Harty on Albion legend Bobby Smith

WHAT would the reaction of the Albion faithful and the rest of the football world be if Gus Poyet went out and signed Michael Owen from Manchester United for £75,000?

Well, allowing for the rate of inflation, that’s what then Albion boss Archie McCauley did when he signed England centre-forward Bobby Smith from Spurs for £5,000 in the summer of 1964.

Sadly, Smith passed away in an Enfield Hospital at the weekend, aged 77, but he will always be remembered on the South Coast as one of the biggest signings in the Albion’s history.

My erstwhile BBC colleague, Norman Gall, recalled Smith’s arrival at the Goldstone. He turned up in a top of the range Jaguar, jet black slicked back hair, a Slazenger jumper, Italian designer shoes and his football boots in one of the then new fangled boot bags.

The crowds packed the Goldstone to the rafters that season as the team went up as 4th Division Champions, Smith scoring 20 times in 33 appearances.

Yet, the dream soon soured as the following season he returned to pre-season training overweight, for which the club suspended him. He played only one more game for the Albion before having his contract terminated over a number of controversial articles in a Sunday newspaper.

After his trumpeted arrival, he is alleged to have left the Goldstone in a threadbare raincoat, Woodbine in his mouth and his boots in a brown paper bag.

There are always two sides to every story and I had the privilege of meeting with Bobby on a couple of occasions in recent years.

He always maintained that when he signed it was on the understanding that he would become manager within a couple of years, with McCauley moving “upstairs” to an admin post.

He also said that part of his sacking came about because he wouldn’t split the £500 from the newspaper with the manager and that was why he was sacked.

There is, of course, also a back story to one of the biggest transfer coups in the club’s history. Even with Falmer on the horizon, I doubt even Gus could entice a player of Owen’s standing down to the South Coast, so just how did the Albion manage to get Smith back then?

Like most footballers of that time, Bobby enjoyed a fag and a drink. Unfortunately, he also liked a bet, correction, he loved a bet, the only problem was he wasn’t very good at it.

The level of his gambling debts had allegedly reached a point where the then Spurs boss Bill Nicholson felt that with Smith past his best on the pitch, his problems off of it might have a detrimental effect at White Hart Lane.

Legendary local bookmaker George Gunn was aware of this situation and, along with the Brighton board, managed to broker a deal which saw Smith’s extensive gambling debts paid off as part of his transfer to Brighton.

And an indication of how times have changed, he also turned out a couple of times for Gunn’s team in the Sussex Sunday League. Just imagine Glenn Murray turning out for Goring CCFC this Sunday?

The couple of times that I met him were a real privilege. Though only at the club for a short time, he will always be an Albion legend, and I’m sure that, like many others, he will be remembered on the opening day at Falmer.