Gordon Smith was a hugely important member of the 1961-62 Championship winning squad and is regarded by many as the final piece in the successful jigsaw that manager Bob Shankly pieced together.
In trying to build a team, Shankly was concerned about the supply to his big forwards and made a third and this time successful attempt to secure the services of Gordon Smith for Dundee in the summer of 1961.
There was no arguing over the pedigree of Gordon Smith before he came to Dens as he already had three Championship medals with Hibernian and one with Hearts as well as having captained his country, but at the age of 37, many fans wondered just how much mileage was left in Smith’s legs, particularly as Hearts had given him a free transfer.
Smith’s signature in the summer of 1961 however proved a masterstroke and because of his advanced years was described by some, including former Hibs team mate Eddie Turnball as ‘the Stanley Matthews of Scottish Football.’
Raised in Montrose, Smith had played for Dundee junior side Dundee North End before signing for Hibs in 1941. Smith played at Easter Road for eighteen years during which time he collected three league championship winning medals as a member of the Hibs ‘Famous Five’ forward line and reached the semi-final of the inaugural European Cup.
He earned a total of thirty-two international caps for Scotland, two of which were as captain and his greatest moment for his country was when he led them to a 4-1 victory away to Austria in the return match to the famous ‘Battle of Vienna’ in which Billy Steel got sent off.
The press dubbed him the ‘Gay Gordon’ or the ‘Gay Cavalier’ which had a completely different meaning to today and he was described in the Dundee v Cologne European Cup match programme as ‘the greatest soccer pin up north of the border since the war.’
Smith was freed by Hibs in 1959 when a queue of clubs, including Dundee, chased his signature. He chose to stay in Edinburgh spending two years with Hearts where he picked up his fourth league title in 1960.
His unique achievement of winning the league with three different clubs, none of whom were Rangers or Celtic, was described by Scottish Football historian Bob Crampsey as ‘the greatest individual accomplishment in the entire history of Scottish league football.’
In view of his age, Smith’s achievements at Dens are in themselves extraordinary. In total he played eighty-nine times in three seasons, scoring nineteen times. During the Championship season he played thirty-seven games and bettered that a year later with forty-eight appearances including a European Cup semi-final appearance at the age of thirty-nine!
There have been few more graceful players in Scottish Football than Gordon Smith and it was his exemplary attention to fitness that ensured he could play at the top level for twenty-three years. He also paid attention to his diet, being keen to learn about the eating habits of players on the continent. For example, he introduced his team mates to pasta, long before it became common place in footballers’ diets.
Having played football in Edinburgh for twenty years, Smith had a grocers business in the capital and lived in North Berwick to the south of the city. He decided to stay there and commute to Dens daily by motor car. Without the luxury of the road bridges over either the Forth or the Tay, the journey entailed a 5.30am start!
Gordon’s experience was vital throughout the Championship year and he was one of the players the younger lads looked to during the two month spell in the winter of 1962 when Dundee failed to win a single game, seriously jeopardising their league title hopes.
Smith scored on his league debut for Dundee in a 3-1 win at Brockville as the championship campaign opened and he quickly endeared himself to the Dark Blue faithful in his first league game at Dens by scoring Dundee’s second in a 4-1 win over Dundee United which saw him being voted man of the match.
During the European Cup run of 1962/63, Smith’s experience would be just as vital, having played in the competition with both Edinburgh sides. In the infamous return game in Cologne in the Preliminary Round, Smith came in for some particularly rough treatment from the Germans and had to be helped from the field by two of his team mates at the end of the game with his legs all black and blue.
During the game itself, the Cologne supporters surrounded the touchline as it became clear that they were going to be knocked out and Gordon was even tripped up by one of their fans when he was running up the wing with the ball.
Conversely in the next round against Sporting Lisbon, Smith’s performance was singled out by the Sporting manager Armando Ferreira despite Alan Gilzean notching a hat trick in a 4-1 second leg win.
Smith’s last game for Dundee came on January 1st 1964 at home to Aberdeen and at the age of thirty-nine years and nine months, remained the oldest player to have played for Dundee until Bobby Geddes came off the bench in April 2010, ten years his senior.
Smith’s precision play was perfect in aiding the development of young forwards Alan Cousin and Alan Gilzean and Gilzean’s prowess in the air was the perfect foil for Smith’s superb crossing ability.
Gordon Smith was the perfect gentleman both on and off the pitch and he helped raise the profile of Dundee FC as the top journalists starting travelling to Dens just to see Smith before even their league winning credentials were rubber stamped.
Gordon Smith is a Dens Park legend and a hero to all who watched him and there are many that feel the League Flag would not have come to Dens without him.
Honours at Dundee:
European Cup semi final: 1962/63
League: 70, 10 goals
Scottish Cup: 6, 1 goal
League Cup: 13, 5 goals
Europe: 8, 3 goals
Totals: 100, 16 goals