‘And Smith must score!’ Gordon Smith has gone down in history for the incident in the 1983 F.A. Cup final when, confronted only by Gary Bailey in the last minute of extra time, he shot against the Manchester United goalkeeper – who spread himself well – and thus failed to land the F.A. Cup (and a place in Europe) for the Albion.
Yet it would be most unfair if the gifted Scot was remembered only for that. Described by manager Alan Mullery as ‘the Trevor Brooking of Scottish football’ when he paid £400,000 for the 25-year- old’s signature in June 1980 (an Albion record at the time), Gordon was an intelligent, constructive player with undeniable skill on the ball, and was – that one incident excepted – a good finisher in his role as an attacking midfielder.
As a precocious youngster he represented Ayrshire Schools, played regularly for Kilmarnock’s reserves while still at school, and made his first-team debut for ‘Killie’ at the age of seventeen in August 1972. After 44 goals in 203 League and Cup games at Rugby Park, and four appearances in Scotland’s under-23 team, Gordon joined Glasgow Rangers for £65,000 in August 1977 and won a host of honours in three seasons at Ibrox: a Scottish League championship, two Scottish Cups and two League Cups.
The tall midfielder was an immediate success on arriving at the Goldstone in 1980: he scored on his debut, completed a nineteen- minute hat-trick at Coventry two months later, and finished second in the scoring list to Michael Robinson in his first season with the club. At his best when coming forward from the middle of the park, Gordon was played as an out and-out striker by new manager Mike Bailey in January 1982, a situation which caused him to seek a transfer.
Subsequently in and out of the side, he returned to Ibrox on loan in December 1982 and played in the Rangers side which was beaten 2-1 by Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final. In the meantime, though, Bailey had left Hove and Gordon was welcomed back by Jimmy Melia, who used him as a striking partner for Michael Robinson following an injury to Gerry Ryan in March.
The Scot’s contribution to the F.A. Cup run was substantial: it was Gordon who made the winner for Robinson in the semi-final, and it was he who opened the scoring at Wembley with a beautifully directed header before booking his place in football folklore.
Following the appointment of Chris Cattlin as manager, Gordon had little opportunity to impress and was transferred to Manchester City for £35,000 in March 1984, helping them to promotion to Division One in 1985. He subsequently played for Oldham Athletic (on loan January 1986, signed for £5,000 in February).