Obituary: Gordon Melville Smith, footballer

Gordon Smith: Former Saints defender who was capped at Under-23 level for star-studded Scotland squad
Gordon Smith: Former Saints defender who was capped at Under-23 level for star-studded Scotland squad
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Born: 3 July, 1954, in Glasgow. Died: 5 April, 2014, in Glasgow, aged 59

GORDON Smith, who has died, aged 59, following a short illness, is perhaps the least-known Gordon Smith in the history of Scottish international football. A former St Johnstone, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers player, he has not had an impact on Scottish football consciousness to the same extent as the Gordon Smith, the legendary “Gay Gordon” of Hibs, Hearts, Dundee and Scotland fame, or even this Smith’s erstwhile Scotland Under-23 team-mate and future chief executive of the Scottish Football Association– the “other” Gordon Smith, but, “Gordon Smith III” was also a fine player.

He was born in Partick but raised in Drumchapel, where his emerging talent won him a place in the Glasgow United boys club team. St Johnstone, having secured future Rangers’ star Alex “Doddie” MacDonald and John Connolly, another future Scotland “cap” from United, kept an eye on the club for any future talent, and, in November 1969, Willie Ormond offered Smith terms at Muirton Park.

Still a teenager, he made his Saints debut in August 1972, against Montrose and by the end of that first season, although not a regular starter, he was a full member of the Saints squad.

The following season he was switched to full-back by manager Jackie Stewart; taking over the No2 shirt from the legend that is John Lambie. He had found his niche. Tommy Docherty also noticed him, capping him at Scotland Under-17 level then, in May, 1975, in far-off Pitesti, he made the first of his four Scotland Under-23 appearances, against Romania in a European Under-23 Championship qualifier.

He was only the third Perth youngster to play for the Under-23s, the others were team-mates Ian McDonald and Jim Pearson and among his Scotland team-mates in his four capped games were future Scotland legends Alan Rough, Frankie Gray, David Narey, Willie Miller, Alan Hansen, Andy Gray, Willie Pettigrew, Joe Craig and Tommy Craig, plus the Gordon Smith who was then with Kilmarnock, prior to his move to Rangers.

Smith did not play for a losing Scotland Under-23 side, that star-studded squad reaching the quarter-finals of the Championship, where they lost to the Netherlands.

He played in the St Johnstone squad that scraped into the inaugural Premier Division that season, but the Muirton Park club found the going hard and were relegated.

This brought financial hardship to Perth and, when Aston Villa offered what was then a club record £80,000 fee, Smith, after 120 games for Saints, decamped to Birmingham.

He had been recruited to succeed long-serving Scotland Under-23 cap Charlie Aitken at left-back and he was an immediate success at Villa Park, supplying the cross from which Brian Little scored the winner in a 3-2, second-replay victory over Everton in the League Cup Final, at Old Trafford, that season.

Villa finished fourth that season, which got them into Europe, but, he was to spend just under three seasons with the club, making just short of 100 appearances, before he was on the move again – to Tottenham Hotspur –for a fee of £150,000.

He never quite established himself in the star-studded Spurs squad of the time, where he had the likes of Glenn Hoddle, Stevie Archibald and the Argentines Ricki Villa and Ossie Ardiles as team-mates. Certainly, he played his part in getting Spurs to the 1981 FA Cup Final, but, he watched from the stands as Villa scored one of the iconic Wembley goals, but, in three seasons at White Hart Lane, he managed barely 50 games.

Smith returned to the Midlands, joining Wolverhampton Wanderers for the 1982-83 season, but, by now, he was being troubled by injuries and was never able to string together a regular run of games.

Again, he spent three seasons there, before deciding to go West, to the US Indoor League, where he played for Phoenix Pride and Pittsburg Spirit, before retiring and returning to his native Glasgow.

He was not finished with football, however. He later ran a company that sold and installed the special Champions League sponsors advertising for the big European games, a position which enabled him to keep in touch with the many friends he had made during his career in England.

Sadly, Gordon Smith died suddenly, in his native city, at 59, far too soon. He is survived by his widow Elaine and children Sadie and Cameron.