Brian Smith: A homespun, unsung Bolton Wanderer
IN the company of the likes of Frank Worthington, Willie Morgan, Sam Allardyce, Paul Jones, Peter Reid and Roy Greaves, Brian Smith was not one of the more famous or instantly recognisable members of the Bolton Wanderers squad that ruffled the feathers of the First Division elite in 1978-79 season.
But the local lad who graduated through the junior ranks at Burnden Park to become a key member of Ian Greaves’s Super Whites was respected by both his team-mates and opponents.
And although he could never boast the appeal of a Worthy or a Big Sam, he had his fans on the terraces, as a glance through the letters pages of old copies of the Bolton Evening News BUFF would testify.
Unfortunately, Smith’s time in the spotlight was all too brief and, until his recent death at the age of 57, the Athertonian’s influence on Wanderers – and in particular that first season back in the top flight – has rarely been given the recognition it deserved.
He only made a total of 57 senior appearances for the Whites between making his debut in 1974 and his transfer to Blackpool in 1979, but 20 of those came in two extended spells as Greaves’s side – fired by the goals of Worthington – successfully retained their top-flight status.
And he won his place on merit, announcing his arrival on the First Division scene as a substitute in Wanderers’ first victory of the season – a 2-1 Burnden Park victory over Derby County – after which he established himself as a reliable and versatile midfield player, capable of following his manager’s instructions to the letter, as Liam Brady would testify.
Promoted to the starting line-up for the trip to Arsenal, Smith was assigned to shackle the supremely gifted Irishman – a task he completed with honours, despite Wanderers losing the game 1-0 to a hotly-disputed late goal, a performance acknowldeged in the BEN match report that stated: “Brian Smith was given the job of tight marking Liam Brady and he did it well, to the annoyance of the Londoners who seemed to feel that any attempt to stop Arsenal scoring was some sort of sacrilege.”
He played a part in victories over Norwich and Leeds United in his first spell as Wanderers overcame a poor start to the season then, crucially, enjoyed an even longer spell in the second half of the campaign as they strung together a seven-match unbeaten run, including the famous double-clinching victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford, to banish any fears of relegation.
Smith never managed to hit those heights again but continued his career at Blackpool and Bournemouth before returning to the North West for a brief spell with Bury. He later worked in non-league at Daisy Hill and Atherton Collieries, and put something back into the game when he coached young players.