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6 February 2013

Richard Day reviews the outside-left's distinguished career

Stephen Smith was born in January 1874 at Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire.

After leaving school he worked as a haulage machine operator at the nearby Cannock & Rugeley Colliery.

He was to play for the miners own team, Cannock and Rugeley Ceal FC and Hednesford Town before joining Aston Villa in August 1893.

The outside left spent eight years with Aston Villa from 1893 to 1901 and helped them to win the Football League title in 1893-94, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1898-99 and 1899-1900.

His best goalscoring season with Villa was 1894-95 when he notched 18 goals in 31 games.

Villa also won the FA Cup in 1895 when they beat local rivals West Bromwich Albion 1-0 thanks to a goal after just 39 seconds by Robert Chatt.

Although Villa also won the cup in 1897, beating Everton 3-2 at Crystal Palace (thereby completing the "double"), Smith was not selected to play in the final despite having made four appearances in the earlier rounds.

1897 was not only a good year on the pitch, it also saw the club move to Aston Lower Grounds which is now known as their current home of Villa Park.

During his time with the Midlands outfit he scored 43 goals in 187 various league and cup matches and it includes three Sheriff of London (George Dewar) Charity Shield games against Scottish side Queens Park and Corinthians (twice). This was a short-lived competition played for annually between one amateur and one professional team – this has since evolved into what is now the FA Charity Shield.

He also made one England appearance against Scotland in a Home International in April 6 1895, scoring in a 3-0 win at Goodison Park.

In 1901 he moved south to join Southern League Portsmouth under new manager Bob Blyth, and helped them to regain the Southern League title at the end of his first season. While with Pompey he played alongside his brother William.

In May 1906 Steve became player-manager of New Brompton and he made his debut on opening day of the season against Bristol Rovers at home on September 1.

His first goal came in the third game, a 4-3 home victory over Brighton & Hove Albion and in his first season added three further goals in his 42 games.

The following season saw him net just once in 37 games to take his total for the club to five goals in 79 league and cup appearances before departing in the summer of 1908.

He lived in Portsmouth until 1932 before managing the Roke Stores in Benson, Oxfordshire and it was here that he died in May 1935 – aged 61.

Despite having left Aston Villa some years before, the Villa News and Record gave the following description of the player in September 1906 -

"One of the most effective players on the left wing since the time of Hodgetts. A particularly close dribbler, with a fine turn of speed, he was only robbed of the ball with difficulty, and with anything approaching a chance would centre most accurately.

“Being on the small side, he often suffered from the lungeous opponent, and while with the Villa received more than his share of hard knocks. Quiet and unassuming, he proved a most unselfish partner, and could always be relied upon to do his utmost.

“A modest winner and a good loser."

N.B - In the main photo, Smith is seated far right as he lines up with England prior to the Scotland game in 1895

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