Managers Month: No.4 – Bobby Smith
A manager frequently overlooked and perhaps forgotten, Bobby Smith took over from the retiring Danny Williams for the start of the 1978/79 Division Three season.
Smith started off in management young. He was only 29 when he took over at Bury in November 1973, making an instant impact with promotion from Division Four at the first attempt, although mediocre seasons eventually led to Bobby being sacked in October 1977 after making a poor start to the season. Within days Port Vale came calling, however 34 league games, 6 wins, 15 draws and 13 defeats later, he took the Valiants to relegation into Division Four.
Despite this Swindon paid £10,500 to release Bobby from his Vale Park obligations. Still only 34, his challenge at The County Ground was to put behind three years of under achievement and restore Swindon to Division Two.
Like at Bury some 5 years previous, Bobby made an instant impact as he led Swindon to a first real promotion challenge since 1975.
The 1978/79 season goes down as one of Swindon’s most successful league campaigns. In contention for one of the three promotion places all season, 4 defeats in 23 games post Christmas and 42 goals thanks to new signings Andy Rowland and Alan Mayes pushes Town up to 3rd, just a point off the top of Division Three. Yet with two games remaining at lower mid table Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool, Town squander the chance for promotion and finish 5th. Even still the 57 points won is equivalent to 82 points today, making Smith’s first season our our sixth highest league points total.
The following season was a similar story. By mid December Bobby’s side were sitting 3rd having beat Bury 8-0, a league result not equaled since, and set to go one better than a year before, but 1979/80 will be remembered for our cup exploits. These ultimately distracted from the league form with 6 wins in the final 20 games, leaving Town well off the pace in tenth.
Bobby matched his FA Cup run a year before, taking Town past Brentford, Torquay and Luton through to the 4th Round and a plum tie against Spurs, which was eventually lost to a last minute Tottenham winner at White Hart Lane in the replay. However it was the League Cup run that almost emulated the achievements of 1969.
After Portsmouth and Chester were dispensed of, Division One Stoke City were taken to a replay after a 2-2 draw, Town held on to secure a 2-1 win. After a trip to Plough Lane and another 2-1 win, this time over Wimbledon, Arsenal and a trip to Highbury awaited in the Quarter Final. After going behind early on, Town took until the 84th minute and a Billy Tucker headed equaliser to bring Arsenal back for a replay. Back in Swindon, Smith’s side go 3-1 ahead, but the Gunners peg them back to 3-3 and extra time. Andy Rowland scores his 4th goal of the competition five minutes from the end to put Town through to the two leg semi-finals against Wolves.
Looking back now at this semi-final it’s strange to see this was to be repeated under Macca some 15 years later. Again Mayes and Rowland combined to put Town 2-1 ahead in the first leg at the County Ground, then to Molineux a few weeks later. After Billy Tucker had a goal disallowed after half an hour, two quick Wolves goals after the break gave the Division One side the lead. Not long afterwards Bradshaw in the Wolves goal gave away perhaps the clearest penalty ever awarded, which midfielder McHale converted to make the tie level. But Town couldn’t hold on as Wolves got the late goal to take them to Wembley.
1980/81 couldn’t have started worse. The poor league form continued with five straight defeats and out of the League Cup in the 3rd Round after a heavy 5-0 thrashing at Liverpool. The Board had little sympathy or patience for Bobby Smith who had spent heavily, splashing out £150,000 on David Peach and £110,000 on Glenn Cockerill in the later half of last season, so despite picking up 3 wins in 4 games, Smith was sacked, 9 games into the season with Town in the relegation zone.
Good, Bad or Ugly? – Good – In football you have to grasp the moment. Bobby had two great opportunities and blew the chance at promotion to Division Two and taking Swindon back to the League Cup Final. Even still to get Swindon in that position in the first place was an incredible achievement.
Of course it all went sour in the end, however that’s no different from many managers in this countdown, yet I still feel Smith should’ve been given more time. Results had turned the corner and 9 games into the season is very early, so early that Bobby’s dismissal is the earliest any Town manager has ever been sacked into a season.
- Leagues: 3 seasons in Division Three
- FA Cup: 8 ties & 6 tie wins | Best 4th Round on both occasions
- League Cup: 12 ties & 9 tie wins | Best Semi-Final in 1979/80
- Achievements: None
|League Pld||Won||Drn||Lst||For||Agg||League Pts||P/G||League Score||FAC Score||FLC Score|
|TOTAL SCORE: 388.9|
Click here for a full list of the managers in the countdown so far and their scores.
See my earlier post for an explanation of how the scoring works.
* Header photo from swindon-town-fc.co.uk