Alan Smith

Former Player Remembers: Alan Smith

When Alan Smith spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football, he reflected on his time at Leicester City and at Arsenal.
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He played well over 200 games for Leicester City between 1982 and 1987, scoring 84 goals, most of them in the old First Division. He then spent eight years at Arsenal.

While at Highbury he won two league titles, the FA Cup, the Football League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. He also won the Golden Boot twice and played for England.

Alan signed for Jock Wallace’s Leicester City in June 1982 at a time when the Club was looking for a return to the top Division.

“When I was playing for (Southern League) Alvechurch, it was a good standard of football,” Alan began. “Jock Wallace’s assistant, big Ian MacFarlane, offered me a three or four-year contract at Leicester which gave me a bit of security. I was studying Modern Languages at Coventry Polytechnic at the time. It was £15,000 for the transfer and another £7,000 if I made so many appearances.

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Alan Smith

The striker, in action here against Southampton, spent five seasons at Leicester City before moving to Arsenal.

“Then Jock left, less than a month after I’d signed,” Alan continued. “I was wondering what would happen, as new managers often don’t fancy players signed or played by the previous manager, but it worked in my favour because the new manager Gordon Milne got rid of a lot of Jock’s players. He wanted to build his own team.

“I remember playing for the reserves against Northampton in a pre-season game at Belvoir Drive. The first team were playing Northampton’s first team and Gordon called me over for the second half. I replaced Alan Young, and got a hat-trick. This resulted in me starting the first game of the season which was at home against Charlton Athletic. Jock had said I would have to wait a couple of years to learn my trade but now that Gordon had put me straight into the team for my debut I had to learn as I went along. I was lucky. I formed a good relationship with Gary Lineker. Our styles suited each other and it went well. We had a very good team. We had some experienced old heads which was a great help to me. Stevie Lynex was great for me as a winger. He put in some great crosses and between us me Gary and Stevie scored a few goals!”

This is an understatement. The three of them scored a total of 156 league and cup goals between them in the three seasons they played together.

Alan’s first season saw Leicester City promoted back to the top flight even though confirmation of promotion was delayed for a few days after the final game because Fulham, Leicester’s main rivals for promotion, appealed against their game being ended early because of crowd trouble at Derby.

Personally you wonder whether you are good enough at that level, but we gradually found our feet. You win a game or two and then think, ‘we can do this’ and you play with more confidence.

Alan Smith

“My first year in professional football was incredible really, going from non-league football to the old First Division. I was training full time. My fitness improved. It was hard at the start, but the standard of football was much higher and I learnt a great deal.

“We did not have the best of starts in the top division, losing our first six games. Personally you wonder whether you are good enough at that level, but we gradually found our feet. You win a game or two and then think, ‘we can do this’ and you play with more confidence.”

Leicester City finished 15th in that first season back in the top flight. Alan and Gary Lineker’s prolific goalscoring partnership thrived until Lineker’s transfer to League Champions Everton in June 1985.

“It was difficult when Gary left. We were all wondering how we would manage without his goals. The onus was on me to produce a few goals and I managed to do that. We tried different partnerships with players like Mark Bright and Stevie Moran.”

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Alan Smith

The former England international played over 200 times for the Foxes.

In the two seasons after Gary’s departure, Alan scored 19 and 17 league goals in a struggling side. In March 1987, he was transferred to Arsenal for £800,000 and then loaned back to Leicester City for the rest of the season. This arrangement resulted in Alan playing for his old team against his new team at Highbury in April 1987.

“That was very odd,” Alan recalled. “I remember telling Gordon that I didn’t really want to play in that game as it put me in an awkward situation, but Gordon said the reason I had been loaned back to Leicester was to help the fight against relegation. I remember going into the away dressing room and seeing some of the Arsenal lads passing the door and saying hello. It was a surreal experience. Both sets of fans were singing my name so I was waving to both ends. Gary McAllister gave me a right ear-full, telling me to keep my mind on the game! We got walloped 4-1. It was very weird!”

Recalling his glittering trophy-laden career at Arsenal, Alan reflected: “I joined Arsenal at the right time. There was a core of good players coming through the youth team like Tony Adams and David Rocastle. George Graham was building a new side and releasing older players like Charlie Nicholas, Graham Rix and Tony Woodcock. He wanted a young and hungry team.

“The history of Arsenal hit me when I went to the ground. The chief scout showed me around. We went on to the pitch and he told me that a lot of centre-forwards had come to Arsenal and not done themselves justice. That put the fear of God into you! You could just feel the history and the expectation.”

Alan certainly did live up to expectations.

Not only did he win the first of his Golden Boots in his second season, he played a pivotal role in the never-to-be forgotten final match of the season at Anfield when, Arsenal clinched the title in the final 25 seconds. Needing to win by two clear goals, Alan  headed home Arsenal’s first  in the 52nd minute and then, with seconds remaining, flicked on a ball for to Michael Thomas to score the second goal in front of a live TV audience of millions.

When I think back to my Leicester days I always get a warm feeling. They were a great first club to have and I made good friends there.

Alan Smith

“It was an incredible night, the highlight of my career!” Alan enthused. “To win the title like that, you couldn’t make it up. As a player you want to perform when it matters on the big occasion so I was really pleased and satisfied that I could produce my best when the pressure was on. In the dressing room afterwards we all realized that it couldn’t get much better than that.”

Two years later, Alan repeated the feat of winning the Golden Boot and winning the League Title in the same season. In 1993 he picked up a winners’ medals for both the Football League Cup and the FA Cup. He also won 13 England caps between 1988 and 1992.

A European Cup Winners’ medal followed in 1994.

“We were the underdogs that night against Parma. They had so many world class players like Gianfranco Zola. Our defence was brilliant. I got the goal, but they held out.

“When I was 32, I was told I had to pack up due to injury. I was devastated, but I’d had a 13 year career which is a lot more than the average career so I was lucky.

“When I think back to my Leicester days I always get a warm feeling. They were a great first club to have and I made good friends there. I never actually lived in Leicester but a group of us, Stevie Lynex, Bob Hazell, Mark Hutchinson and Peter Eastoe, used to share lifts and meet at Corley Service Station. We would cram into the car and have a right laugh!”

Alan now works as a co-commentator and pundit for Sky Sports. Since 2012 he has also been one of the commentators for the FIFA series of football simulation computer games.

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