Down Memory Lane: Tottenham Hotspur legend Bobby Smith was full of true grit and goals
When it came to toughness, nobody surpassed flint-hard Bobby Smith, legendary Tottenham Hotspur centre-forward, who has died at Enfield, London after a short illness.
Smith, 77, despite his aggressive all-action style, was much more skilful than given credit for and proved a key figure and top scorer in Spurs’ 1960-61 League and Cup double winning side, the first club to achieve it in the 20th century.
He had a major role, too, in the 1962 FA Cup Final 3-1 win over Burnley and the European Cup Winners Cup success in 1963.
He made his England debut against Northern Ireland in 1960, first of 15 caps and, ironically, his last appearance in the white shirt was also against the same opponents.
Smith, son of a north-east miner, scored 13 goals for England, 208 for Spurs in 317 matches.
Spurs’ legendary manager Bill Nicholson, who lived throughout his life in a small house a short distance from White Hart Lane, rated him the best — even above Martin Chivers and Len Duquemin and, of course, he later formed an outstanding partnership with Jimmy Greaves, considered Spurs’ most accomplished player of all time.
Tragically Smith experienced hardships in later life, the transition from a superstar of his generation to an unskilled man, earning a living from painting and decorating, was a shock to the system. He fell down a manhole and shattered his ankle, which always handicapped him despite intensive treatment.
My long-time London colleague Harry Harris, steeped in Spurs history, wrote in one article: “A great deal was self-imposed poverty for Bobby after too many visits to the dog tracks and the race-courses. He never planned ahead when his football career was over.
“Money came and went. He liked the lights of the West End and counted Rod Stewart, Paul Raymond and other celebrities among his friends.”
Smith’s passing recalled many happy moments for me and countless thousands of others with his goals and his hard man tactics.
“If I was playing nowadays I would be sent off every week — locked up,” he quipped.
And his death, yet another great football character gone, created a rewind of memory of that brilliant 1960-61 Spurs team, the excitement, the awe-inspiring skill and the expectancy as they reached the climax of The Double which some believed a mission impossible in modern-day football.
Almost half a century has passed yet I remember that final in which they defeated Leicester City 2-0 as if it was yesterday. Completing my Ireland’s Saturday Night report, I rushed from the media centre to the Spurs dressing room. In that era there was not the restrictions now rigidly applied.
Danny Blanchflower, the Spurs captain, had just finished showering. He had pontificated and theorised as only he could to the press-men on what it meant to achieve this fantastic feat. It was a complex reply.
“Look Danny, I need a quick quote for the people of Northern Ireland,” I said. He pondered and replied: “I feel like a balloon that has just been pricked — deflated after being on a high!”
Managed by Nicholson and captained by Blanchflower, that Spurs team can only be described as magnificent.
Blanchflower was, in my opinion, the most intelligent and influential captain — far beyond the great figure-head England skippers such as Stan Cullis, Billy Wright and even perhaps Bobby Moore.
His team talks at White Hart Lane were something special. Like Bobby Smith he will never be forgotten by Tottenham fans.