Born: c.1962, Norwich
Debut: Switzerland (H) 28 April 1977
Occupation: Policewoman (1988)
The Lioness of Arco: a long-serving striking legend with an insatiable appetite for goals.
Norwich police officer who was a player for the big occasion—with the medals to prove it—and a loyal servant to the English cause.
Tommy Tranter gave youthful Curl her England debut on 28 April 1977 in a 9–1 win over Switzerland at Boothferry Park, Hull.1
Her next England appearance was much less auspicious, a 2–1 defeat to the Scots at Downfield Juniors FC ground, near Dundee, on 29 May. It would be the Auld Enemy’s first ever win over England, and their last for 34 years, until the 2011 Cyprus Cup.
On 18 September Curl was involved as England returned to winning ways by hammering Wales 5–0 in Warminster, all the goals coming in the second half.
She collected a fourth cap in the 1–0 win over Italy at Plough Lane, Wimbledon on 15 November 1977. Lowestoft Ladies starlet Curl started the match in a midfield role wearing number 6. Sheila Parker, wearing number 10, struck the winner.
On 28 October 1978, Curl added to Elaine “Baddy” Badrock’s double as England beat Belgium 3–0. Played at Southampton FC’s The Dell, it was England’s first match at a top level ground.
Lowestoft Ladies, the team from the easternmost town in the UK, reached the 1979 Women’s FA Cup final. But Curl’s team were edged out 1–0 by Southampton, the dominant team of the era, at Jubilee Park, Waterlooville.
England went to an unofficial European Championship in July 1979 and dispatched Finland and Switzerland in Sorrento during group play. That gave them a crack at hosts Italy in the semi-final staged at the San Paulo, Naples. Curl equalised Betty Vignotto’s first half opener, but England wilted in the heat and lost 3–1.
In September 1981 Curl was part of the England party who toured Japan for the Portopia ’81 tournament. She finished 1981–82 with a WFA Cup winners’ medal, Curl and Angie Poppy scoring in Lowestoft’s 2–0 final win over Cleveland Spartans at Loftus Road. It was the first time the final was held on a Football League ground.
Lowestoft disbanded in the aftermath of that success and Curl joined up with Norwich Ladies, “The Fledgelings” who had been formed by Maureen Reynolds in April 1982.
In 1983 Curl ran in 22 goals in Norwich’s farcical 40–0 Chiltern League demolition of Milton Keynes Reserves. Representing a record of sorts,2 it made English women’s football look stupid, exposing a serious dearth of structure and quality outside the top teams. Boffins Williams and Woodhouse (1991) branded it “damaging and embarrassing” and asked “who could take women’s football seriously?”
As a world-class striker Curl deserved a better stage for her talents. In those days the best players gravitated to Italy’s semi-pro league but Curl’s cop career seems to have kept her at home.
After 1979, it took dozy UEFA chiefs five more years to finally organise a proper Euro Cup. The regionalised qualifying tournament gave England a free pass to the finals, with substandard Scottish and Irish opposition swatted aside. Livewire youngster Kerry Davis burst on the scene and formed an effective front two with Curl.
Although England did not have it all their own way: Kerry Davis got them out of a tight spot in Dublin, scoring the only goal against ‘the fighting Irish’.
In the first leg of the semi, versus Denmark at Gresty Road in Crewe, Curl put England ahead four minutes before half time. Danish great Inge Hindkjær hit back in the second half but Liz Deighan gave England a priceless 2–1 lead to take to Denmark.3 Three weeks later in Hjørring, Debbie Bampton’s thumping header settled the tie.
The Euro 84 final saw England battered by Sweden in the first leg, but escape Ullevi stadium with a 1–0 defeat thanks to doughty defending and the heroics of goalkeeper Terry Wiseman.
Curl levelled the tie by scoring in the second leg at a boggy Kenilworth Road in Luton. She had England’s first kick in the resultant penalty shootout saved and had to watch Pia Sundhage slot past Wiseman to give the Swedes the trophy.
1984 teammate Hope Powell recalled in a May 2009 interview with The Guardian‘s Tony Leighton that Curl “went ballistic in the showers” to puncture the post match gloom and get the other players smiling again.
Norwich Ladies won the 1986 WFA Cup, beating Doncaster Belles in a 4–3 thriller at Carrow Road. Team captain Curl scored her customary goal but must have been injured shortly afterwards because she returned in 1986–87 to Norwich after a “very bad knee operation” (club secretary Eve Bedson in WFA News Jan 87). In characteristic fashion Curl plundered 13 goals in her first game back.
In June 1987 Curl’s England were back at the Euros in Norway, after rattling in 34 goals in six qualifying matches against more feeble Scottish and Irish opposition.
She started the semi–final at Melløs Stadion, Moss, versus Sweden in the number 11 shirt. Some sources suggest Curl scored,4 but England lost 3–2 after extra time, following a two-goal salvo from Gunilla Axén. A pitiful 300 fans were in attendance.
July 1988’s Mundialito (“little World Cup”) tournament in Trento, Italy, was Curl’s finest hour. She was the competition’s top scorer with four goals. The Times reporter Sue Mott wrote that England’s “leading striker” was away attending a family wedding,5 so a teenaged Karen Walker was drafted in and given a debut.
At the final in Arco, the “suspiciously awful” (according to Sue Mott) Italian referee Antonio Cafiero was an unrepentant homer. Curl put England ahead with ten minutes to go, but Cafiero played on and on while a gutsy and patched up England were knackered. Inevitably, home favourite Carolina Morace scored right at the death to force extra time. The irrepressible Curl popped up with another goal two minutes before penalties and England’s walking wounded bravely held out against the wily and sinewy Italians.
The team had paid their own way there, and at Luton Airport on the way back jubilant WFA secretary Linda Whitehead allowed herself a gentle dig at the FA: “At least when we go abroad,” she said, “we don’t come back empty-handed.” Despite massive resources England’s male team had flopped yet again at their Euro 88.
Curl’s feat won England the prestigious Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Award for Team of the Year.
That was the high watermark for England, whose next match was a chastening 2–0 defeat in Klepp, Norway. UEFA had scrapped the home nations qualifiers for Euro 89 and England finished a distant third behind Norway and the Danes.
At club level Curl moved on to Ipswich Town in summer 1988, from Town & County, whom she had previously joined from Norwich Ladies. It is not clear if she was still with Ipswich when the first National League was formed in 1991–92.
In May 1989 Curl graced Wembley’s hallowed turf as a substitute in England’s first full international there. Goals from the outstanding Pia Sundhage and Lena Videkull sent the Lionesses to a 2–0 defeat to Sweden, before the men’s Rous Cup game with Chile.
Curl’s England swansong came in a 4–0 win over Scotland at Love Street, Paisley on 6 May 1990. It was reported as her 60th cap. She hit England’s first goal on three minutes, a close range finish off a cleverly worked short corner routine. She retired as England’s record cap holder.
1. Curl was reported to be 16, but birth records indicate a Linda J Curl registered in Norwich in 1962. If this is correct she must have been even younger.↩
2. It made The Guinness Book of Records. The 1991 edition said the match took place on 25 September 1983 and also listed Curl as England’s record cap holder with 59.↩
3. The Danish FA credit England’s second goal to Liz Deighan, Cathy Gibb’s WFA News report credits Debbie Bampton.↩
5. This must refer to either Kerry Davis or Marieanne Spacey?↩