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

They used to call him "Cannonball", and with good reason. When Norman Curtis took penalties for Sheffield Wednesday during the 1950s, a team-mate would place the ball on the spot and the combative left-back would start to charge from deep inside his own half, steadily at first but building fearsome momentum as he neared the opposition's box.

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.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam