Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith
The Guardian, by Brian Glanville


Gordon Smith, who has died after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, aged 80, was one of the finest Scottish rightwingers, yet his international career was a series of stops and starts, at its best in his veteran years. This was a period in which, first discarded by his principal club Hibernian, then by Hearts – their rivals, whom he had supported as a boy – he reached a dazzling maturity.


Born in Edinburgh, but brought up in Montrose, it was Hibs he joined rather than Hearts. He was a teenage prodigy, scoring 20 league goals in the League tournament of the 1941-42 season. The word was that, with his elegant control, pace and precise crossing, he was going to become "the Scottish Stanley Matthews", at a time when Matthews was destroying one Scotland leftback after another. Yet where Matthews had the big-match temperament, Smith proved not to have it at all. Always a shy person, the international occasion seemed, from his debut at 18 against England, to freeze him and nullify his talents. Altogether, his way often barred by the more straightforward Willie Waddell of Rangers, he won just 18 full caps over a 10-year period.


After the first half dozen in the two immediate postwar seasons, he did not play for his country again till 1951-52. This despite the fact that in the 1949-50 season, he scored 25 goals in 29 games.


He was an outstanding member of the "famous five" Hibs forward line, with Bobby Johnstone (obituary, September 6 2001), Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond, all internationals. He played 247 Scottish League games for Hibs, scoring 170 goals, helping them to win the title three times. He figured in the Scottish Cup Final of 1947, when he was hampered by an injured leg early in the game, and in the 1951 League Cup Final.


Having won the Scottish Championship in 1954-55, Smith playing 28 games for nine goals, Hibs qualified for the first European Cup, from which Chelsea, under pressure from the insular Football League, cravenly withdrew. Smith was still in ebullient form in a team that thrashed Rot Weiss Essen 4-0 in Germany in the first leg of the opening round, drawing at Easter Road, 1-1. Djurgarden of Sweden were defeated, 3-1 at home, 1-0 away in the quarter-finals, but a brilliant Reims team, inspired by Raymond Kops, eliminated Hibs in the semi finals, 2-0 in France, 1-0 in Edinburgh.


In the intervening summer, Smith at last regained his place in the Scotland team. Perhaps it was because he felt less pressure playing far from Scotland, but he had three exceptional games on tour: a 2-2 draw against Yugoslavia, a handsome 4-1 win against a bruising Austrian team, and finally a 3-1 loss to Hungary in which, however, Smith had an impressive game. His international record that season was three goals in four games. Half a dozen more appearances, though just a single goal, were to come in the next two seasons.


In 1959, after a season in which a recurring ankle injury limited Smith to 15 League games and one goal, Hibs rashly and ungenerously gave him a free transfer, when they might have been better off paying for the ankle operation which he paid for himself. So they had to watch him flourish with their City rivals, Hearts, after getting fit on the Riviera. He and Hearts had immediate success, winning Championship and League Cup alike. He scored 10 goals in 29 League games, but in the European Cup, Hearts lost to Benfica, the eventual winners, in both legs.


In 1961, it was Hearts who now let him go to flourish elsewhere, skill and intelligence making up for lost speed. Again Dundee, his new club, promptly won the championship, Smith getting seven goals in 32 games. There followed a glorious run in the European Cup, beginning with an 8-1 win over Cologne, though the return was lost 4-0 in Germany. Sporting beat them 1-0 in Lisbon, but Dundee won 4-1 in Edinburgh. However, a 5-1 defeat by Milan, ultimate Cup winners, at San Siro was too much to retrieve, though Dundee won the return 1-0.


Smith retired to live in North Berwick in 1964. For a while in the late 70s he ran a pub near the Hibs ground called, appropriately, the Right Wing.


His wife Joan predeceased him: he is survived by a son.