RIP DAVE SMITH by Steve Harris


Steve Harris- @steveharris84


Scotsman Dave Smith’s affinity with the West Country began in 1984 when he was appointed as manager of Plymouth Argyle as successor to Johnny Hore.

After a playing career which included spells with Burnley, Brighton and Hove Albion and Bristol City, Smith had a stint as part of the coaching staff at Newcastle United when the Magpies won the UEFA Fairs Cup in 1969 against Hungarian side Upjest Dosza. He first entered management in 1974 when he took charge of Mansfield Town, whom he led to promotion from the ‘old’ Division Four in 1975.

Smith also guided the Stags to the League Cup quarter-finals and the Anglo-Scottish Cup semi-finals.

He later moved onto Southend United, where he won two further promotions from the Fourth Division in 1978 and 1981; the second of his promotions with the Shrimpers was achieved as champions of the division, with the title clinched with a win at Plainmoor in their penultimate game of the 1980-81 season.

Smith remained with the Shrimpers until 1983 when he left following a takeover and spent the next year selling insurance when he returned to the football management to take charge of the Pilgrims.

At the time of his appointment at Home Park in 1984, Argyle were in the lower reaches of the Third Division, but he managed to stabilise the club and steered them to safety.

In his first full season in charge, the 1985-86 campaign, Smith led the Pilgrims to automatic promotion from the ‘old’ Third Division, with a second-place finish in the table, which was clinched with a 4-0 win over Bristol City at Home Park.

A major factor in seeing them over the line in the season was the re-signing of Tommy Tynan, initially on loan, from Rotherham United. The deal was made permanent at the end of the season as Tynan went on to find the back of the net on a regular basis for Argyle for the next few seasons.

After clinching their return to the second tier of English football for the first time since 1977, the Pilgrims went from strength to strength under Smith. They finished 7th in the ‘old’ Second Division, now Championship , in the 1986-87 season, which remains the Pilgrims’ highest post-war league finish.

His achievements at Argyle earned him the nickname ‘the Ciderman’, as he became one of the Pilgrims’ most-popular managers of modern times.

There was also a genuine belief amongst the Home Park faithful that Smith could be the man to lead Argyle into the top flight for the first time in their history.

However, it wasn’t to be as Smith received an offer he couldn’t refuse as he left Home Park in 1988 to manage Dundee.

His spell at Dens Park would last for just seven months before he returned to Devon when he was appointed as manager of Torquay United in October 1989.

At the time of his arrival at Plainmoor, the Gulls were 23rd in the ‘old’ Division Four after Cyril Knowles had resigned following a disagreement with chairman Lew Pope.

Nevertheless, Smith managed to stabilise Torquay and eventually guided them to a 15th place finish in the table; and led them to the fourth round of the FA Cup. They caused a memorable upset in the third round against West Ham United. In his foreword for Torquay United: A History in 50 Matches, the then Gulls’ skipper John Uzzell, who also played under Smith at Home Park, recalled how Smith asked him as captain to gather the players in a circle in the dressing room and chant: ‘we can, we will.’ And United did, courtesy of a strike from sub Paul Hirons to secure a 1-0 win over the Hammers.

Manager’s Notes For Man City (h)

The following season, Smith set about building a side that would be capable of challenging for promotion and, with money made available to him by new chairman Mike Bateson, he put his wealth of contacts to good use to attract new faces to Plainmoor.

One of his first signings was former Newcastle United defender Wes Saunders, who he paid his former club, Dundee, £60,000 for.

This was followed by the signings of Tommy Tynan and Peter Whiston after they were released by the Pilgrims.

Once the campaign got underway, the Gulls got off to a flying start and were unbeaten in their opening 14 league games of the season, which saw them lead Division Four – and earned Smith the manager of the month award. One of the key factors in this impressive run of form was the goals of Tynan. The veteran front man proved he hadn’t lost the knack of finding the back of the net as he scored eight goals during this sequence, including his 300th career goal in a 3-0 win over Carlisle United on October 27th 1990.

Smith was known throughout his career for quoting poetry. When United drew Manchester City in the second round of the Rumbelows Cup in the 1990-91 season, he described the City side that he would be facing using poetic licence. This included ‘mighty’ Quinn (Niall Quinn), ‘slippery’ Heath (Adrian Heath), ‘dashing’ White (David White), ‘rattling’ Reid (Peter Reid), ‘Will o the Wisp’ Ward (Mark Ward), ‘darting’ Harper (Alan Harper), ‘dominant’ Hendry (Colin Hendry), ‘Clean Feet’ Pointon (Neil Pointon), ‘brash’ Brightwell (Ian Brightwell), ‘Cool Luke’ Lake (Paul Lake) and ‘calculating’ Coton (Tony Coton).

However, the second half of the campaign saw a number of inconsistencies creep into their form; By April, the Gulls had dropped into the bottom half of the table, which prompted Dave Smith to resign and retire from football management for good.

His successor, John Impey, eventually led Torquay to promotion via the Play-Offs as they defeated Blackpool 5-4 on penalties after drawing 2-2 in normal time with the team Smith had assembled. 

Smith almost returned to the Home Park dugout in 1995 when the Argyle board approached him to assist with first-team affairs following the suspension of Peter Shilton, but he declined the offer.

He later went on to run a highly successful soccer school in the Plymouth area, where he settled following his retirement from management. In more recent times, Smith moved to Skipton, West Yorkshire to be closer to his wife’s family – where he remained until his recent passing at the age of 88.

COYY – Steve


1989-90 was the first season I set foot in Plainmoor, and the marvellous Dave Smith was the first manager I remember. Always full of good humour and smiles (and poetry!), Dave loved building a rapport with supporters and came up and sat next to me and my dad a couple of times in the Family Stand, happy to chat whilst his team readied themselves for action. I wanted to get involved in the conversation and banter, but alas I was too shy! His tenure wasn’t long at Torquay, but his wonderful character left a great impression on me and I send my best wishes to Dave’s friends and family. RIP Dave.

COYY – Dom







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