I was saddened at the weekend to learn of the death of former player Gordon Smith after illness.
Gordon Smith was a promising 15 year old player with Glasgow United when he first came to the notice of Willie Ormond the St Johnstone Manager. So when Gordon signed for Saints in November 1969 he was following in the footsteps of Alex MacDonald and John Connolly both of whom had started with the Juvenile club before moving to Perth.
After a couple of seasons in the reserve squad his undoubted talent was beginning to shine through and, despite his youth, the Manager had enough confidence in his ability to include him on the substitutes bench for the Vasas Budapest match during the historic UEFA Cup run in 1971.
Further evidence of his developing talent came in January 1972 when Tommy Docherty was the Scotland International team Manager. The “Doc” played him at centre-half in two professional youth team matches firstly against the Scotland Under 23 team and then a month later against Ross County. His
St Johnstone team mate, Jim Pearson, was his direct opponent in the first of those games.
After featuring in pre season friendly matches against Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town at Muirton he made his St Johnstone debut on 30th August 1972 at Links Park, Montrose in a League Cup match. Saints won
3 – 0 that day with goals from John Muir, Henry Hall and John Hotson.
The team was: – Jimmy Donaldson, John Lambie, Billy McManus, Andy Kinnell, Alex Rennie, Benny Rooney, Kenny Aird, Gordon Smith, John Muir, Henry Hall, John Hotson. Sub: Jim Pearson.
The “P A” reporter made Gordon the “Star Saint” and in his report stated “Smith once again showed that he is a very good player – fearless in the tackle and very skillful on the ball. The youth internationalist’s versatility was demonstrated in the second half when, after Hall’s goal, Pearson replaced Rennie and Smith stepped back to fill the resultant gap in the defence”.
Later the reporter went on to say “ It seems unfortunate that Smith, essentially a central defender, is being shifted to midfield because of St Johnstone’s wealth of centre backs. He is a good enough player to adapt himself to this switch, however.”
Gordon would go on to make 16 appearances in a season that would see Willie Ormond appointed as Scotland International team manager in January of 1973 with Jackie Stewart arriving from Dumbarton to fill the Managerial post.
In season 1973/74 Gordon firmly established himself in the first team, appearing in midfield in 44 of a possible 46 matches, scoring 6 goals. However, on two occasions the new Manager tried him out at right back which would ultimately turn out to be something of a masterstroke. Both matches were against Dunfermline Ath and the first at Muirton Park ended 3 – 1 in Saints favour. On this occasion the P.A. scribe reported “Manager Stewart’s decision to play Gordon Smith at full back was a first rate success. The youngster overlapped up the right whenever the opportunity arose and this extra attacker also helped create problems for the visiting defence.”
In 1974 proposals to establish a “Premier League” for the 1975/76 season meant that it was vitally important that St Johnstone finished in the top 10 in order to qualify for the new top tier.
Gordon was a mainstay of the team, missing only 1 match from a possible 42, in a season that proved something of a struggle for Saints. However, they did manage to finish in 9th position helped by a 2 – 1 win over Celtic at Muirton Park on the final day of the season. Some 9,000 fans turned up to watch the likes of Danny McGrain, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone and Kenny Dalglish appearing for “the Hoops”. However, on the day Gordon Smith outshone these International stars.
Duncan Lambie had missed an early penalty before Celtic took the lead just after the half hour mark through Ronnie Glavin. Undaunted, Saints showed great fighting quality and were back on level terms just prior the interval when Gordon Smith “sent a slide rule 50 yard pass inside the full back and O’Rourke homed in on goal to blast an unsaveable drive through Latchford.”
Midway through the second half the referee awarded a second penalty when O’Rourke was fouled in the box but neither Lambie nor O’Rourke, the normal takers, wanted to take it. Showing no sign of nerves the young Gordon Smith volunteered to take the responsibility and calmly slotted the ball into the net sending the keeper the wrong way in the process. This was the first time that he had taken a penalty!
Both on and off the pitch the 1975/76 season turned out to be a disaster for St Johnstone as the team managed to win only 3 League games and were relegated by the end of March. Again, Gordon was a regular and missed only 5 matches from a possible 45 played in all competitions.
Despite the Club’s problems, on a personal level, the high standard of Gordon’s performances did not go un-noticed and he was rewarded with 4 Under 23 International caps for Scotland. This was a young squad of real quality which included Alan Hansen, Andy Gray, David Narey and Alan Rough. Scotland won all 4 of the matches in which Gordon featured.
What would prove to be Gordon’s final match for St Johnstone was a 0 – 0 draw at Muirton Park in front of just 3,100 fans against Hearts on 26 April 1976.
The team was; – Derek Robertson, Gordon Smith, Stuart McBean, Phil Roberts, Ian Macdonald, Andy Kinnell, John Hotson, Ian Anderson, Gordon McGregor, Bobby Thomson, Duncan Lambie. Subs: John Mackay, Atholl Henderson.
Financially the club was losing money at an alarming rate and in the summer of 1976 the directors had no option but to sell players and revert to part time football. Gordon Smith was one of the “jewels in the crown” and in August he joined Aston Villa for a fee reported as £75,000.
He played for Villa for a number of seasons before joining Tottenham Hotspur and then Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In summary his St Johnstone career was : –
Season Starts Subs Goals
1972/73 15 1 0
1973/74 43 1 6
1974/75 40 1 1
1975/76 40 0 3
Totals 138 3 10
Gordon Smith was a wonderful player who I had the privilege of watching play for St Jonhstone during the 1970’s.