Liverpool's iron man, Tommy Smith

"Take that bandage off. And what do you mean your knee? It's Liverpool Football Club's knee." Bill Shankly to Tommy Smith.
And, you know what, Smith took off the bandage. It was another game, another world, another universe when Tommy Smith, born April 5, 1945, was playing for Liverpool. They were a second division outfit when he started at 15 on the ground staff, doing jobs for Harry the Paint and digging Mr Shankly's garden.

By the time he finished, after 632 appearances, he had collected four first division championship medals, two FA Cups, one European Cup, two Uefa Cups, one European Super Cup, a World Youth Cup and a reputation for being the most fearsome creature that had ever roamed the earth, with the exception of an aggrieved tyrannosaurus.
Some men have trophies in their cabinet. With Smith you would expect to see bones.
"It's as if I was going round committing murders," he said, smiling dangerously from his armchair in his spruce and modest home in Blundellsands. (No bones to report, but maybe they are not on display.)
"I never started a fight in my life, truly and honestly. I didn't go round knocking the hell out of people and I've never been sent off in football for a bad tackle. The only leg I ever broke was when I was 15 against a lad who played for Newcastle. Forgotten his name, but I sent him a card.
"The other tackles I put in were for the ball and if that meant hurting people in the process, well, so be it. It means next time I went in for the ball, he wasn't there. I'd warned him. It was football. It was a game for men, not kids."

When Shankly said Smith wasn't born but "quarried", he was speaking a deep, comic truth. Smith was about as slow as a lump of granite but, by god, what a rock of defence in those Liverpool teams. We Arsenal supporters used to shiver with terror at the thought of him tackling Charlie George. More to the point, so did Charlie George.
"I did warn players. When Jimmy Greaves came out at Anfield one time I handed him a piece of paper. He said: 'What's this?' I said: 'Just open it.' It was the menu from the Liverpool Infirmary." But he is right. He was sent off only once (for dissent) and booked three times in his entire career. There is no residue of bitterness against him among other great professionals of the era.
Bobby Charlton remembers him as "hard but fair" with a smile. When Smith suffered a heart attack in his garden last June, the visitors, messages and phone calls flooded in. Nobby Stiles, Norman Hunter, a letter from Michel Platini. Later, 46,000 people rose to him at Anfield, welcoming him back to the place that he has never really left.
"It was unbelievable. I was so emotional. I couldn't think of anything to say. Then someone said: 'Are you fit enough for a fight, Smithy?' I took the microphone and said: 'If anyone fancies their chances I'll see them outside the main entrance afterwards'." He laughed, then added: "It's brilliant that the supporters are still part of me." Of course they are part of him and he of them.

Those were the days when the football club was your life. His father died when he was 14, and first Bill Shankly, then Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan assumed the role of the father figure. It was a tough old life at the beginning, running so short of money that the council paid his mum £1 a week for his food, having two smashed teeth pulled out by a dentist known locally as 'Baker the Butcher', sneaking into Anfield when the gates opened near the end of matches to watch his hero, Billy Liddell.
That was the quarry in which he grew up. That formative geology explains everything. Resolution, toughness, heart were all there, waiting to be exploited and inspired by Shanks, the manager he still calls 'The Boss' (as well as "that f****** little Scots so-and-so").
Shankly was unimpressed by injuries. "Run it off" was the creed of the time, be it a knock or a broken leg. So when one of Smith's legs was opened up from knee to ankle, revealing a glistening white shinbone, during a Cup-Winners' Cup tie at Anfield against the Swiss team, Servette, the victim's first response was to just carry on. But so aghast was the reaction of opponents and the referee, he was reluctantly led away by Fagan for treatment.
He was taken off to the treatment room, which is where his troubles really began. "There was an old saying at Liverpool, if you were going to get injured do it before half-time because in the second half the doctor was pissed. He came in and the first thing he said was: 'Go and get Tommy a large brandy will you. And get me one as well.' He drank both of them, by the way, and then he said: 'I've only got six stitches.' So he put them about an inch apart, which didn't look right to me, and said: 'How do you feel?' I said: 'How do you think?' He wrote something down. I said: 'What's that?' He said: 'It's a prescription for penicillin. I think you're going to need it."

Smith still carries the scar of that event, as he does many others, on those legs that belonged to Liverpool FC. The man who launched a million tackles can walk only short distances these days.
Both knees have been replaced, and a hip and an elbow. His wife, Sue, said that so vast is the array of ironmongery in his person that he sets off every metal detector for miles around. They called him 'Anfield Iron' and now he is taking it literally.
"Tommy, you can hardly walk. Was it worth it, even for Liverpool?"
"Course it was. For the camaraderie, for the fans, for the success we had. I felt lost when I left Liverpool. I went and played at Swansea for two years afterwards but it was only a sort of padding before I retired."
"But it wasn't a war. You didn't have to sacrifice your body."
"If I hadn't made the sacrifice to Liverpool, who else was there? In those days, for what you earned, you had to put your body on the line. Football gave me my life. To be part of Liverpool for those 18 years, when we won so many things and I was captain of the team, I don't regret it. I would go through it all again."
"But you were used like a hired assassin."
"When I first went there, Shanks said to me: 'Don't take shit from anyone.' From then, I didn't. If a tackle was to be done, I did it. Shanks used to wince and then give me a wink. It had to be done. I did it."
"But was it right to hurt people and be hurt in return?"
"I used to warn them first. People say to me: 'What would you do against Ronaldo?' And I say: 'I'd have a quiet word with him. Tell him if he wanted to go on holiday again to keep out of my way. And then see how fast he could run without the ball.'?"

Like an old soldier, Smith remains true to the values of his time. There are no recriminations for what he suffers now. He looks back and remembers the laughter, above all. The time Shankly went mad at a Romanian maitre d' for failing to produce Coca-Cola for his players.
"'You bastard!' yelled Shanks and grabbed him by his dickie bow. 'I'm going to report you to the Kremlin.' We were all doubled up. You never knew with the Boss what he was going to do next.
"I remember the time we got beat at West Brom and someone came up to me in the dressing room afterwards to say there was a copper at the door wanting me. I had a cousin, Lawrie, who was a policeman, so I assumed it was him.
"So I went to the door and this copper I'd never seen before said: 'Are you Tommy Smith?' I confirmed that I was. He said: 'Well I am arresting you for being heard to say; 'Give me the f****** ball' to one of your team-mates in a public area.' I thought it was a wind-up so I said: 'You should have heard what I said when the friggin' ball went in for the second goal.'
"Then Shanks came up and said: 'What's going on, lad.' I told him.
Then the policeman said to him: 'Who are you?' It was the worst thing he could have said. He said: 'Never mind who I am. Who the f****** hell are you?' The policeman had his bicycle on the side. Shanks looked around and said: 'If ye don't f*** off I'll let the tyres down on your bike.' In the end, Joe Mercer, the old Manchester City manager, came along and helped sort things out.
"Shanks was still livid. 'Policemen, bloody useless! They have two on the door of 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister still gets out.'"

Shankly created Liverpool, combining genius, wit, psychology, passion and iron-smelting. He believed in being first or nowhere. What he believed, his players believed, and Smith deferred to no man in his faith. Even when Emlyn Hughes replaced him as captain in 1974, and he could not bear to talk to the man, they played together in harmony on the pitch. "It was my club. I'd been there a damn sight longer than him.
"Everything in my life was football, especially Liverpool, so why should I let this two-faced little so-and-so spoil my football life? But I did not entertain him, or speak to him off the pitch. Never."
Their mutual loathing had been cemented earlier when Smith alleges that Hughes told him that a number Arsenal players were willing to throw a match for £50 a man.
"I'd take a lie-detector test. He did say that, but I thought he might have been trying to set me up. I was that disgusted I didn't tell anyone except Ian Callaghan. From then on, I disliked him that much and he disliked me that much. As a footballer, he was very good. As a person, he wasn't."
Hughes aside, Smith misses much of the old days. He thinks the modern game is so boring he falls asleep watching it.
"We used to go out to win the game. That's what made it so exciting. These days they go out not to lose. The Romans understood, didn't they? If you put a couple of gladiators in the Colosseum with a couple of tigers, now that was excitement. The crowd roared.
"Now football is full of cheats who hit the deck and roll over three times when they haven't even been hit. If you watch games in the old days, players went down, got up and got hold of somebody. Now everyone goes down to get another player booked. I would send the divers off.
"Shankly's legacy, it's dwindled. Not among the supporters. They'll remember for years and years. But I don't think the club is as it used to be. There are pictures of Shanks on the wall in the Legends' Room but it's not as exciting, or as funny, or as alive.
"Shanks would never allow directors to have any power. He ran the club and that was it. Now it's all back to front and upside down and I can't get my head around whether the American owners are interested in Liverpool Football Club or the money."

Even so, he will be at the game at Old Trafford tomorrow, doing his bit as Liverpool Legend as he wills Liverpool to at least a draw. He looks a little different to the era when he played there, menace with a lush moustache, out to shackle George Best. The tache is long gone and the walking is difficult thanks to the multiple injuries over time to his legs. He does not moan or complain. They were never his legs anyway.
They were always the property of Liverpool FC.

Copyright - - Sue Mott

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