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The Swansea City player who handed Jimmy Greaves a hospital menu before Liverpool played Spurs
Wednesday, 10th Nov 2021 15:56 by Keith Haynes

He was Liverpool born, and Liverpool bred, he was raised in the city and never really took his heart away from his family upbringing and gritty working class attitude. People talk about players fashioned from granite, players who come with that hard exterior only born out of a life start of struggle, but also of love from within a close community. It may well be a long shot from the professional footballer of today, but it’s something definitely worth remembering.

That player was Tommy Smith, the stuff of legend at Anfield, and of course at Swansea City as well. However, that legend was never at the club for as long as people think. Playing the majority of the third division campaign in 1978/79 and totalling forty three league cup, fa cup and league games he definitely left his mark in more ways than one. That one golden season was the season when people started to sit up and take notice, the season when Swansea City literally made their mark on the football scene in England.

The swans caused a major shock in the league cup second round over two games by beating top-flight Tottenham 3-1 in a second-round replay in the league cup. Tottenham had just made history by signing Argentinians Ardiles and Ricky Villa, who arrived in England fresh from winning the 1978 World Cup in their home country. Following a 2-2 draw at the Vetch, in which Smith made a famously fierce challenge on Ardiles, the Swans scored the opener at White Hart Lane when player-manager John Toshack headed home a Nigel Stevenson corner in the 18th minute.Jeremy Charles doubled the Swans’ lead with a headed effort, and it was 2-0 at the break. Ardiles then set up fellow Villa to reduce the deficit in the 65th minute. However, Alan Curtis later found the net to secure a famous win for the Swans and to book a place in the third round.

Smith and Toshack in that iconic Swansea City strip from a golden era

That game Inspired the song ‘Swansea oh Swansea’ which was composed by Roger Evans and titled ‘Take me to the Vetch Field’ That night for those of us who witnessed the 2-2 draw at the Vetch, and those who made the journey to north London still live fresh in the memory. It’s hard to forget such glorious moments.

Glenn Hoddle, Ex England player and manager with a clear memory of that night takes the story up: "Tommy Smith's playing for Swansea and he's near the end of his career. "Ossie had a little bit of English by now, so we're saying, 'Ossie! Ossie! Tommy Smith. He is their number four, Bad man, tackle'. And Ossie was, 'Ah, no problem. Hard men in Argentina. Daniel Passarella'. I remember him saying that. And we're all going, 'Yeah, but this is different'." Ardiles interjects. "I wish I had been better at English at the time so I could understand..." Hoddle added: "So twenty minutes into the game, Ossie's going past me on a stretcher and I remember Johnny Pratt shouting, "Ossie! Tommy Smith! Yeah? Bad man".'

Ardiles again, "I was like, 'Welcome to England ! Ha, ha, ha'." Welcome to Swansea, Ossie more like” Bill Shankly once said of him: "Tommy Smith wasn't born, he was quarried." If Smith was playing in this era, he'd miss a quarter of the season through suspension, no question.

The defensive terminator had struck, and for all his skills, and he had many, he only received one England cap. And those who recall England’s useless attempts at World Cup qualification in that decade will always point to the exclusion of players like Tommy Smith as the reason why.

The ‘Anfield Iron’ was his nickname, in his full thunder-thighed glory. ' Shankly went on “Tommy doesn't tackle opponents, he' quipped, “So much as break them down for resale as scrap.' Born and bred within a mile of Anfield, he once handed Jimmy Greaves a hospital menu before a game. Greaves spent most of that game looking over his shoulder, Tommy even followed him in to the Spurs dressing room at half time. Greaves looked over his shoulder, Greaves recalls “He was everywhere, literally all over me, he even followed me, walking right on my shoulder in to the dressing room, smiling at me, but a lovely man, a hard man, too right, but a lovely man, obviously off the pitch”

Tommy Smith in 2006

Robbie James, Alan Curtis, Nigel Stevenson, Jeremy Charles, Alan Waddle were all boosted by the arrivals of Ian Callaghan, Phil Boersma, John Toshack and of course Tommy Smith that season. Smith had arrived from Liverpool after a loan spell in the USA but it didn’t suit him, his return to English football was stunning. At the end of that season Smith had helped the swans to another promotion on their journey to the very top of English football.

Tommy will be remembered by all who watched him at both Liverpool and Swansea City, have no doubt. And upon his passing in 2019 many would have realised that no matter how hard you are, or how you look, the feeling that he was completely indestructible, even men like Tommy die. Surprisingly.

He received the MBE for services to football whilst at Swansea, and retired from playing in 1979.

A brief return to Anfield as youth coach preceded a career as an after-dinner speaker and newspaper columnist. Smith suffered a heart attack in 2007 before being diagnosed with Alzheimers and dementia in 2014. Smith's former Liverpool team-mate Phil Thompson told Sky Sports that his fellow defender was an 'icon'. "I loved him from the Kop, because of his passion, commitment and never-say-die attitude," he said. "He was an incredible figure who helped me out enormously. Liverpool Football Club owe this guy a debt of gratitude. "To go on and play with him, rub shoulders with him, go into battles with him, he was iconic. He wanted and desired the points every week. "Tommy was the epitome of what Bill Shankly demanded. He drove the team, he was incredible."

Upon his death the swans released this respectful remembrance of the great man. “Although synonymous with hometown club Liverpool, with whom he won four league titles, two FA Cups, two UEFA Cups and the 1977 European Cup - scoring in the final of the latter against Borussia Monchengladbach - Smith also spent a season with the Swans. Persuaded to head to the Vetch Field by his former Anfield team-mate John Toshack, Smith would make 43 appearances and score two goals for the club during the 1978-79 season, helping the Swans to win promotion from the Third Division before hanging up his boots”

And that was Tommy Smith, I know people say they don’t make them like that any more, but in this case it’s true, they don’t, and it’s highly unlikely in today’s football theatre they would allow it any way. Thanks for the memories Tommy. They were golden.

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Photographs licensed from Reuters

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