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Jack the Lad: When Tommy wrote his name into Swans' folklore

Tommy Smith may have only played one season for the Swans, but the 'Anfield Iron' made a big impression on this young football fan – not to mention World Cup winner Osvaldo Ardiles.

When I first started supporting the Swans in the late 1970s, they were languishing in the old Fourth Division, having recently successfully applied for re-election to the Football League.

With the likes of Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams, Phil Bennett et al leading the Wales rugby team through a Grand Slam-filled Golden Era, supporting a struggling football team like the Swans wasn’t the most fashionable of pastimes – especially when you lived in the rugby-mad village which had produced the aforementioned Edwards.

However, the Swans were also producing some exciting young local talent in the shape of players like Alan Curtis, Robbie James and Jeremy Charles.

And when Welsh international John Toshack took over as manager in March 1978, things really started to change.

The former Liverpool striker brought with him a number of ex-Anfield team-mates along with promotion to the Third Division.

The Swans were being transformed from an unfashionable Fourth Division club thanks to a sprinkling of Scouse stardust mixed with South Wales talent.

And, in the summer of 1978, there were few bigger stars in the old Third Division than the Swans’ new signings Ian Callaghan and Smith.

Callaghan had been a member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad and an integral part of the all conquering Liverpool side of the late 1960s and 1970s.

While Smith had been the captain of that side in the early part of the 1970s, leading the club to the top-flight title and UEFA Cup double in 1973.

During a career spanning 632 games with Liverpool, Smith won four League Championships, two FA Cups, two UEFA Cups, one European Super Cup and two European Cups.

Just over a year before, he had scored one of the goals in Liverpool’s European Cup final win over Borussia Mönchengladbach. Now he was going to be playing for the Swans in the old third division.

Even the great Edwards was persuaded to switch codes and sign for the Swans after his retirement from the oval ball game.

And if all that wasn’t glamorous enough, the Swans went and drew Tottenham in the League Cup at the start of the 1978-79 season.

A visit from Spurs would have been a big enough deal in itself with the likes of the young Glenn Hoddle in their side.

But the London club had just pulled off the transfer coup of the summer, and quite possibly the decade, by signing Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, who I had excitedly watched just a few weeks earlier lifting the World Cup in their home nation on TV!

Having seen their team play the likes of Southport, Aldershot and Halifax Town the previous season, Swans fans were now preparing to watch European Cup winners and world champions at a packed-beyond-capacity Vetch Field.

The tie against Spurs attracted huge publicity and that was multiplied ten-fold when a certain Mr Smith decided to welcome Mr Ardiles to British football in his own inimitable style.

The little Argentinian had barely acclimatised himself to the unique atmosphere generated by the Vetch Field filled to its ageing and creaking rafters when Smith produced a trademark tackle.

Situated smack in the middle of a heaving North Bank, I only had clear sight of two incidents during the entire match - Barry Daines pulling off a brilliant diving save and Ardiles performing a perfect vertical take off like a Harrier Jump Jet after being challenged by Smith.

In his autobiography, the defender recalled the incident: "I came across, took the ball cleanly and my momentum carried me forward.

"Ardiles went up in the air like a Guy Fawkes rocket and came down just as ignominiously. The Vetch roared its approval. Ossie lay on the ground as if he had been hit by a bag of hammers. I went over to check he was OK and, satisfied that he was, said: ‘Welcome to English football’.”

The match was drawn 2-2 amid a storm of controversy over Smith’s tackle, which somewhat overshadowed an excellent all-round Swans performance.

But, in the second leg, the Swans showed they were far more than a team of lower league cloggers when they emphatically beat the First Division side 3-1 at White Hart Lane.

Smith had reinforced his hard man image and established himself as a fans' favourite.

There's no doubt he had an intimidating presence. I remember running onto the pitch after one evening match to collect some autographs and stopping dead in my tracks when I was about 10 yards away from Smith.

It's not as if the great man said or did anything to discourage me, he just had an aura about him that suggested I might be better off approaching Ian Callaghan instead.

Years later I had the privilege of hearing the great football character Frank Worthington recall making his debut at Anfield.

Standing in the famous tunnel, a menacingly silent Smith handed the nervous youngster a piece of paper which apparently turned out to be the menu for Liverpool Royal Infirmary.

I don't know whether the story is true or not, but to remember Smith solely as an archetypal Seventies hard man would do him a massive disservice. He was an excellent footballer, who also spent part of his season with the Swans acting as John Toshack's assistant manager.

Yes, there have been many far longer-serving players than Smith throughout the Swans' long history.

But few made a more headline-hitting impact than he did in that memorable late summer of 1978. And, for a young and impressionable football fan, he had left a mark every bit as lasting as the one he left on Osvaldo Ardiles.

Come on you Swans!

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Jack the Lad

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