ALAN Curbishley is more familiar these days as a TV pundit but 29 years ago he was part of a Brighton and Hove Albion promotion.
Curbs was what you might call West Ham through and through.
Born at Forest Gate, within a mile of West Ham station, he was one of five children (elder brother Bill famously promoted and managed The Who and Led Zeppelin and was producer of the films Tommy and Quadrophenia).
Curbs joined the Hammers straight from school and in March 1975 made his first team debut at the tender age of 17 in a 1-0 home defeat against Chelsea.
At the time, he was the youngest to play in the senior team although that record was subsequently eclipsed by Paul Allen.
Curbs was a contemporary of Geoff Pike, Paul Brush and Alvin Martin and they were all in the West Ham youth team defeated 5-1 on aggregate by Ipswich in the 1975 FA Youth Cup Final.
In a midfield dominated by Trevor Brooking, Graham Paddon and Pat Holland, and later Alan Devonshire and Pike, Curbs found first team chances limited, although in 1977-78 he made 36 appearances.
After 85 matches for the Hammers, in 1979 he moved to Birmingham for £225,000. Curbishley was still only 21 when he made his debut for the Blues on 18 August 1979 in a 4-3 defeat at home to Fulham and he went on to be ever present for Birmingham in that 1979-80 season.
The following season he earned his one and only England Under 21 cap in a 5-0 thrashing of Switzerland at Portman Road and, although selected for an England B squad, he sustained a fractured kneecap – ironically in a tackle with Albion’s Brian Horton – and he was subsequently passed over for selection.
He was on the front cover of the matchday programme for a game I went to watch at St Andrew’s on 27 March 1982 when he played for Ron Saunders’ Blues in a 1-0 win over Brighton.
The following year, after a total of 155 games, he committed what today seems to be viewed as a cardinal sin by signing for Villa for £100,000, ironically making his debut against Birmingham in a 1-0 win on 4 April 1983.
However, he couldn’t settle under Tony Barton and, after only 36 appearances, scoring once, he returned to London, dropping back down to the 2nd division, to begin what would be a long association with Charlton Athletic, punctuated only by his spell at Brighton.
Amazingly, although homeless at the time and playing at Selhurst Park, Charlton won promotion back to the 1st Division. Unfortunately Curbs sustained an achilles tendon injury and only played 10 games in the 1986-87 season.
By the time he left Charlton, he’d played 63 games for the Addicks, scoring six, but after 13 seasons playing in the top two divisions, he dropped down to the Third to join the Albion for £32,500.
After the departure of Jimmy Case in 1985, the centre of Albion’s midfield had been crying out for someone who could put their foot on the ball and pass it, and Curbishley stepped neatly into that role, scoring six goals – mostly penalties – in 34 appearances as Brighton won promotion.
In total, over three years on the south coast, he played 127 games (plus five as sub) contributing 15 goals.
The Albion matchday programme featured Curbs when the Seagulls hosted the Hammers for a Barclays League Division 2 game on 16 September 1989. Describing his time with the East London club, he said: “It was a brilliant set up although I was definitely a bit headstrong in my early days.
“I didn’t really grow up until I moved to St Andrew’s and that’s where I had my best playing days.”
Lou Macari’s side in 1989 included Curbs’ old pal Alvin Martin and future Albion manager Liam Brady but the Seagulls ran out 3-0 winners (goals from Kevin Bremner, Robert Codner and Garry Nelson).
In 1990, Curbs began his coaching career, returning to Charlton initially as player-coach under Lennie Lawrence. When Lawrence left in 1991, Charlton made the somewhat unusual decision to appoint joint managers: Curbs and Steve Gritt (who would later be at the helm when Albion narrowly escaped dropping out of the league).
The arrangement lasted four years before Curbs took sole charge and led Charlton to some of the most successful times in their history. He plundered young winger John Robinson from the Seagulls and for shorter spells, as they came towards the end of their careers, Nelson and Steve Gatting.
Considering their resources, Curbishley turned Charlton into a steady top flight club and model of stability, consistently securing a mid-table finish.
Sean Cole in The Bleacher Report described him as “one of the most promising managerial talents of the new millennium” and in 2006, in the wake of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s departure as England manager, Curbs had ‘tea and biscuits’ with then chief executive Brian Barwick – but Steve McLaren got the job instead.
In December 2006, Curbishley landed what surely would have been considered his dream job – manager of West Ham.
It was quite a reunion of old pals when Brighton visited Upton Park for one of his first games in charge, in the third round of the FA Cup in January 2007. Albion boss Dean Wilkins and coach Ian Chapman had both been teammates while physiotherapist Malcolm Stuart was still wielding the magic spray.
In front of 32,874, Hammers ran out fairly comfortable 3-0 winners with Mark Noble scoring his first senior West Ham goal and Carlos Tevez a real handful up front. These were the respective line-ups:
West Ham: Carroll, Dailly, Ferdinand (Spector 45), Gabbidon, McCartney, Benayoun, Mullins, Noble, Boa Morte (Newton 73), Cole (Zamora 68), Tevez.
Subs not used: Green, Sheringham. Goals: Noble 49, Cole 58, Mullins 90.
Brighton: Henderson, O’Cearuill, Lynch, Butters, Mayo, Fraser (Hart 51), El-Abd, Hammond, Frutos (Rents 67), Revell (Gatting 84), Robinson. Subs not used: Kuipers, Carpenter.
Fans’ website westhamtillidie recalled: “Perhaps Curbs’ greatest legacy at the club was the £7m signing of his former Charlton protégé Scott Parker, who went on to win the Hammer of the Year prize three times and pick up a Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award during his time at the club.”
Sadly, though it was to all end in tears and Curbishley quit in protest at the then Icelandic owners’ failure to consult him over the sale of defenders Anton Ferdinand and George McCartney.
In what must have been a tough heart-v-head decision, he resorted to a legal resolution of the situation and eventually won a case for constructive dismissal, eventually receiving £2.2m in compensation. But it was the last manager’s job he had.
“It took me a year to sort out my problem at West Ham,” he told The Independent. “And then, after that, I was perhaps a little too picky. I was told by other senior managers ‘don’t be out too long’ but I was waiting for a job that I thought was the job for me.”
Job vacancies came and went, Curbs’ name was generally on all the shortlists, but he never again made it through to the manager’s chair. There was a brief moment at Fulham when he was technical director assisting Rene Meulensteen but when Meulensteen was swiftly axed, new manager Felix Magath brought in his own people.
He rejoined the Fulham coaching staff in March 2015 and took charge of training in November 2015 when Kit Symons was relieved of his managerial duties but Stuart Gray took charge of the team before current boss Slavisa Jokanovic was appointed.
In 2016, Curbishley brought out a book, Game Changers: Inside English Football: From the Boardroom to the Bootroom (published by HarperSport) and this season has been a regular pundit on the Football on 5 programme covering Football League games.
- Pictures show westhamtillidie’s image of Curbishley in West Ham colours; the midfielder on the front of a Birmingham matchday programme 1982; in Villa’s colours from a Match Weekly annual, an Argus shot of Curbs scoring a penalty for Brighton against Man City, and a portrait from that 1989 Albion programme.