TOMMY SMITH: Mr Liverpool
“I never expected this from him.
We’ve known each other for thirteen years.
I came here when I was a kid.
I’ve always supported Liverpool and when I joined the club’s youth team in 1960 I thought I was dreaming!
Shanks had only been here a little over a year.
We were still in the Second Division but there wasn’t a single person in the whole Club who wasn’t bewitched by his passion, his charisma and the incredible enthusiasm he had and could convey.
When he spoke to you he made you feel like a lion.
You would go to war for him.
From the last kid in the youth teams to the most experienced and seasoned player in the first team.
You felt that what he told you would come true.
“Son, we will get LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB back to where it deserves to be: at the top of the fucking First Division!”
He was true to his word and in less time than expected.
Liverpool F.C. returned to the First Division at the end of the 1961-1962 season and two years later, in May 1964, we became English Champions, exactly as Shanks had promised.
From the following season I became a permanent starter, first playing in midfield and then permanently in the centre of defence.
In 1970 I became captain of the club.
I cannot imagine a greater honour. With that armband on I felt like a giant, invincible and insurmountable.
With that armband on my arm I was the first to lead my teammates out at Wembley in the ill-fated 1971 FA CUP final lost in extra time to Arsenal, but with that captain’s armband two years later I lifted two trophies in the space of a few weeks: our 8th English league title and the Uefa Cup, after a wonderful victory against the Germans of Borussia Monchengladbach.
It has only been a few months since those triumphs but they seem like centuries.
A fortnight ago, for the first time in more than eight years, I did not play as a starter.
We were at Highbury for a game against Arsenal.
Shankly didn’t put me in the starting line-up or even on the bench.
For the first time by technical choice.
I couldn’t believe it. Without a word, an explanation, a reason …
I got up, picked up my bag and went back to Liverpool by train.
Watching my mates play is not for me.
And then I had to get out of that locker room quickly … because I had tears in my eyes.
Yes, me, Tommy Smith the ‘tough guy’, ‘the Iron Man’ as they call me around the country’s stadiums, who was about to cry like a baby.
Still out of the team the following week in the Champions Cup against Red Star, and then the following Saturday against Wolverhampton and also the one after that against Ipswich Town.
I thought it couldn’t get any worse.
Instead I was wrong.
Today I got a phone call from Tony Waddington.
He told me who it was, I really had no idea.
He’s the fucking manager of Stoke City.
He tells me that ‘I’ve arranged with Shankly to have you here on loan from us at Stoke son’.
I got in the car, drove like a madman and arrived here at Melwood, at our training ground.
I looked for Shanks, swearing to myself to stay calm, not to lose my temper with that nasty little Scottish bastard.
There he was, quiet as an angel in his office, at his fucking desk.
“Hi Tommy, how are you doing son ?” says Shankly to me as soon as I step into the room.
“How do you think Boss is doing? I just heard he wants to dump me like an empty whisky bottle,” I tell him trying to control my anger.
“But son, it’s only for a month. You want to play and you don’t want to watch. You told me so yourself. At Stoke you can play. Isn’t that what you wanted Tommy ?” asks Shankly.
“No Boss. What I want is to play for Liverpool Football Club Boss. That’s the only thing I want …”
Tommy Smith will sit out one game after the argument in Bill Shankly’s office.
In that game Chris Lawler, the starting right-back, will suffer a serious knee injury. Shankly will opt for Tommy Smith as a substitute.
Smith will keep his place for the rest of the season.
A season that would prove to be a turning point in the history of Liverpool Football Club, Bill Shankly and Tommy Smith.
On the 4th of May of that 1974 Liverpool would win their ‘cursed’ trophy, the FA CUP, after annihilating ‘SuperMac’ Malcolm MacDonald’s Newcastle with a second half that was played to absolute standards.
On 12 July of that 1974 Bill Shankly announced his resignation as Liverpool manager and retired to private life, to the disbelief and tears of the Reds fans.
Tommy Smith, with the arrival of Bob Paisley, until then Shanks’ right-hand man, would see his first-team appearances even more limited, even having to accept a loan transfer to US football at the start of the 1975-76 season.
But Tommy never gave up.
He returned in the second half of the season, in time to lift another trophy with the Reds: the UEFA Cup, won against Belgium’s Bruges, playing both games as a starter … this time as left-back in place of the injured Lindsay.
It would not be Tommy’s last trophy, however.
After announcing that the 1976-77 season would be his last with the Reds, Tommy remained on the fringes of the first team for two-thirds of the season.
But once again, upon another injury to one of the starters (this time young central defender Phil Thompson) Smith will be ready, finally returning to his old role at the centre of the Reds defence.
It will be an incredible end to the season and for Tommy Smith it will also be the best way to say goodbye to the fantastic Liverpool people who have never failed him in their appreciation, esteem and support.
First winning the English league title, then losing the FA CUP final to Manchester United but triumphing, for the first time in Liverpool Football Club’s history, in the Champions Cup by beating Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1 in the final in Rome.
… with Tommy Smith scoring the second and decisive goal.
At that point Tommy Smith decided to postpone his farewell to Liverpool for a season. He also played in the 1977-78 season but due to a domestic injury he missed the chance to play in the Reds’ second consecutive European Cup final, this time won at Wembley against Belgian side Bruges.
At the end of that season Smith would return to the United States, this time to the Los Angeles Aztecs before returning to the Pats at the start of the following season.
Waiting for him is old friend and team-mate John Toschack, who has since become manager of Swansea. Tommy will play his last professional season with the Welshmen, contributing decisively to the club’s promotion from the third to the second division.
ANECDOTES AND TRIVIA
“Tommy, get that fucking bandage off that knee!”
“What do you mean ‘my knee’ anyway? That knee is not yours. It belongs to Liverpool Football Club !”
This is just one of the countless arguments that have taken place over almost 15 years at the Anfield Road club between Tommy Smith and Bill Shankly.
Two strong, determined, passionate personalities. Two hard-as-nails, stubborn but deeply honest characters who contributed, the former at the centre of the Reds defence and the latter from the bench, to bringing Liverpool back to the top of English football.
“Tommy Smith wasn’t born … he was EXTRACTED” the great Bill Shankly always said of him to confirm that in his hardness, in his indelible and stainless zest there was little that was human and much that was … “mineral”!
Tommy arrived at Anfield aged just 15, in 1960, the year after his father died.
For him, as for all youth boys in those days, there is the training ground, there are the matches and there are the ‘side’ tasks such as cleaning the boots of one of the starting players, painting the seats at Anfield and sometimes even going to give Shankly a hand in the garden.
That this kid is really tough, however, the big Bill soon realises.
He starts as a striker and immediately attracts the attention of ‘Shanks’ for his physical strength and elevation.
He practically jumps from the youth team all the way up to the ‘Reserves’ team, the Reds’ second team, the one that acts as a reservoir for the first team.
When Shankly made him debut in the first team in May 1963 Tommy Smith had just turned 18. He made his debut in a home game, won 5-1 against Birmingham, coming on in the final minutes of the game … as a striker in place of Jimmy Melia!
After that match, however, Tommy returned to the reserves for a full season, but from the early stages of the 1964-1965 season he was to become a permanent member of the starting team.
Initially playing in a variety of roles (midfield and also full-back) he would eventually find a permanent place in the centre of Liverpool’s defence, alongside the giant Ron Yates
“Yates was a phenomenon. An incredible physique, unbeatable in the aerial game and not at all slow despite his size. He had one problem though; that his right foot he hardly ever used.
When Shankly put me in the team he told me clearly, ‘son, from now on you will be Yates’ right foot’.
The number 4 jersey in the centre of the Reds defence became practically Tommy’s property.
At the end of the season came the much coveted FA CUP, the first in the history of the glorious Anfield club.
Another title would come in 1966, just before the English World Cup, and another at the end of the 1972-73 season which, as mentioned, Smith himself would lift to the sky as captain.
Then something changed in the team hierarchy and in Shankly’s consideration.
Emlyn Hughes first became the team captain and then was increasingly employed in the centre of defence, to the detriment of Smith.
Smith, as mentioned, would not give up and even 4 years later he would still be the protagonist of one of the most important, beautiful and significant victories in the history of the ‘Reds of Merseyside’: the Champions Cup won at the Olympic Stadium against the Germans of Borussia Monchengladbach.
His was the beautiful and decisive second goal for the Reds on that wonderful Roman night.
At Liverpool Shankly and Paisley forged Smith with great ease.
He is curious, serious in training and eager to learn.
One of Shankly’s favourite phrases to his defenders before the start of the match was ‘rattle his bones’, which basically meant ‘make yourself heard when you come into the tackle’ … Shankly recalls that ‘Tommy Smith took us at our word right from the start! The boy wasn’t even afraid of the devil !”
The downside of this, as Smith himself recounts, was that he would very often run into bullies who, because of his reputation as a tough guy, would challenge him in social situations and off a football field. This went on for a long time until in a Liverpool pub Smith decided he had had enough and agreed to fight the local ‘tough guy’.
“He went down so many times that the floor of the pub glistened!” said Smith immediately after the ‘duel’.
“I am often asked if there is anything that particularly bothers me: well yes, there is one. That I am almost always remembered apart from the goal in the Champions Cup final only for the fact that I was a tough guy, a slugger. I wouldn’t have played more than 600 games for Liverpool with two fantastic managers like Shankly and Paisley if I had been just that!” recalls Smith with rancour.
Getting injured while playing for Liverpool in those years was not an easy thing.
Not only was there the attitude of Shankly who couldn’t stand moaning and whining no matter how serious the injury, but there was another, far more serious problem. The rumour amongst the players was “if you’re going to get hurt make sure it happens before half-time because after that the Liverpool doctor was practically always drunk!”
Smith was an unwitting witness to this.
During a Cup Winners’ Cup match at Anfield against Swiss side Servette Smith after a tackle found himself with a deep cut on his shin, so deep that the shin bone was visible. Referee and opponents alike paled at the sight while from the Reds bench they urged Smith to carry on anyway.
When it became clear that there was no choice but to replace him Smith was escorted to the dressing room to be seen by the Liverpool doctor.
Unfortunately for Tommy, however, the match was already half over.
The Liverpool doctor, after informing Smith that he only had 6 stitches to suture the wound (basically one every 3 centimetres) found a solution to the problem. He called an orderly and asked him to bring two glasses of brandy ‘It will do you good Tommy and take the pain away’ he told him … before downing them both in front of a bewildered Smith.
Finally, the absolute gem.
At Anfield Road comes Tottenham. At the heart of the attack is the great Jimmy Greaves.
A handful of seconds after the whistle blows Tommy Smith approaches ‘Greavsie’ and hands him a slip of paper.
Greaves looks at Smith astonished. “What should I do with this ?” asks the Spurs striker.
“Read it,” Smith tells him impassively.
Greaves reads and then looks at Smith “Excuse me, but what am I going to do with the Liverpool hospital menu ?” he asks increasingly astonished
“Keep it” Smith replies to him “It’s where you’ll be eating tonight” …
This Gentlemen, was Tommy Smith.