Prior to that of the Premier League, Championship, et al, there was the plain, old, First, Second, Third, and Fourth Division, and before that, Division Three North, and South even existed – football has come a long way and, for Mansfield Town, currently in League Two, the mid-1970s would see the presence of a certain, Dave (David Bowman) Smith at the helm, in what was his first, managerial position.
Smith, who was both in Dundee, Scotland, in the 1930s, began his playing career as a 16-year-old at Burnley, in the then, First Division, a club with whom he’d spend eleven years (1950-61) before heading, for brief spells, at Brighton & Hove Albion, and Bristol City.
Upon hanging up his boots, in the early sixties, Smith would turn to coaching, taking in spells with Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle United (where he was part of the coaching team as the Magpies won the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup), and Arsenal (where he was the Reserves manager), before eventually turning to management, in Nottinghamshire, and with Mansfield Town.
Then of the old Fourth Division, the Stags had finished seventeenth (third bottom) the season before Smith’s arrival at the club, three points above bottom club, Brentford; the following season, and having narrowly avoided re-election, Smith’s Stags turned things around dramatically.
In the space of twelve months, Mansfield Town went from relegation fodder, to Champions, of the Fourth Division, that 1974-75 title success the first, major piece of silverware, in the clubs’ history, as Smith, the second Scotsman to lead the Notts-based club, performed miracles.
Ray Clarke (30), Terry Eccles (20) and Gordon Hodgson (11) bagged over fifty goals between them as the club reached the fifth round of the FA Cup, en-route to title success, and promotion; winning 33 of the 53 games played overall that campaign, the Stags would see several, unbeaten runs in the league, including a thirteen-game, unbeaten streak, between October 1974 and February 1975 (10 wins and three draws).
The following season, 1975-76, Smith’s Stags, now in the Third Division, finished in eleventh place, in what was a season of two halves, if ever there was one; between August and Boxing Day, the Stags won just three of their nineteen matches, then, from matchday twenty onwards, they lost just three of the remaining twenty-five matches, they also reached the FA Cup fifth round, losing at home to Carlisle United.
The season would also see the Stags play three matches with Wrexham in the FA Cup, eventually progressing in a second replay; reach the League Cup fifth round before losing away to Manchester City; and the semi-finals of the inaugural Anglo-Scottish Cup, crashing to eventual winners, Middlesbrough.
After leaving the Stags, Smith would go on to have spells at Southend United, Plymouth Argyle, Dundee (his hometown club), and Torquay United.
At Southend he’d win promotion twice, from the old Fourth Division, lifting the league (for a second time) in 1981, with his former club, Mansfield, finishing in seventh place, as well as promotion, from the Third Division this time, with Plymouth, in 1986, as runners-up (Notts County would be in the division that season, they finishing in eighth).
Smith’s spell in charge at Plymouth, between 1984 and 1988, would see the Scotsman named, in 2019, as their second-greatest manager in their history before returning home, briefly, to Dundee, where he saw his side lift the 1989 Forfarshire Cup, following a 3-0 win over Arbroath.
His managerial career ended following a couple of years in charge at Torquay United, in the late 80s, early 90s.
Famed for his tartan cap, and use of poetry, and Shakespearean quotes, Smith, for his part, remained in football after his retirement from management in 1991, running hugely popular soccer schools in Plymouth, where he was much-loved.
Dave Smith passed away on 8 September 2022, at the age of 88, a few weeks prior of his 89th birthday; he may have been born in Scotland, but, for those at Burnley (where he spent most of his playing career), Mansfield (where he started his managerial career), Southend, and Plymouth, he’ll be forever remembered.
We doth our tartan caps in his honour, and memory….
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @mansfieldtownfc Dave Smith (centre) with then-Stags Chairman Arthur Patrick (right).