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Reg Smith – a tribute by Neil Jensen

Tuesday, January 27 2004

The following tribute to Reg Smith by Neil Jensen was published in the matchday programme for the home tie against Grays Athletic on Saturday 24th January 2004

The word great is an overused superlative in football, but the very word is an appropriate way to describe Reg Smith, probably Hitchin’s best ever player. Reg died at the beginning of January 2004 at the age of 91.

James Christopher Reginald Smith was born in Battersea on January 20th 1912, the some of a South African rugby international. He was a pupil at the British School in Hitchin and I believe the late Reg Brown was a schoolmate of Reg Smith.

Before joining Hitchin Town, Reg played for Pirton. He made his debut for Hitchin on September 6th 1930 in the Canaries first ever FA Cup tie, a 0-0 draw at home to Luton Amateurs. In the 1930-31 season, the teenager made a handful of appearances for the club.

I met Reg two years ago and he recalled his early days at Hitchin.
“Alf Amos, our trainer, was good to work with. He created a nice atmosphere in the dressing room and he built a very good team which won the Spartan League,” he said.
“Alf took the football to a new level in his time at Hitchin – we used to massacre some teams.”

Reg became an electrician while he was at Hitchin and was soon attracting the attention of senior clubs in the South of England. He signed amateur forms at Tottenham and Crystal Palace, and as a member of Hitchin’s 1935 Spartan League championship team, it was little surprise when Millwall came knocking on Hitchin’s door.

The 1934-35 season saw Reg regularly display “dazzling wing play”, according to the local press. Don Birdsey, who reported on more Hitchin games than any other newsman, always said that Reg Smith was the finest player ever to wear the club’s colours.

He played just over 100 games for Hitchin but at the start of the 1935-36 season, he signed for Milwall , just after being made captain.

At Milwall , Reg made 85 Football League appearances in three seasons before the Second World War, scoring 13 goals. In 1938 he won a Division Three South Championship medal, and his performances for Millwall won him international recognition.

On November 9th 1938, Reg lined up for England at St James’ Park, Newcastle, against Norway. He scored twice in that game, and the great Tommy Lawton of Everton and Ronnie Dix of Derby County scored the other goals. He won one more full cap, against Ireland at Old Trafford, a 7-0 win for England. During the war, he also won two unofficial caps in 1940 and 1941.

Reg was very unassuming about his England career, which saw him play alongside the likes of Lawton and Stanley Matthews. His son, Reg Junior, said that his father was “extremely proud of representing his country. His father had represented South Africa, so he felt pleased that he had achieved something.”

During the war, Reg had spent a lot of time in Scotland and when hostilities ceased, he forged a career north of the border. He had a spell with Dundee and Dundee United, the latter as manager. In between, he was manager of Corby Town.

But his greatest success as a manager was at Falkirk, where he won the Scottish Cup in 1957.
When he took over at Falkirk, he said, “I’ll have to be a miracle man to keep this lot up. At the time, I would not have bet a farthing that Falkirk would escape relegation, let alone win the Scottish Cup.”

Picture from The Falkirk Website

After Falkirk he managed Millwall from July 1958 to January 1961 then had a number of stints in South Africa in between spells with Bedford.

Reg Smith is still a legend at Falkirk and his achievements as a player will also stand the test of time. This was a player who began in local amateur football and played alongside some of the pre-war greats.

Very few people alive today can recall his time with Hitchin, if any at all. But his name lives on as the most celebrated of all Hitchin Town players. He deserves his place in the Hitchin Town `Hall of Fame`, that’s for sure.

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