It's better to burn out than to fade away...
- Sep 20, 2005
with probably even more legendary league and triple FA Cup winning Dave Mackay.
The Game Then and Now
When it came to comparing the game when they played and nowadays, both men agreed that it is much faster today. There was also agreement on the increased amount of rolling over – possibly related to the “too many foreigners” comment earlier – and Bobby had a simple solution: “I would hit them harder!”
Mackay was equally forthright, saying that if a player is rolling around one minute and can get up and run about the next, he should be sent off.
The mention of referees set Bobby Smith off. “These days referees are paid £400 a match, but they can be intimidated by the crowd”. At a dinner recently he was asked his opinion of refs and answered “they’re bloody rubbish”. The diner next to him said “I’m a ref” but Bobby stuck to his guns “Well you’re still bloody rubbish!”
On the subject of pain-killing injections, while Mackay said he’d never played with one, Smith claimed he had eight before the 1961 FA Cup Final!
One of the favoured pre- and post-match watering holes amongst supporters is the Bell & Hare pub. Bobby Smith said that all the Double side would go there after games to speak to the fans. He hardly needed to add that you wouldn’t see that happening these days.
But he did tell the sad tale of being at Spurs’ ground and saying “Hi Robbie!” to one of our current squad – who ignored him and walked off because he didn’t know who he was! “Big-headed ****!”
Getting Sent Off – Or Not
Then it was Dave Mackay’s turn to explain the curious sending-off that never was. Spurs were playing Nottingham Forest and Mackay said that he and Johnny Quigley had “a scene”. “The ref came up to me and said “You’re off!” I said to him “I’m not f**king going off!” And I didn’t!”
But Bobby Smith was able to trump this with an incident that happened towards the end of his career. “I was playing for Hastings (Hastings???). I was taking a corner and the ref came over to tell me where to place the ball. I said “F**k off!” And he sent me off! So at half time, I went into the ref’s room with three large Irishmen. They held him down and I hit him. He didn’t come out for the second half!”
I can’t help thinking that if there was more honest interaction like that between players and referees these days there would be far fewer problems on the pitch.
When asked about managers, Dave Mackay said that he worked with three of the best: Tommy Walker at Hearts, Bill Nicholson at Spurs and Brian Clough at Derby. These were men who when they talked, you listened. Asked what Clough had said to make him sign for Derby, the reply was simple enough: “It was easy to sign for Derby. He didn’t butter me up – he just gave me plenty of money!”
At the mention of Brian Clough’s name, Bobby Smith told the story of his first England call-up. The squad trained at the Bank of England ground, and he was met by Clough with an unwelcoming “Why are you here?” Before Bobby could reply, another England regular at the time Peter Swann shot back with “To take your place!”
Apparently in those days Clough was a bit of a big-head (gee, who knew?) and here was the chance to take him down a peg or two. “On the Thursday we played Ireland. I got picked instead of Clough”. No more grief from BC after that.
The discussion then turned to the current Tottenham side and their fortunes. Mackay said that he thought Jol was a good manager, but needed to start showing something.
Talking about our current form, Smith added “We play well for 15 minutes, then go off. You need hard men up front. I made damage (great phrase) for Greavsie to score. These days I’d get sent off every two weeks”.
On our UEFA Cup exit the previous night against Sevilla, Smith added “We should have left Zokora on, He was the best player in the side. They need a good half back to put the ball through like Dave Mackay and Danny Blanchflower did”.
The Late Great John White
On the subject of midfielders, the pair were asked whether we saw the best of John White. White was the member of the Double side who was tragically killed by lightning on a golf course in 1964.
Smith was emphatic in his reply: “No, we didn’t see the best of him. He crossed a great ball. Once I scored with a diving header and I didn’t even know it went in!” Speaking about the day White died, Smith said “It was terrible weather. He wanted us to go with him. My last words to him were ‘Don’t go up there in this weather, you’re stupid’.
Dave Mackay filled in some more of the background: “He was supposed to meet Cliff Jones, but Jones was late so he went off on his own. He was brilliant, but he was killed by lightning. I never got over that”.
The evening was drawing to a close, and the last few questions were asked. “Dave, would you have managed Spurs?” “Yes” replied Mackay, “But I went to Derby. Anything to do with Tottenham, I would have said yes. But it never came up”.
There is one subject that is still something of a sore topic between these two great players and friends: the famous England 9-3 victory on 15 April 1961 over Scotland. Smith scored twice for England. Even now it raises the hackles, but Mackay was in good enough humour to say “If it wasn’t for me, it would have been 9-2!”
And that was pretty much it. Bobby Smith mentioned that he is well looked after by Chelsea, who make a Christmas gift of £1,500 to each player from the squad that won the title in 1955. But when asked whether he would rather play these days or when he did, he was emphatic: “Back then. I wouldn’t know what to do with £60,000 a week!”