The kiss of Alan Birchenall and Tony Currie, is one of the most iconic in the history of football. “Well, well, well, you’ve done it this time,” uttered Heather Birchenall as she flung one of the national Sunday newspapers towards her husband Alan, who was enjoying a lie-in after featuring for Leicester City in their 4-0 defeat at Sheffield United the day before.
Birchenall was expecting his usual Sunday morning cup of tea, or “Rosie Lee”, as he would put it, and his paper, which he always used to read from back to front, perusing the sports pages for the reports of the previous day’s games and in particular the verdicts on City’s displays.
There before him was a huge photo of him sitting next to the Blades’ counterpart Tony Currie on the pitch and they were kissing beneath a headline that was screaming, “Disgrace! What is the game coming to?” This was April 1975 after all and the world was a very different place.
Of course, Birchenall had thought nothing of that moment towards the end of the game at the time. He had carried out some crazy stunts before such as throwing out meat pies from a vendor peddling his wares around the pitch during a break in play in one game, only for the vendor to catch him after the match, demanding recompense.
On one particular rainy day, he ran out on the pitch for a game carrying an umbrella to amuse the crowd. He was always a joker and a prankster, so when he found himself sat next to Currie after the two had come together after challenging for a long ball, his comical instinct had kicked in. “Give us a kiss,” he had cheekily requested form his rival, who ironically United had signed for £40,000 to replace Birchenall when he was sold to Chelsea for £100,000 in 1967.
They puckered up and pecked, which lasted a millisecond, before getting up and getting on with the game but unbeknown to both players, a photographer with a zoom lens captured the moment and when the photo was printed, it sent shockwaves around the game and within British society. It made the television news that Sunday evening and over the course of the next couple of days, it was even debated in the House of Commons, with the general theme being, “what had happened to the national game? Had morale standards sunk so low?”.
“It was a tough afternoon at Bramall Lane,” recalls Birchenall, now the Leicester City club ambassador who is sat in his office at the training ground, ironically looking at the famous picture on his desk as he speaks to The Athletic.
“We were getting well beaten on a rock-hard pitch with hardly any grass on it and it was all quite miserable but throughout my career, I don’t think I have ever left the pitch without having a laugh at some stage with either a team-mate, opponent, officials or fans. If you can’t have a laugh playing football, even if you are 4-0 down, then what’s the point?
I was chasing a big thump down the pitch and I felt someone besides me, we collided, I did a gambol and as I sat up, there was TC next to me. It was just a light-hearted, spontaneous moment and I didn’t think anything of it after that. I don’t think the manager or directors were too pleased when they saw the picture the next day.”
I had loads of letters including one from a right-wing organisation threatening me. I spoke to TC and he said it had gone crazy up in Yorkshire with people trying to talk to him about it and for the next couple of weeks, it remained the same.” Several times in the following 44 years, the pair have re-enacted the pucker moment but Currie says it is all for a good cause. “It feels like a long time ago now,” said Currie.
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