Trevor Smith

Tough and fearless footballer for the most successful side in Birmingham City history
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The Independent Online

Trevor Smith, footballer: born Brierley Hill, Staffordshire 13 April 1936; played for Birmingham City 1951-64, Walsall 1964-66; won two England caps 1959; married (two daughters); died 9 August 2003.

Trevor Smith was the fearsomely rugged defensive cornerstone of the most successful side in Birmingham City history.

A granite buttress of a centre-half, he was an emerging force as the Blues won the Second Division title in 1954/55, then finished sixth in the top flight and reached the FA Cup Final a year later. At that point he was being touted freely as the likely long-term successor to Billy Wright at the core of England's rearguard, but although he remained a colossal influence at St Andrew's for more than a decade, playing in two finals of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup (the forerunner of the modern Uefa Cup) in 1960 and 1961 and starring as City lifted the League Cup in 1963, he didn't realise fully the vast potential he had demonstrated at the outset of his career.

Smith was tall, tough and fearless, a relentless competitor who was majestic in aerial combat and tackled like a runaway juggernaut, but whereas he was lithe and bouncy in his teens and early twenties, as he grew increasingly muscular with maturity, so he became a tad cumbersome and sometimes struggled to cope with nippy, clever opponents.

A Black Country boy who played schools football alongside Duncan Edwards, the Manchester United prodigy who would lose his life in the Munich air disaster of 1958, Smith signed amateur forms for Second Division Birmingham City in 1951 and enjoyed an early taste of glory in helping the Blues to win the European Youth Cup a year later. Developing rapidly, he claimed a first-team berth in 1953/54 and despite the distraction of National Service with the Army during the middle of the decade, he became a fixture in a notably parsimonious defence which included Gil Merrick in goal, the full-backs Jeff Hall and Ken Green, and the wing-halves Len Boyd and Roy Warhurst.

During the promotion campaign, and the subsequent top-six finish among the élite, Smith took the eye not only with his uncompromising physical presence, but also with admirable all-round technique.

The 1956 Wembley showdown might have proved a showcase for his skills, but Birmingham were undone that day by Manchester City, for whom the deep-lying centre-forward Don Revie proved too elusive for Smith to dominate, and the northerners ran out comfortable 3-1 winners.

Still, though the Blues declined first to mid-table and then to be regular strugglers against relegation over the next eight years, the promising young stopper distinguished himself at England under-23 level. When Billy Wright finally ended his illustrious international tenure in 1959, to Smith fell the first chance to replace him.

On his full England début against Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff, he was stretched by the subtle movement of Graham Moore but performed competently enough in a 1-1 draw and was given a second chance 11 days later against Sweden at Wembley. This time Smith was exposed cruelly by the pace and invention of Agne Simonsson as the visitors triumphed 3-2, and he was never offered another opportunity at the top level.

He continued to excel for his club, though, and was the defensive rallying point throughout a series of Fairs Cup campaigns, which included defeats in successive two-legged finals by Barcelona and AS Roma respectively. After such sterling service, which included a spell as skipper, and so many disappointments in finals, it was fitting that Smith remained a key man when Birmingham collected their first - and still, in 2003, their only - front-line trophy since joining the Football League in 1892.

Indeed, Smith was an inspirational figure in both legs of their League Cup victory over local rivals Aston Villa in 1963, especially in the goalless second game at Villa Park, when his tight marking of the combative Bobby Thomson was a crucial factor in the Blues maintaining their 3-1 advantage from the opening encounter.

When Smith joined Third Division Walsall in an £18,000 deal in October 1964, he was the last remnant of the outstanding class of '56, and past his peak after playing 430 senior games for City. Sadly he made only a handful of outings for the Saddlers before arthritis forced him to retire prematurely, shortly before his 30th birthday, in 1966.

After leaving football, he became landlord of a pub in Tamworth, then managed wine stores in the Bull Ring shopping centre, Birmingham, and at Dagenham in Essex.

Ivan Ponting