TWIH: Three Brothers, One Semi-Final

In the latest of his ‘The Week in History’ blogs, Club Historian John Hutchinson recalls a unique FA Cup semi-final 79 years ago this week.

Seventy-nine years ago this week, on March 17th 1934, Leicester City played Portsmouth at St Andrew’s in their first ever FA Cup semi-final. Not only was this the biggest game in the Club’s history at that point, it was also unique in that, for the only time in FA Cup semi-final history, three brothers played in the same game. Sep Smith, on the verge of an England cap, played for Leicester City. His brothers, Jack (an England International) and Willie played for Portsmouth. Along with two other brothers who were also professional footballers, (one of whom had recently died), the Smith family originated from the north-east coastal mining village of Whitburn.

Ever since defeating a Preston North End in the quarter-final, Cup fever had engulfed Leicester. There were traffic jams outside Leicester London Road station when the team returned from Preston and, by Tuesday morning, the telephone at the Club office was ringing constantly with fans enquiring about tickets.

The fact that Leicester City’s Sep Smith would be playing against his brothers in the semi-final was quickly picked up by the press. Their mother was quoted in the press as saying ‘Sep is the baby, but he is the grandest footballer of the bunch. I fully expect Sep to be on the winning side, but I shall be very sorry for the other two boys, especially Jack, whose last chance this may be to win a Cup medal. If only the two teams could have avoided each other until Wembley! Then I should have been the happiest mother in England, whatever the result was’.

The article continued: ‘Neither of the proud parents will be at Birmingham on Saturday. Mr Smith is unemployed and cannot afford the long journey. And his wife said: ‘I wouldn’t go even if I could afford it. It would be far too exciting for an old lady, and I should hate to see any of my boys hurt.’

Leicester City’s training for the match included concentrating on shooting, climbing up to Old John, rounds of golf at Kirby Muxloe and table tennis.

To overcome the colour clash caused by both teams playing in blue, Leicester City were to play the game in white shirts and black shorts. Leaving nothing to chance, the team trained on the Thursday before the game in this kit ‘in order to give the players an opportunity of getting accustomed to their new rig out’.

Due to the interest in the game, special arrangements were made by banks for paying the wages of local workers. Many thousands of pounds normally paid out for wages on Saturday, were paid out on Friday instead.

Leicester travelled to Birmingham by road on the morning of the match. It was reported that, ‘in order to avoid scenes that might disturb the temperaments of the team who will carry the hopes of a quarter if a million people, the time and the place of the team’s departure is being kept secret’.

Fifteen thousand Leicester supporters travelled to the game. A special fleet of 20 buses departed from Humberstone Gate, each with banners proclaiming that they were ‘Leicester Mercury Special Cup Coaches’.

The bus station was choked with cars and with several hundred people who had come to see their friends off. As each bus started off there was a blowing of toy trumpets and a waving of rattles.

Another 12,000 fans travelled in 12 trains, each with 12 coaches, leaving the Midland Station. Police helped regulate the crowds. Ambulance men were on standby. There was one crowd surge, which swept everyone aside, as rail passengers dashed to take their seats on one of the trains steaming into the station. Hundreds of supporters were also going to travel in their own cars. Other buses and trains were leaving from Hinckley, Market Harborough, Elmsthorpe, Wellingborough and Peterborough. Most local parks matches were cancelled or postponed. Favours in City’s temporary colours of black and white were selling by the thousand. The Mercury reported that the game ‘will be the culmination of the most remarkable waves of enthusiasm football has ever known in Leicester’.

The game ended in disappointment.

In front of a record crowd for St Andrew’s of 66,544, Leicester lost 4-1. The fact that Leicester’s mascot for the day was a lamb, brought to the ground in a wicker basket, led to the metaphor of a lamb going to slaughter being developed in the press. 

With a dazzling sun in Leicester’s eyes, Portsmouth were 2-0 up in 22 minutes, but Lochhead had pulled a goal back for Leicester by half time. However, Portsmouth scored two more goals in the first five minutes of the second half. Weddle completed his hat trick and Rutherford added a fourth. This collapse of the City defence may or may not have had something to do with the fact that, just before half time, Leicester full back Sandy Wood, (who had, incidentally played for the USA in the inaugural World Cup Finals four years earlier,) had broken his nose after running into and falling over a touchline photographer.

Sep was singled out for special praise by the press. ‘Sep was second-to-none in the match as a polished performer.’

It was a very big sporting weekend 79 years ago this weekend.  As well as the semi-finals, there was also the Boat Race and an England-Scotland Rugby Union international at Twickenham. The newsreels took full advantage. Their verdict was that Leicester City deserved high praise for their first-half performance, but that the game had been irrevocably lost in those first five minutes after half time.

As a postscript, Sep’s brothers lost out to Manchester City in the FA Cup Final six weeks later.

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