Sep Smith

Former Player Remembers: Sep Smith (Part Three)

In the final instalment of Club Historian John Hutchinson's three-part serialisation of a past interview with Leicester City great Sep Smith, the former Foxes star recalls the 1949 FA Cup Final, his final game at Cardiff and his departure from Filbert Street in 1950.
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In March 1946, Johnny Duncan, who had been Club captain when Sep had signed for Leicester in 1929, took over as manager from Tom Mather as manager. Resuming in the Second Division in August 1946, Leicester finished a respectable ninth in the following two seasons.

In Duncan’s third and final full season as manager, Leicester very nearly got relegated to the Third Division for what would have been the only time in their history. Paradoxically, the Club improbably appeared, for the first time ever, in the FA Cup final at Wembley, facing Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Duncan’s three seasons at Leicester as manager were Sep’s last as a player. By now approaching his late thirties, Sep, as captain, was a regular in the first two of these campaigns, mainly playing as a centre-half.

The biggest game during these two years was the fifth round FA Cup tie at White Hart Lane in front of a 69,000 crowd, a game which Leicester lost 5-2.

Thinking back to these times, Sep recalled: “Johnny Duncan’s management style was to do a lot of work behind the scenes. His trainers were George Ritchie, a team-mate of his from the 1920s, and Billy McLean, who had been a top athlete and who had played professional football in America.

“My final playing season was the 1948/49 season, the season when a Club badge, incorporating a fox’s head, appeared on the shirts for the first time.  I started the season as centre-half and captain. The first result was a 6-2 home win against Leeds. 

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Sep Smith

Sep Smith pictured during his penultimate game for Leicester City.

“After playing six of the first seven games, I only played six more games for the rest of the season. Norman Plummer took over from me as both centre-half and captain. I didn’t play in any of the cup games leading to the FA Cup Final against Wolves.” 

Sep has some interesting perspectives on the 1949 Cup Final: “In the build up to the final, there were injuries to two key players. Goalkeeper Ian McGraw was injured a week after the semi-final in a vital league game against Grimsby.

“The injury was so serious that eventually he lost a finger. Three weeks after that, Don Revie, who had been the star of the semi-final, suffered a serious nose injury. The bleeding was so severe it was nearly fatal. He was barred from even travelling to Wembley.”

These injuries could have left the way open for Sep to play. His view though was that: “Johnny Duncan went for the local lads like Walter Harrison, Norman Plummer and Ted Jelly. The line-up was a surprise to say the least.

“Jimmy Harrison, a left-back, was picked as centre-forward, with Jack Lee moving to inside forward. I approached Duncan about this selection, telling him in no uncertain terms that he must be joking to play Harrison as centre-forward, as he just wasn’t quick enough.

“I also approached the chairman, Len Shipman, asking him to explain the selection but his response was to walk away. I felt sorry for Jimmy Harrison, though, as I knew he would not be able to do much in the position he had been selected for.

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Johnny Duncan & Sep Smith

Manager Johnny Duncan and Sep Smith at Filbert Street in 1949.

“I was very disappointed to miss out on the final. After the game, I just wanted to go back north, even though we had three more vital games to play to avoid relegation, but my wife persuaded me not to, and anyway, I did not want to leave the Club in the lurch.” 

Sep played his last game for Leicester City at Cardiff on 7 May, 1949. Following the cup final, Leicester had seven days to play their final three games of the season. These three games were absolutely vital. They were in serious danger of being relegated to the Third Division for the first time in their history.

After beating Bury and losing to West Bromwich Albion, Leicester had to gain at least a point against Cardiff to stay up. Sep was chosen to play at centre-half, for his first game since the previous December. 

Both Leicester and Cardiff (needing to finish fourth for talent money) required a point from the game. 

Sep remembered: “There were some suspicions expressed about the result of this game, as both teams benefitted from the draw. Had the result been manipulated? However, Johnny Duncan said that the last 13 minutes of the season (after Leicester had equalised) were the worst he had ever known.” 

Following the Cardiff game, Sep felt that he had one more season left as a player. However, it was not to be: “When I was in the town shopping, I saw a newspaper billboard which said: 'Sep Smith hangs up his boots'.

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Sep Smith

Sep Smith collects his testimonial benefit cheque from the Club in 1950.

“That was the first I had heard of this! I went to the ground, and the story was confirmed. Tom Bloor, a pork butcher who was on the board of directors told me that the Club was going to retire me, but that I could stay as long as I liked on full pay. One of my jobs would be to watch matches and players.

“I thought ‘that’s not bad’ and agreed. But I made one big mistake. I did not get the agreement in black and white.”

The new season did not start well. There were rumours of dressing room unrest. Jimmy Harrison left for Aston Villa. Cup final captain Norman Plummer was dropped. Joint trainer Billy McLean left the Club. New captain Don Revie put in a transfer request.

In October, with Leicester City again near the foot of the Second Division table, Duncan was asked to resign. In December 1949, Bury’s manager Norman Bullock was appointed as Duncan’s replacement. 

Sep said: “One day, Bullock asked me to go to a game at Blackpool to watch the West Brom outside right. He was as old as me! I told Bullock that the trip was a waste of time and that I knew the answer before I went. I also scouted for the Club in Ireland, where on one occasion, I was offered a bath to sleep in!

“Old faces were disappearing from the Club. Don Revie left for Hull City. Ken Chisholm went to Coventry. At the end of the season, Billy Frame and George Dewis were given free transfers. 

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Sep Smith

The iconic former Leicester City striker returns to Filbert Street for the Club's final game there in 2002.

“There were also changes in the backroom staff. George Ritchie went in May. Then it was my turn to go. I went to the ground one day in May. Norman Bullock gave me a letter. I took it to the dressing room. When I opened it, I read that I was no longer needed at the Club.

“The arrangement promised to me by Tom Bloor had been broken. I walked away from the Club, regretting that I had not had that agreement put in writing.” 

The following month, Sep received a cheque for £2,100. This sum had been generated by a testimonial fund that had been opened for him during the 1949/1950 season in appreciation of Sep’s 21 years at Leicester City. 

Sep stayed away from the Club for many years. However, 52 years after he had walked away, he made a memorable appearance on the pitch, along with other great players from Leicester City's history. This was after the last match at Filbert Street, a 2-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur on 11 May, 2002.

Fifteen months later, Sep was also introduced to the home crowd at half-time in the friendly match against Barcelona, when he strode out on to the pitch with Gary Lineker.

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