Bobby Smith

Popular footballer whose career spanned 19 seasons and helped bring glory to Hibernian

Bobby Smith, footballer, Born: 21 December, 1953, in Dalkeith.

Died: 22 February, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 56.

IT said just as much about Bobby Smith the man as it did about his talents as a footballer that his untimely death was greeted with heartfelt sorrow among supporters of every club he played for, no matter how briefly, during a fine professional career spanning 19 seasons.

While it is at Hibernian and Leicester City where Smith is most fondly remembered for his outstanding service as an intelligent and unfailingly committed midfield player, warm tributes have also been paid to him by Dunfermline Athletic and Partick Thistle where he also made a lasting impression during brief but productive periods.

A naturally engaging character, Smith was popular wherever his travels took him. Certainly, you would have to embark on an exceptionally long journey to find anyone with a negative comment to make about Smith.

A native of Dalkeith, he was coveted by scouts of many senior clubs as he made a positive impression with juvenile outfit Musselburgh Windsor in the late 1960s.

Celtic, the dominant force in Scottish football at the time, were among those who pursued Smith's signature but he chose to fulfil a boyhood dream by joining Hibernian, the club he grew up supporting. His affection for Hibs would never wane throughout his life.

Smith made his first team debut as a substitute in a 3-2 win over Arbroath in November 1972, having earned his promotion to a highly talented squad of players under the management of Eddie Turnbull. The 1973-74 season saw Smith establish himself, helping Hibs defeat Celtic 1-0 at Hampden to retain the Drybrough Cup and finish runners-up in the First Division, just four points behind Jock Stein's all-conquering Parkhead side.

Hibs flirted with title glory again the following year, this time finishing second to a Rangers outfit who had been rejuvenated under uncompromising manager Jock Wallace.

Smith's growing reputation as one of Scottish football's most consistent midfielders, not to mention a more than capable left-back when required, made a significant impression on Wallace.

In 1978, Wallace sensationally quit Rangers to take charge of Leicester City, which had just been relegated from the top flight of English football. Midway through the season, he recruited Smith from Hibs for 85,000 as he looked to arrest a slump which was threatening to see the Midlands club suffer a second successive relegation. Smith made an instant impact, scoring on his debut as Leicester defeated Oldham Athletic 2-0 at Filbert Street on New Year's Day, 1979.

The occasion was also notable, although no-one recognised it at the time, for the debut of an 18-year-old striker by the name of Gary Lineker.

He, of course, went on to become one of England's greatest goalscorers. Now an accomplished television presenter, Lineker remained friendly with Smith and the pair would often play golf together. Lineker was among many shocked to hear Smith had been diagnosed with cancer last year.

Smith quickly became a huge favourite of the Leicester support following that eye-catching first appearance. After avoiding the drop to the Third Division in 1979, City won the Second Division title the following year with Smith in perhaps the best form of his career, scoring 12 goals in 39 appearances. Leicester were unable to hold onto their top flight status, however, dropping back down immediately. As Wallace tried to freshen up his side, Smith found himself loaned out to first Peterborough United and then back to Hibs.

But when Wallace returned to Scotland to take charge of Motherwell in the summer of 1982, Smith's Leicester career was revived by new manager Gordon Milne. A first team regular once more, Smith helped Leicester earn promotion back to the First Division in 1983. In all, he made 200 appearances for the club, scoring 22 goals, before returning to Hibs in 1986.

The esteem in which Smith is held by Leicester City will be in evidence this weekend when they will hold a minute's silence in his memory before their Championship fixture against Nottingham Forest.

Alan Birchenall, the celebrated ex-striker who now runs the club's Former Players' Association, said on hearing of Smith's death: "It's a very sad day for Leicester City. A legend and hero is no longer with us. I speak for City fans of all generations, Bobby was a fantastic player and captain, and more importantly a fantastic man."

Smith made just ten league appearances in the 1986-87 season for Hibs but his presence at the club was greatly valued by emerging youngsters such as John Collins and Paul Kane as the now veteran midfielder happily passed on the wisdom of his experience.

Smith, though, still had a desire to play first team football and in 1987 moved on to Dunfermline Athletic. While unable to prevent their relegation from the Premier Division in 1988, Smith did help them bounce straight back as First Division champions the following year.

Jim Leishman, manager of the Fife club at the time, still recalls with some agony having to inform Smith soon after the title success that he would not be retaining his services for the following season. Smith, then 35, accepted the decision with good grace and moved on to Partick Thistle with whom he was a regular in the First Division campaign of 1989-90.

With his playing career winding down, Smith concluded it in 1990-91 in the Second Division with Berwick Rangers, managed at the time by his former Hibs team-mates Ralph Callachan and Jackie McNamara.

Smith ran his own pub, Smith's Bar, in Dalkeith for several years before becoming a taxi driver in Edinburgh. He is survived by his wife Dot and sons Murray and Chris.