My first encounter with Jim Smith was in January 1972.
Pompey were drawn to play Northern League side Boston United at their York Street ground in what was the Centenary year of the trophy.
Pompey scrapped through 1-0 with a goal from Nicky Jennings but Smith inspired Boston who made the blues fight all the way in front of a packed 11,000 crowd. Little did we know then that this bald headed number 4 was to play such a big part in football management over the next 35 years?
Released by Sheffield United as a player he joined Aldershot in 1961. He then played for Halifax and Lincoln City before becoming Player Manager at Boston in 1969. His prowess as a manager was soon spotted by League Clubs and Colchester United offered him the big time in November 1972.
Success followed when the U’s won Division Four under Jim in 1974 and this alerted Blackburn where Jim moved to in 1975 and agin on to Birmingham in 1978. This is where Jim’s success dried up for in his first season Birmingham were relegated from the top flight.
This was when he showed what a good manager he was by bouncing straight back the following season to the acclaim of the Brum fans. After four years at the St Andrews club Jim moved on to be Oxford United manager. He led them to the old Football League Third Division championship in 1984. The next year they were again promoted, this time into the top flight, for the first time in their history as Oxford won the old Second Division. To take such a small club to the top division was probably Smith’s greatest achievement but despite this chairman Robert Maxwell refused to improve Smith’s contract. Jim resigned and was offered the job of manager at Queens Park Rangers.
In his first year at QPR, Smith took the club to the League Cup final, but they lost 3-0 to his former club Oxford. Smith continued to manage QPR until 1988 when he left to become manager of Newcastle United. However, the following year Newcastle were relegated and failure to reverse the club’s fortunes led to Smith’s sacking in 1991.
It was then Jim moved to Fratton for the first time as manager. The Bald Eagle had landed!!
Jim inherited a group of average players but the youth side had reached the Semi final of the FA Youth Cup the previous year and he got to work on them. Players such as Darren Anderton, Andy Awford and Kit Symons were thrown into the firing line with spectacular results. Jim had a never to be forgotten reign at Fratton Park over the next four years, reaching the FA Cup semi-finals in 1992, and just missing out on automatic promotion on goal difference in 1993, and defeat in the playoffs to Leicester City ended our Premiership dream. Jim was finally sacked two years later after a decline in form which saw us back struggling at the wrong end of Division One.
After a spell as chief executive of the League Managers’ Association in 1995 Jim returned to management with Derby County taking them to the Premier League. He stayed for six years before refusing the job of Director of Football and resigning. Derby were subsequently relegated.
Next came a brief spell as assistant manager at Coventry before he accepted the offer to work as HR’s number two at Pompey at the start of the 2002/03 season. The rest of course is history Division One Champions at the first attempt and on to the Premier League with survival achieved in 2003/04. However stormy waters lay ahead and after rumours flying in all direction Harry and Jim both resigned and ‘moved’ down the road.
Southampton were relegated in 2005 and Smith was sacked as a cost cutting exercise. Jim then went back to Oxford United in a vain attempt to stave off relegation to the Conference. Two weeks ago he resigned as manager after a 5-0 defeat at Rushden and Diamonds but remains as a director.
Quite a history for man whose playing career was far from notable but went on to became one of the games most respected managers. Those who have met him describe him as an affable man with a great love of the game; he is always willing to discuss football but will never force the subject on you.
Is there another job out there for the Bald Eagle?
Written by eastneydave.
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