Tommy Smith MBE (born 5 April 1945 in Liverpool, England) was a long-serving footballer with Liverpool, known for his uncompromising defensive style.
Smith joined the club as a schoolboy in 1960 and made his debut in 1963 on the last day of the season in a comprehensive victory over Birmingham City. However, he made no appearances through the following season, as Liverpool won the League title.
In 1965, Smith featured in the Liverpool side which won the FA Cup for the first time in the club's history, beating Leeds United after extra-time in the final at Wembley. Although a defender, Smith wore the No.10 shirt; a cunning ploy by manager Bill Shankly to confuse opponents in the days when specific numbers always represented specific positions on the pitch. The No.10 shirt usually was worn by an inside forward.
The following year he was a fixture in the team which regained the League title, earning Smith his first of four championship medals, but also lost the 1966 European Cup-Winners Cup final to Borussia Dortmund. Had they won, then with future successes in other continental competitions to come, Smith would have attained a rare haul of three winners' medals from the three different European contests.
There then followed a barren period in the late 1960s, so Shankly began to dismantle the team and build a new, younger one, with just Smith and team-mates Ian Callaghan, Chris Lawler and Emlyn Hughes surviving the cull. Smith was made club captain and led the team to the 1971 FA Cup final, which Liverpool lost to Arsenal.
In 1973 Smith skippered the team to a double success in the League and UEFA Cup but then lost the captaincy after Shankly left him out of the team for one game and he complained. When he returned, he was also moved from his favoured central defensive role to full back. Smith ultimately settled his differences with his manager satisfactorily, though less so with Hughes, his successor as captain, who lifted the FA Cup in 1974 after Liverpool beat Newcastle United in the final. Smith did have the joy of setting up the third and final goal for young striker Kevin Keegan.
As Smith's twilight years approached, he made fewer appearances with the emergence of youngsters Phil Thompson and Phil Neal as central defender and full back respectively, though he still played an important role as Liverpool managed another League and UEFA Cup dual success in 1976. The following year, which Smith had announced as his final season with the club, started with him out of the side for several months, but ended with his finest moment.
Smith was recalled after an injury to Thompson and was part of the side which retained the League title. He then played in the 1977 FA Cup final which Liverpool lost to Manchester United, thereby ruining the chance of a treble, with the club's first European Cup final in Rome due a few days later. Despite the disappointment of the defeat at Wembley, Liverpool played magnificently to beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-1, with Smith scoring a towering header to make the score 2-1. It was his 48th and final goal for the club. Two days later came his testimonial game at Anfield.
Smith delayed his retirement and played a further season for Liverpool (missing the successful retention of the European Cup after a DIY accident at home injured his foot) before leaving for Swansea City after 637 games. Managed by his former Liverpool team-mate John Toshack, Smith helped Swansea to promotion from the old Fourth Division. He retired from playing in 1979. It's notable that despite his long association with a winning team, level of respect within the game and amount of medals, he only was ever selected once to play for England, in a match against Wales in 1971. He did make junior and under-23 appearances for his country early in his career.
Apart from a brief spell as youth coach at Liverpool, Smith has not stayed in the game to any great extent, preferring business and journalistic careers after his playing days ended, but his legend lives on whenever people refer to the vernacular of the "hard men of football" and Smith has made a reasonable living from talking about his career as the Anfield Iron - a nickname afforded to him by Liverpool supporters.
Many, including Smith, claim that he was unlike most of the other footballers who are lumped into the "hard men" category, in that he was always absolutely fair. Smith himself always points to his disciplinary record whenever people question his intentions when tackling opponents - he was often cautioned, but more for things he said than did, and was never sent from the field of play. Others, however, would contend that Smith was no different from the rest of the so-called 'hard men' of football and was by no means 'always fair'. On one occasion in the mid 60s, during a derby match against local rivals Everton, Smith committed an outrageous tackle on forward Roy Vernon virtually from the kick-off which resulted in Vernon being carried from the field and being sidelined for several weeks. Prior to the match, Liverpool manager Shankly had identified Vernon as Everton's in-form player and said that he would be the greatest threat to his side. Smith was widely accused in the press of deliberately putting Vernon out of the game, though Smith is said to have denied this.
Smith was known for his sharp tongue during games, often seen berating and even trying to instruct the referee in command.
That said, he certainly had the respect of his peers, with fellow "hard man" Jack Charlton once saying "Tommy Smith was easily the hardest player I faced. I ran into him once and he knocked every ounce of breath out of me. I tried to get up and look like he hadn't hurt me, but he had." Charlton's defensive partner at Leeds United, Norman Hunter, and Chelsea's Ron Harris, both considered as tough players, also pay similar respects to Smith.
In his later years, Smith had a hip replacement operation (both knees and an elbow are made of plastic as well) and also began to suffer from arthritis to the extent that he couldn't work, often needed a wheelchair or walking stick and had to claim incapacity benefit. He then had to go to a social security tribunal to explain himself after he managed to take a penalty on the Wembley pitch (he missed) in a light-hearted contest for charity which featured former footballers and took place at half-time during the FA Cup final in 1996. The informer was an employee for the DSS. Smith, perhaps only half-seriously, claimed in his newspaper column that the informer must have been an Everton supporter and had only reported him because of his probable anti-Liverpool bias. Staff at the same DSS branch at which the individual worked denied that he was an Everton supporter and claimed that he had no interest whatsoever in football, being a Rugby League fan. Nonetheless, the myth of Smith being shopped by an Evertonian still persists. In any case, Smith's allowance was stopped. He now earns a wage from the after-dinner circuit and a column for a local newspaper.
Smith has also been a critic of modern players' dietary habits, bemoaning the extra-healthy options preferred prior to a game compared to the three-course meal he always consumed, which invariably included soup, steak and a pudding.
He lives quietly in the Crosby area of Liverpool with his wife Susan.