Steve Smith: Huddersfield's Hero

Lee Morris

Lee Morris

18 min read

“He’s been a hero to Huddersfield and now I’d like Huddersfield to be a hero to him” – Lisa Smith


When Stephen Smith walked into Leeds Road in 1961 as a junior, little did he know that he would spend most of his professional career there. In three separate spells at the club, he served as an apprentice, player, chief scout, coach, reserve team coach, reserve team player, emergency left-back, youth coach, caretaker manager, manager and head of academy recruitment. During his long career he was also a member of the 1969-70 promotion winning side (scoring the goal to secure promotion), came on as the club’s first ever substitute, played in all four divisions for the club, saved them from relegation in 1987 and is still the club’s only manager to hail from the Huddersfield.


A Long Battle

Sadly, Smith is now suffering from late-stage dementia, having been diagnosed in 2013. His family have set up a JustGiving fundraising page with the hope of raising £5,000 to help pay for much needed specialist equipment such as a dementia bed, rocking chair and one-to-one support. While he’s still physically fit, Smith is sadly deteriorating, and his family are trying to support him with “dignified end-of-life care, support and joy” and a “glimmer of well-deserved joy and comfort as he navigates the tortuous path of late-stage dementia”. They feel that one-to-one support would be life-changing for the former Town man, to accompany him on walks and drives into the West Yorkshire countryside and provide day-to-day medical care. While most of us take these simple things for granted, they are sadly missing in Smith’s life. 

 

His family have revealed that his experience within the care system has been turbulent, and his high levels of physical fitness have been suppressed by both his mental state and the restricted care that many care homes offer. It will surely make all Town fans smile that he still loves to kick a ball about, but this is something that he cannot do alone.


Early Years at Town

Steve Smith was born in Dalton, Huddersfield on April 28th, 1946. He was later spotted playing for Rawthorpe in a school final at Leeds Road by Alf Young who recommended him to manager Eddie Boot. Boot moved quickly to sign him, and he joined the club straight from school as a 15-year-old in October 1961. He began his apprenticeship as a joiner at Leeds Road under Fred Elms, who had worked at the club for years as an odd job man. Smith would sign professional forms with the club two years later in 1963.


Smith never played for Boot as he resigned shortly before the homegrown boy made his debut for the club in September 1964—a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United at Leeds Road. Ian Greaves was in caretaker charge and would remain so until October that year. Smith played three games in September but wouldn’t return to the first team until April 1965, when he played in the final three games of the season. By now, Tom Johnston had taken over as the manager. Johnston later said of Smith: 

 

“I consider Steve Smith to be one of the most honest players I have ever had to deal with in as much as he never failed to give me the maximum 100 percent effort no matter which position or type of role I asked him to play.”


Smith began to make more frequent appearances during the 1965-66 season and made history by becoming the club’s first ever substitute, replacing John Coddington against Preston North End at Leeds Road in September 1965. Although he was primarily a right winger, Smith also played on the left wing, midfield and up front in his 20 appearances that season. He also scored his first goal in November 1965, bagging the winner in a 1-0 win at Cardiff City. The season would end in disappointment as Town, who had been challenging for promotion all season, missed out by just three points.

 

It was a similar story during 1966-67 as Smith spent much of it on the fringes of the first team. He did start the first two games playing on the left wing and played another five on the right before the arrival of Mike Hellawell pushed him out of the picture. Occasional appearances in midfield followed as he finished on 18 appearances as Town achieved a 6th place finish in Division Two.

 

Tom Johnston had been in charge at the club since 1964 and in his first two full seasons had Town challenging near the top of the table. However, there was no such luck during the 1967-68 season, and it was ultimately his last after Town finished 14th. Smith was barely involved either, playing just four games, with most of his game time coming in the Central League. 


Breaking into the First Team and Promotion

Chief coach Ian Greaves was appointed as Johnston’s successor. This appointment saw Smith become more involved, emerging with a number of young players breaking into the side, such as Geoff Hutt, Bobby Hoy, Frank Worthington and Trevor Cherry. Smith played 24 games and scored a solitary goal as Greaves led his men to a 6th place finish. He played most of his games on the right but also provided cover on the left, in midfield and even in defence during the season, showing an early sign of his versatility and reliability on the pitch.

 

By this time, Smith had been a professional for six years and although he was now 23 years of age, he had yet to really cement his place in the first team. He was also an occasional target for the boo boys in those early years, but this would soon change during the 1969-70 season, especially as he secured a regular place in the side after right winger Bobby Hoy suffered an injury around Christmas 1969.  

 

From then on, Smith was virtually ever-present, missing just two matches as Town finished top of the tree and won the Second Division title, securing promotion to Division One after 14 years away. Smith eventually silenced his critics by scoring the equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Ayresome Park, the goal that secured promotion. That goal was one of six that he netted that season. He played 25 games in all competitions and cemented his place in Town folklore as part of one of the more successful sides in the club’s history.

 

Ian Greaves once described Smith as a “people’s player”, and he selected him as the first-choice right winger going into 1970-71. It was a dream start as Town won the first game back in the big time, beating Blackpool 3-0 at Leeds Road. Smith scored two of the goals. He was now established in the side and missed just one match all season, ending it on 48 games and six goals in all competitions. During the season, Smith played a few games in the middle of midfield, a position he would eventually convert to the following year.

 

Although Town survived, it was obvious to all concerned that they lacked firepower. Despite this, the club didn’t strengthen and as a result, the 1971-72 campaign was a complete disaster. Town failed to win any of their first six games, but form did pick up in September. Four wins in five propelled them to the lofty heights of 14th. However, another six-match winless run followed and although they won two more games in November, that was it. Town failed to win another match—a record that ultimately led to relegation. One bright point about 1971-72 was an F.A. Cup run that saw Town reach the quarter finals (no Town team has matched that run since 1972), playing in front of 53,000 in an away tie at Birmingham City. Smith, by now playing in the centre of midfield, missed just two matches, meaning that he’d missed just three across the two seasons in Division One.


First Team Regular and Relegation

Following relegation, no one could have predicted what would happen over the next three seasons. While Town retained quite a lot of the players (and the manager) from the 1970 promotion side, it wasn’t enough to arrest the slide. Town were relegated again in 1972-73, slipping into Division Three for the first time in their history. Smith played 30 games and scored one goal during that disastrous season.

 

The 1973-74 season wasn’t much better as Town failed to secure a return to the second tier, finishing 10th in the table and 14 points off promotion. Smith flitted between right wing and midfield throughout the season and finished on 41 games. At the end of the season, Ian Greaves departed after six years in charge. He was replaced by former Leeds United midfielder Bobby Collins in what was his first managerial job.

 

As the 1974-75 season approached, it coincided with the 10-year anniversary of Smith’s debut for the club. He became one of the few Town players to be granted a testimonial. This saw Brian Clough’s Leeds United come to Leeds Road on August 3rd, 1974, in what was Clough’s first game in charge in a job he’d only last 44 days in. 11,969 spectators watched the match and a total of £4,000 was raised. 

 

The season was one to forget for Smith as he barely played. He started in midfield, but Brian O’Neil took his place in the side from October onwards and in December, he joined Bolton Wanderers on loan for three matches before returning in January 1975. That same month, former manager Tom Johnston returned to the club as General Manager, which caused its own problems for manager Bobby Collins. Town ended the season bottom of the table, suffering relegation to Division Four. For a side that was in Division One at the end of the 1971-72, they’d completed the slide from top to bottom in just three years.

 

Smith found his way back into the side for the 1975-76 season, becoming one of just five players to have played in all four divisions at Leeds Road, with Poole, Hutt, Jimmy Lawson and Terry Dolan also making the list. He missed just five games in a season that saw more change at the top, as Bobby Collins resigned in December 1975 citing interference from Tom Johnston. Johnston took over as manager following and steered Town to a 5th placed finish, just two points off promotion.

 

The 1976-77 season was another disappointment as Town finished nine points off automatic promotion. Smith’s time at Leeds Road also came to an end and he left the club at the end of the season after 16 years in blue and white. He played 50 games in his final season, contributing to an overall figure of 380 appearances and 34 goals. By the time he left the club, Smith was the last remaining player from the Division One years.


Adventures Elsewhere in Yorkshire

Following his Leeds Road exit, Smith had a brief trial with Sheffield Wednesday and entered the licensed trade, running the Tavern Two in Colnebridge with his wife Judith. He also signed for Halifax Town shortly before the start of the 1977-78 season, making his debut in a 3-3 draw with Wimbledon at Plough Lane. He quickly became a mainstay in Alan Ball Snr’s side. This continued when former teammate Jimmy Lawson took over as manager through the season.  

 

During his first season at the club, Steve helped The Shaymen escape the clutches of re-election at the bottom of Division Four. His experience shone through as they finished 20th, four points off re-election. The second season saw Jimmy Lawson sacked in favour of George Kirkby, who appointed Smith as captain of the side towards the end of the season. Halifax finished 23rd but were ultimately re-elected. 


Scouting, Coaching, and Playing at Town in the Buxton Era

At the end of that season, Smith was retained by the club, but in September 1979, he returned to Leeds Road as the club’s chief scout. He also became a regular in the club’s reserve side, playing in the Central League after his arrival. Along with his scouting duties, Smith would coach the youth players and turn out for the reserves.

 

This appointment completed the foursome of Mick Buxton (manager), John Haselden (assistant manager/physio), Jimmy Robson (reserve team coach) and Steve Smith (chief scout), who would oversee plenty of success during the next few years at Leeds Road. This began with winning the Fourth Division title in 1979-80 and continued in 1982-83 when Town secured automatic promotion to the Second Division, finishing 3rd.

 

Buxton has always sung Smith’s praises and in Rob Stewart’s 101 Club said: 


“(Steve was) probably even quieter than Jimmy (Robson) but knew what he was doing. He was responsible for bringing on the young players and to his credit, more than 20 of them went on to have long and good careers and just about all of them were local lads. He’d just finished his playing career at Halifax when I asked him to come and train with us. We needed someone to look after the youth players so I managed to get him full-time on the payroll”.


Having become a regular in the Central League side upon his arrival in 1979, Smith would remain in the second string well into the 1980s and played his final game in 1983. His match fitness came in handy in November 1981 when Town, in the midst of an injury crisis, faced Workington in the 1st Round of the F.A. Cup. With no fit left-backs, Buxton called on Smith to fill in, so at the age of 35, he made his 381st appearance for Town. This saw him move up to 6th on the all-time appearances list, level with Bill McGarry (he is now joint 9th on the list). 

 

Away from the first team, there was also success for the youth team as Smith and Jimmy Robson coached them to the Northern Intermediate League title in 1984-85. They also finished runners-up in the N.I.L. Cup. That side included Julian Winter, Simon Trevitt, Paul France, Lee Martin, Graham Mitchell, Paul Wilson, Liam Robinson, Ian Wadsworth, Peter Butler and Carl Madrick, all of whom went on to play in the first team.

 

Smith was also in charge of the reserve side during much of the 1986-87 season, leading them to the top of the Central League by Christmas 1986 (they later won the title). At the same time, the first team were bottom of Division Two, and having struggled in the second tier for a couple of seasons, the club parted ways with long-serving manager Mick Buxton, sacking him just two days before Christmas.


Town’s First Homegrown Manager

After Buxton’s dismissal, Smith was placed in temporary charge of the first team until a replacement was found. While he took caretaker charge, results turned around immediately and after two wins (including a 5-3 win over Bradford City) and two draws in his first four games, Smith made it clear that he wanted the job permanently. Following a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup with Norwich City, he got his wish and was appointed as the club’s permanent manager on January 13th, 1987. Upon his appointment, Smith said: “It's a great honour and I'm very proud, especially as I spent almost all my career as a player at Leeds Road.”

 

It was perhaps a natural progression for someone who had been at the club so long as a player and a coach, but if truth be told, Smith wasn’t really cut out for management. Despite the initial results, Town struggled and although they picked up some vital wins here and there, they went on a nine-match winless run (which included a club record of six successive draws) and were dragged back into the mire. With just three games remaining, Town found themselves in the bottom three. Smith inspired his men to win three on the bounce and Town miraculously survived, finishing 17th and out of danger.

 

There would be no such luck in the 1987-88 season as Town endured a nightmare start and failed to win any of their first 16 games, including 14 league games and two cup matches. After taking charge of 12 of those matches, Smith resigned on October 6th, 1987. As per his contract, Smith reverted to his previous roles of chief scout and youth coach upon his resignation. Mel Booth of The Examiner praised Smith's resignation as being made with “dignity, honesty and by placing the best interests of the club”.


Smith himself said: 

 

“I’ve got the best interests of the club at heart, and I think this is the right thing to do in the present circumstances. It gives the board a clear run to appoint someone who can then bring in his own number two before things drift too far. The decision hasn’t been taken lightly. It’s not an admission of defeat because I kept the club in Division Two last season. The failure has possibly been in not getting results this season and I didn't see the point in delaying things any further. I feel the players need a lift and having a new manager and coach in charge is one way of injecting that.” 


After Stan Ternent turned the club down, Malcolm Macdonald was appointed as Smith’s successor. He subsequently broke most of the club’s records that season—heaviest defeat, most losses and most goals conceded and also equalled fewest wins—which led to relegation and ‘Supermac’s’ resignation. He was replaced by his assistant manager Eoin Hand, who relieved Smith and Jimmy Robson of their duties, thus finally severing all links to the glory days of the Buxton era. Smith had been at the club since 1979 (after a 16-year playing spell between 1961 and 1977) and Robson since 1978.


Life After Town

After a short period out of the game, Smith joined Bradford City in April 1989 to work as their youth development officer. He remained as youth coach throughout the 1990s and had a brief spell in charge of the first team in 2001 after the departure of Jim Jeffries. 

 

After a time working for the Premier League, Smith made a return to Town in April 2012 when he was appointed as Head of Academy Recruitment. After just over a year in the role, he stepped down in the summer of 2013 and continued in a scouting role.


It was also in 2013 that Smith was diagnosed with dementia, something that was later made public in September 2018. The following month, a Memory Walk was organised at Beaumont Park in Huddersfield to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society, where Smith was joined by former teammates Geoff Hutt, Roy Ellam, Dick Krzywicki, Terry Gray, Keith Hanvey and Mark Lillis. 

 

Now, in June 2022, Smith’s family are appealing for help and the least we can do as Town supporters is help one of the club’s greatest ever servants in his hour of need. We hope that this article has helped to inform younger supporters of who Steve Smith is and the part he played in the club’s history. We want to raise the profile of his continuing fight against dementia and help bring in much needed funds for that fight. We’re fully behind Mr. Smith and will do as much as we can to help him and his family.

 

You can donate to Steve Smith’s appeal at this link.

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