed from the small coal-mining town of Dinnington, where he started
his working life as a butcher’s boy and might have expected to make his
living in the local pit but for his footballing ability. After the war,
during which he served as a navigator with the Royal Navy’s air fleet in the
Far East, he became a part-timer with Gainsborough Trinity of the Midland
League while working as an engineer in the town. He shone as Trinity won
their league title in 1949, so brightly that in January 1950 he was sold to
Sheffield Wednesday of the old First Division, the equivalent of the modern
Premier League, for £1,250.

Come November he was plunged into regular top-flight action in a struggling
side, and although he made a favourable impact there was nothing he could do
to prevent demotion the following spring. During the 1951-52 season Curtis
vied for the No 3 shirt with Vic Kenny and continued to perform reliably as
the Owls lifted the Second Division crown, though understandably most of the
headlines were hogged by the prodigiously prolific young centre-forward
Derek Dooley, who struck 46 times in 30 outings.

Back among the elite in 1952-53, Curtis became ever more prominent, taking
over the spot-kick duties in his own inimitable manner ? he converted six
that term, including two each in encounters with Portsmouth and Derby County
? but also maturing as a full-back. Waspish in the tackle, quick to recover
if beaten and versatile enough to switch to the right flank at need, he
proved an abrasively tenacious marker who, as the decade progressed, coped
admirably with the best right wingers in the business, including the great
Stanley Matthews.

In a season marred by an horrendous injury to Dooley which resulted in the
amputation of his right leg, Wednesday managed narrowly to preserve their
new-found status, as they did again in 1953-54, a campaign in which Curtis
demonstrated his courage and adaptability in characteristically enterprising
fashion.

When the Owls’ goalkeeper Dave McIntosh suffered a broken arm 10 minutes into
a match at Preston, the sturdy left-back stepped up as emergency custodian ?
this was in the era before the use of substitutes was permitted ? and
although he conceded five of the goals in a 6-0 defeat, he managed to save
two penalties, one by Tom Finney and the other by Jimmy Baxter. That season,
too, Curtis featured in Wednesday’s run to the semi-final of the FA Cup,
turning out at right-back as they lost 2-0 to Preston at Maine Road,
Manchester.

Alas, such a whiff of success was illusory as the Hillsborough side went down
in 1954-55, but their long-term manager Eric Taylor led them back up as
champions in 1955-56, only for them to take the plunge yet again two seasons
later.

The rollercoaster ride continued in 1958-59, during which Curtis belied his
near-veteran status by playing in every game as Wednesday, now guided by
their new manager Harry Catterick, claimed the Second Division crown for the
third time in eight seasons.

Back among the elite, the Cannonball continued to fire, converting what was to
prove his last spot-kick for the Owls in a home victory over Luton Town
shortly after his 35th birthday, but he then soon made way for a formidable
young challenger, Don Megson.

When he left Sheffield in August 1960 to become player-manager of Fourth
Division Doncaster Rovers, with a £1,000 transfer fee changing hands, Curtis
had made 324 senior appearances and scored 21 goals for Wednesday and earned
plaudits as one of their most loyal servants.

At Belle Vue he enjoyed one vigorous campaign, playing 40 times and
shepherding his new charges to a safe mid-table position which was an
improvement on the club’s showing the previous season. However, though he
was a quiet fellow away from the action, he was a strong- minded individual
and after a bitter disagreement with the chairman over youth policy, he
resigned in the summer of 1961.

After leaving Doncaster he spent four years as player-manager of non-League
Buxton and continued to demonstrate his all-round prowess by playing Minor
Counties cricket as a wicketkeeper-batsman for Lincolnshire.

He also ran a sports shop in Gainsborough and later he worked as a sales
representative for Carlsberg.

William Norman Curtis, footballer and manager: born Dinnington, Yorkshire
10 September 1924; played for Sheffield Wednesday 1950-60, Doncaster Rovers
1960-61; managed Doncaster Rovers 1960-61; married (one son, one daughter);
died York 7 September 2009.

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