He’s the most successful footballer on the island and the scorer of one of the best goals ever seen at England’s famous Wembley stadium. But few in Grand Cayman know the name Sam Smyth, let alone his story.
Mr. Smyth, a Northern Irishman who has lived in the Cayman Islands for six years with his daughter, realtor Sheena Conolly, is the last surviving member of the great Wolverhampton Wanderers team that won the FA Cup in 1949.
Mr. Smyth scored the winning goal in front of 98,920 spectators, dribbling the ball from the halfway line before smashing it into the net to secure a 3-1 win against Leicester City.
Now, at 90 years old, the memories are starting to fade.
Mr. Smyth recognizes a younger version of himself, a 24-year-old inside-right forward, in the team photo, and he recognizes his manager Stan Cullis and some of his teammates.
But the goal itself, he can only recollect in snatches.
Grainy black-and-white footage from the “Match of the Day” coverage confirms the hype is justified. Mr. Smyth can be seen in the early recording crashing the ball into the net as the clipped tones of the commentary team hail an historic FA Cup moment.
The television clip shows Mr. Smyth later celebrating with his teammates in an open-top bus parade through the packed streets of the small Midlands city.
The victory, one of the finest moments in the history of the club, is fondly remembered in Wolverhampton, where the class of ’49 are toasted as legends. Wolves went on to be one of the best teams in English football through the 1950s, though they have faded today and play in the second tier.
The Cayman Compass tracked down Mr. Smyth at his home in South Sound after receiving a letter from Wolves fan Glyne Wetton, who has written about the 1949 team and kept in touch with many of the former players, nursing some of them through ill health in their final days.
Mr. Wetton wrote that he was attempting to get in touch with Mr. Smyth, who he believes to be the last living member of the 1949 team.
“This 1949 team were all my heroes and I have tried to care for them over the years,” wrote Mr. Wetton, who recalled queueing with his brother for 36 hours to get a ticket for the big game, only to be told they had sold out as he reached the ticket window.
“Luckily for us, for the first time ever the second half of the game was on BBC TV so we saw Sam’s famous goal,” he said.
Ms. Conolly’s home on South Sound is filled with memorabilia, match day programs and magazine and newspaper articles about the team.
One article in the Wolves program describes her father’s contribution to that FA Cup win, scoring six goals including the winner in the semifinal against Manchester United, before his goal in the final.
It reads: “There can be no argument about the goal he scored for Wolves to clinch their 1949 FA Cup Final victory over Leicester City at Wembley. Smyth beat several players in a memorable run to score one of the old stadium’s best individual goals.”
He scored a total of 43 goals in 116 games for the club and also played nine times for Northern Ireland.
Every month the family gets an update from the Wolves former players’ association. These days the missives more often bear sad news. “We learned recently that he is the last surviving member of the team that won the cup,” said Ms. Conolly.
Mr. Smyth’s days as a professional footballer in post-war England were far removed from today’s Premier League, where stars command multimillion-dollar annual salaries.
As Wolves’ top scorer in the 1948-49 season, Mr. Smyth was paid two English pounds a week, roughly $3.
“He actually left England to come home to Northern Ireland when he got married because he couldn’t afford to live on that salary,” Ms. Conolly remembers.
His exploits are little known in Cayman.
“He has always been a modest man and never wants any fuss or attention. I think there are a few people here, of that era, who love and follow football that know about him, but not too many,” said Ms. Conolly.
She said her dad went on to run a sports merchandising company in Ireland after his retirement. Now, he has his share of health problems but still enjoys watching sports, particularly football, cricket and golf.
Copyright - compasscayman.com.