It is sad to report that Bolton-born Brian Smith, a former Blackpool player, passed away at the end of August after a brief illness. He may only have spent just over a season at Bloomfield Road but he has a large part in the history of the club if only for the manner in which he arrived and the consequences of it.
Brian Smith was born on 12 September 1955 and, after schoolboy football where he was a combative midfield player, he joined Bolton as an apprentice before signing as a professional for the club in September 1973. He went on to play 57 games for Bolton scoring four goals, including 46 League games, with six substitute appearances, scoring three goals. And while at the club he went out on loan to Bradford City in October 1977 and he played eight League games for the Yorkshire club. Towards the end of his time at Bolton he also had a spell with Tulsa Roughnecks in the United States of America and of this he commented, ‘I had a tremendous time out there, the standard was a lot better than I thought it would be. They haven’t yet caught up with us though, but they are well on the way and I wouldn’t mind going back and playing there at some time in the future.’ He was also an England Youth international.
Then in August 1979 Blackpool took an interest and he immediately and inadvertently became the centre of a transfer wrangle when manager Bob Stokoe and Bolton manager Ian Greaves had agreed a transfer fee of about £60,000 for him. However, the Blackpool board said that the fee was too high and the issue was left to chairman Bill Gregson to decide the outcome; subsequently the clubs could not agree a fee and a tribunal had to arbitrate.
After a delay of about a fortnight and just before the tribunal was to meet to agree a mutually acceptable fee, Gregson offered Bolton £25,000. Bolton were ‘blazing mad’ and, according to Gregson, ‘went up the wall’. Bolton called it a derisory offer, their manager Ian Greaves blamed Stokoe but, in fairness, he did not know of the interference by the Blackpool chairman. The bust-up at Blackpool led to Stokoe being dismissed by mutual consent on 17 August 1979. A Blackpool shareholder commented, ‘This wasn’t the first time Bob had been put in an embarrassing position by the board. I believe he told the chairman exactly what he thought of the way the board was destroying the club and that if they did not have the decency to resign he did not want to work for them any longer.’ The tribunal arbitrated and the fee for Smith was fixed at £50,000, which Blackpool duly paid.
He made his first appearance for Blackpool in a friendly game against the British Universities in the pre-season build-up and then made his first competitive start in the Anglo-Scottish Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers on 1 August 1979 when the game was drawn 2-2. But sadly he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out of the other two games Blackpool played in the competition.However the press saw promising signs when reporting, ‘in the first 20 minutes [of the Rovers’ game] the middle three of Doyle, Bobby Kerr and Brian Smith found an exciting blend which they recovered in the last 15 as Blackpool foraged for the winner’. Overall t he correspondent felt Smith and two other new signings, Tom McAlister and Bobby Doyle, ‘looked bright prospects’.
It was a race against time to get him fit for his official Blackpool debut in the first round first leg League Cup tie against Rochdale on 11 August 1979 but hard though the Blackpool backroom staff worked he was unable to take his place in the side that drew 1-1. He was, however, fit to make his League debut for Blackpool in the opening game of the 1979/80 season, a 2-1 victory over Gillingham on 18 August 1979.
He scored his first, and what turned out to be his only, goal for Blackpool in a 4-3 defeat by Grimsby Town on 25 August 1979 and it was noted, ‘One of the few aggressive players on the books, Brian Smith, was an early season casualty with an ankle injury. Smith’s ability to put himself in the thick of the action is necessary to take physical pressure off Bobby Doyle and allow him to exert his obviously superior class.’
After playing in the opening 10 League games by early October 1979, when Blackpool had won five and drawn one of the games, he commented, ‘It just seemed to be one thing after another at the start of the season, it was a real nightmare. But now I feel on top form and able to play my part in helping Blackpool to win promotion this season because they just don’t deserve to be in the Third Division. The set-up here is tremendous and more fitting of a First Division club than a Third Division one, but things are going well for us at the moment. We have had a reasonable start to the season considering the start we have had with the departure of Bob Stokoe, but the directors have picked the right man to take his place in Stan Ternent. I am sure he will do a good job and although it is too early to start talking about promotion, I am sure we will be in the race at the end.’ He added, ‘I have always liked Blackpool and I will be doing my best to see them in the Second Division next season and the way Bolton are playing at the moment, we might be meeting them! [Bolton finished the season at the bottom of the First Division and were duly relegated but Blackpool’s 18th position did not earn them promotion!]’
Sadly in his 18th consecutive League start, his season virtually came to an end when he suffered injury in a 2-2 draw with Chesterfield on 7 November 1979. He did return to action for the Central League side as a second half substitute against Bury reserves on 8 December 1979 when the game was drawn 0-0 and he was considered fit enough to return to League action. However, having played the first half of a Central League game against Blackburn Rovers on 8 February 1980 to show that he was fit once more, he did get one further opportunity in the League side when he reappeared as a 56th-minute substitute for Paul Jones, once again against Blackburn Rovers the following day, 9 February 1980, when Blackpool lost 2-0.
With Stan Ternant’s dismissal in February 1980, Alan Ball took over and in March 1980 Smith was one of 11 players who were placed on the free transfer list by the new manager. The comment was he had ‘strangely vanished from future plans’ after his injury.
By the end of his first season he had played in 18 League games, made one substitute appearance and scored one goal. He also played in two League Cup ties and in a couple of Central League games.
He turned down a move to Bradford City and subsequently he rejected moves to Doncaster Rovers, Blackburn Rovers and Bury even though the Blackpool management stressed that he had no further part in their future plans. So he started the 1980/81 season in the Central League side that was defeated 3-1 by Nottingham Forest reserves on 16 August 1980 but he was left out of the side thereafter.
He returned to action when he played his first game for Blackpool for over a month when facing Newcastle United reserves on 17 September 1980 and he was reportedly heard to mutter after the game ‘I should have joined Blackburn Rovers.’ His comment was particularly apt as Blackpool stressed again that he was no longer part of their future plans and he had been told he could have a free transfer if he found a new club.
Blackburn manager Howard Kendall was reportedly annoyed at the rebuff as he understood that Smith was in the process of ‘agreeing to join us’. Kendall said that he was offering Smith the chance to put a nightmare 12 months at Blackpool behind him and commented, ‘He had suffered more than most by a managerial merry go round at Blackpool. I offered him a chance to get over it all but as I talked about football he talked about money and I lost interest.’ Smith had two years of his contract at Blackpool remaining but he had been told that he could sit it out and pick up his wages and Kendall added, ‘Brian wants to hang on at Blackpool to collect some money he feels he is owed.’
Thins at Bloomfield Road went from bad to worse for in mid-September 1980 he and Paul Gardner reportedly walked out of a team meeting held by manager Alan Ball who said, ‘At the start of the meeting I asked anyone who did not want to play for themselves, this club or me to walk out of the room. I gave them a minute to do so. The two players walked out, so they have clearly shown where they stand.’
About the meeting Ball, who admitted that Gardner and Smith were not in his team plans, said, ‘It was not a crisis meeting. I had been intending to call a meeting of the whole playing staff for some time to have a progress report. I made it clear at the start of the season that players would be in the dole queue at the end of this season if they did not come up to scratch and I reminded some of them that they were not keeping up standards of play I required. I did not tell specific players they had no part in Blackpool’s future. Players have a part in my plans if they come up to scratch. Players will be ruled out of my plans if they do not.’
As time went on, Blackpool changed their mind about giving him a free transfer and on 11 October 1980 the club announced that they wanted a £6,000 fee for him. Nothing happened immediately and he was a Central League substitute against Burnley reserves on 6 December 1980 and against Bolton Wanderers on 13 December 1980. Then, having been in the shop window, he was transferred to AFC Bournemouth later in December 1980.
He triumphantly returned to Bloomfield Road with Bournemouth on 14 November 1981 when, as captain, he led his side to a 3-0 victory. He commented after the game, ‘I must admit it was a good feeling to come back here and play well. I never really fitted in during my 18 months with Blackpool. I had an injury that took a long time to shake off and Alan Ball did mess me about once I was fit. He told me he didn’t really fancy the way I played. That may have been because I am a similar kind of player to him. My football career was getting nowhere fast and I was being asked to play in the reserves and even the ‘A’ team. In the end it got to the point where I had to get away. That’s why I will always be grateful to my manager at Bournemouth, David Webb. He was the one man who was prepared to give me a chance. He took me on after I went down south for a trial and not long after that he made me the captain.’
He went on to play 40 League games and scored two goals for Bournemouth before being transferred to Bury in March 1982. He played six League games for Bury in his one season at the club. He then stepped down to local football and later played for Parley Sports and Salisbury.
After retirement from football he lived in Atherton and coached several local clubs. Latterly he had been living in Blackpool and was caring for his aged mother.
Source: It's not Orange It's Tangerine