“Oh Yes! And ... what a delighted scorer! It’s Tommy Smith. Look at it Again. Oh, what an end to a career. Tommy Smith sends the Liverpool crowd into total delight.”
Those were the astonished and incredulously spoken words of an emotional BBC commentator, Barry Davies, bringing to our living rooms all the action from Rome’s Olympic Stadium in May 1977. The occasion was the European Cup Final and Tommy Smith’s 64th minute goal had put Liverpool back in the driving seat, 2-1 up on German champions, Borussia Mounchengladbach.
It wasn’t that Tommy Smith, who died yesterday aged 74, was a stranger to a goal, he scored almost a half century in 638 games (8th in Liverpool all-time appearances list) spanning 18 years for his beloved Liverpool, but it was his first in over 2 years. And it came in what was to be his last match, having announced his retirement earlier that season.
Smith was an Anfield legend, born to play for his boyhood club, and indeed brought up only a corner-kick away.
His mum told legendary Bill Shankly before the 1965 FA Cup Final, “Pick my son and you’ll win the Cup.” Not sure if Shanks heeded her advice, but select him he did, and Liverpool won their first FA Cup, defeating Leeds United after extra time at Wembley Stadium.
Smith went on to win four First Division titles, appear in three more FA Cup Finals, captain Liverpool to their first European trophy success (the UEFA Cup, which he won twice), and win the European Cup. He was voted 25th in the Liverpool FC website poll, “100 Players Who Shook The Kop.”
He would’ve had the full set of European medals but for Borussia Dortmund’s bizarre extra-time winning goal in the 1966 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
Yet with all that success, Smith selected his greatest moment as his debut as an 18 year-old in 1963. Liverpool defeated Birmingham City 5-1 at Anfield that day.
“I went outside and walked right around the ground at the end of the game and again after the crowd had gone home. Then I walked right around it once again, just to make sure it was true .... “
”But it was. I had actually played for the team I loved - for my Liverpool Football Club.”
For all the glory and the fame, his brightest memory was pulling on the famous red jersey that first time and giving his all for the fans he loved and understood so uniquely well.
Of course his reputation was as a hard man. Justifiably so. Yet he was sent-off only once, for directing a tirade of X-rated abuse to Welsh World Cup referee, Clive “The Book” Thomas.
But Tommy, nicknamed “The Anfield Iron” could look after himself, and of opponents he would say, “If they wanted to play football, we’d play them at football. If they wanted a fight, well then, we’d have a fight with them, no problem.”
Bill Shankly would get angry that Alf Ramsey rarely selected Smith for England in the 60s and early 70s. He won just one cap, in 1971 against Wales ...
Tommy would shrug it off with a laugh as he recalled Shanks telling him in his familiar clipped Scottish tones: “It’s a disgrace, son. What does Alf Ramsey know about football? What’s he ever won....?”
Only the World Cup of course.
Shankly would say of Smith, “He was born a man, not a boy,” before adding, “On second thoughts he was not actually born, he was quarried .... “
Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter of Leeds United, another tough-nut of the 60’s and 70’s spoke amusingly and candidly of Tommy Smith: “His catchphrase was ‘Come near me and I’ll break yer back.’ But he’s actually a very nice man, honest!”
Smith revised his retirement decision after winning the European Cup, making another 34 first-team appearances for Liverpool the following season, before a garden accident cut short his final season in red.
He moved on to Swansea City, joining his former team-mate, John Toshack, the Swans’ new player-manager, helping the team climb out of the old Third Division, and infamously giving Ossie Ardiles “the treatment” in one of the Argentinian’s early games in England, a League Cup tie in which Swansea toppled the North Londoners after a replay.
Post-retirement, Smith worked for many years as a columnist for the Liverpool Echo. He also gave his time to charity events, which cost him in 1996, when he saw his disability benefits stopped for a short time, after he took a penalty during the half-time break in the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
“I couldn’t believe they would do that, I was making money for charity. I only kicked the ball once.”
Tommy Smith, Liverpool legend, passed away on Friday evening following a courageous and dignified battle with dementia. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in October 2014 after caring for his late wife Susanne who passed away from the same condition at 71.
Tommy is survived by daughter, Janette, son Darren and four grandchildren, Matthew, William, Jessica and Imogen.
Tommy Smith MBE - Born Liverpool, 5 April 1945. Died Liverpool, 12 April 2019 (aged 74)