If you’re a lifelong fan, you measure your life against the ups and downs of the team, the changes to the ground, and most of all the coming and going of players. So you notice with some excitement the first time we field a player who is younger than you are. For me it was big Pat Jennings. I had realised early in my primary school days when playground kick-arounds used to feature Allan Harris and his brother Ron (in those days he would conceal the fact that his real name was Chopper) that I would never be good enough to play for Spurs but when Big Pat replaced Bill Brown I realised I was at least old enough. A sadder day was when I knew that no player of my age would ever again play for Tottenham. So hang on to what remains of your youth, oog, and do not argue that Cudicini should be moved on.
But most of all you measure your time against the rise and fall and, in later years, the shuffling off this mortal coil of our most iconic players. I feel sad today because Bobby Smith was one of these, and involved in a moment of insight (for me that is) of what Tottenham could and did become.
In physique Smudger was a Hudd of a man (if only relatively because all players were smaller then). Though a no. 9 his following amongst the fans was akin to that achieved in later years by Graham Roberts. To put it another way he took no prisoners. In those days shoulder charges on the goalkeeper were permitted and I remember goals from corners being scored because the opposition goalies were keeping an anxious eye out for Smudger rather than concentrating on the ball. He was also fearless in heading the heavy leather ball even when it was covered in mud.
I looked at Wikipedia today and felt a frisson when I found this extract from the cover of his autobiography.
“His winning goal, a flying header against Wolves (top of the league at that time) at home on Boxing day 1960 was one of the best of his career.”
Whoever wrote this was not a Tottenham fan because we all know who was top of the league on Boxing Day 1960 and it wasn’t Wolves. My excitement was because – once we get the date right – this was the most evocative Spurs moment of my entire youth. On Boxing Day 1957 Wolves were the top team. In October they had put four past us at Molineux and – apart from the very first game of the season – were unbeaten. They had a formidably organised defence and fast and tricky wingers. The game was one of those that could have gone either way and in my mind’s eye I see Smith – caked in mud – diving headlong to bullet a cross from just outside the edge of the area high into the net at the Paxton Road end to give us a 1-0 win. That was when I first realised that we could develop into a special team. Wolves duly won the league and retained it the next season. But Danny Blanchflower was Footballer of the Year and Bobby Smith was the top scorer.
Bobby was a physical player but not a dirty one. Though he gave goalies a hard time, there was none of that sly taking out of goalkeepers off the ball that we saw yesterday from El-Hadji Diouf. He gave as good as he got against the central defenders of his day but he never complained about what he got. He also could manage some really deft touches, which is why he was such a prolific scorer not just for us (176 goals in 271 appearances) but for England (13 in 15 appearances) including 2 goals in the 9-3 demolition of Scotland (another game I saw: sorry to mention that, oog). He would play beautiful ‘give and go’s’ with Les Allen in the Double team and for the next two or three seasons with Jimmy Greaves.
He was not the most subtle of players in the Double side, but then the competition for that title was enormous. However he was a skilful and wholehearted player and provided a physical presence up front which was a crucial ingredient in the most fantastic team we ever had or ever could have. His place in the pantheon of Tottenham legends will endure.