George Curtis, who has sadly died at the age of 82, was one of the truly iconic figures in the history of Coventry City Football Club and his achievements and influence span the decades.
George was born on 5th May 1939 in Dover. Former Coventry player Harry Barratt had recommended City sign Curtis from Snowdown Colliery near Dover who Barratt was in charge of, and so in October 1955 George was brought to the club as a 16-year-old during the brief managerial reign of Jesse Carver.
At the end of the 1955/56 season, Curtis was handed his chance by George Raynor, Carver’s replacement, making George the Club’s then youngest ever debutant at the age of 16 years and 11 months in April 1956.
Curtis also played for England Youth in 1956 and would later receive further international recognition as a reserve for England Under 23s.
George got 19 games in the 1956/57 campaign, many of them at left back, but while he played four fewer league games in 1957/58, by now he was earning a place in his best position at the heart of the defence, where he started the final dozen games of the season.
The next nine seasons saw him cement his place at the heart of the Coventry City side as a tough no-nonsense centre half. Despite that reputation though, Curtis was never sent off for City.
He captained the side as they were promoted from the Fourth Division in 1958/59 and again as they won the Third Division title in 1963-64, playing 50 games.
By the time City were promoted to the top-flight, he had missed only 2 games during the decade – an incredible feat. That 1966/67 campaign would see Curtis captain the Sky Blues to promotion to the First Division for the first time in the Club’s history.
Having led the side to the top division, Curtis would tragically break his leg in the second game of the season and City would be without their talismanic leader.
By the time George came back at Easter, Noel Cantwell had taken over from Jimmy Hill. Coming off the bench in a home win over Stoke, Curtis was asked to start in the return match just 24 hours later only to have to come off injured.
It would be the following October before he could play regularly again. However, he had recovered sufficiently to show he could hold down a regular spot at the highest level despite approaching the veteran stage, one highlight being a goal in a home win over Manchester United who had become the first English European champions.
It would be Manchester United’s next visit that marked the final start of Curtis’ Coventry career. A week later, in November 1969, George came off the bench for his final City appearance in a goalless draw at Burnley.
He left for Aston Villa in December 1969 with his place in the Club’s history already secure.
His appearance total of 543 games from 1956 to 1969 remains the second highest in the Club’s history, and the highest for an outfield player, while he also scored 11 goals. He also appeared in all four divisions as City climbed the league, as well as Division 3 South.
Following retirement from playing, Curtis would return to Highfield Road in 1972 as Commercial Manager before becoming an Executive Director and taking over as Managing Director in 1983.
When the Sky Blues were facing relegation in 1986, when Don Mackay left the Board asked George to take over with John Sillett until the end of the season. A goal from Nick Pickering gave the duo a 1-0 home win over Luton in their first match. Although a 1-0 defeat at West Ham caused some anxiety going into the final fixture of the season, goals from Brian Kilcline and Dave Bennett brought about a final day win over QPR. Two wins from George and John’s three games took City to 43 points and the safety of being sixth from bottom.
Working in tandem with John Sillett who duly took over team affairs with Curtis moving back ‘upstairs’ into a more administrative but still hugely influential role, even greater success followed with a 10th place finish in the top division and an unforgettable FA Cup win.
The Sky Blues secured the Club’s first major trophy with a 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, and no City fan will ever tire of seeing the scenes of jubilation on the pitch, with Curtis alongside Sillett at the heart of the win.
With Sillett’s role formalised that Summer with the appointment as Manager, Curtis continued to work tirelessly for the Club behind-the-scenes. In May 1994, George took a well-earned retirement, having made a huge contribution to Coventry City both on and off the field.
Always popular with fans, a lounge at Highfield Road was named in his honour and when the Club moved to its new stadium in 2005, a ‘Wall of Fame’ was named after George too. In May 2012, he was made a Life President of the Sky Blues.
While ill health restricted his appearances publicly at events in later life, George was always a popular presence with fans, and was greeted warmly when attending the Jimmy Hill Memorial in February 2016.
The influence of George Curtis on Coventry City was a huge one and his achievements great, and the Club and its supporters will always be grateful to him.
With thanks to Jim Brown for additional information.