Just One Of Seven

The Autobiography
by Denis Smith
Know the Score, £17.99
Reviewed by Andy Thorley
From WSC 264 February 2009 

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When Stoke beat Arsenal recently, Arsène Wenger became really upset. Stoke’s players, he said, were dirty and tried to injure his side. Thank goodness he didn’t see Denis Smith play. Such is the frequency of the accounts of on-pitch violence that this autobiography of one of the Potters’ greatest ever players reads like a new Danny Dyer show, Naughty Tackles of the 70s.

There’s a particularly odious passage when a Roma player commits a bad foul in an Anglo-Italian Cup tie. It falls to Smith to gain vengeance, a task he performs with great relish; and so it goes for page after page. When not discussing fouls, the section on Smith’s playing career largely concerns itself with veering from humilities – for example, when meeting Stanley Matthews, Smith is amazed when the winger calls him “the great Denis Smith” – to pronouncements on his own ability like: “at my peak I was one of the best two centre-halves in England”. Even when admitting he is past his best and Stoke are relegated, he still finds time to coach opposition strikers during games to make life in the second tier more interesting for himself. All of which might be OK if his ghostwriter had done him any favours.

Instead there is a combination of sentences in which Geoff Hurst becomes “The Darling of Upton Park” and Jimmy Greaves is “the quicksilver Spurs and England striker”, and a text that is littered with spelling mistakes. These become ever more frequent and a chapter about Bristol City’s board blocking the sale of Andy Cole to Newcastle leaves the letter l out of the striker’s surname.

That is not to say Just One Of Seven (the title refers to the fact that Smith is one of seven siblings and managed seven clubs) is without merit. There are interesting stories throughout – such as when he got ­married in the morning and turned out for Stoke reserves in the afternoon. There is a tremendously poignant chapter on the deaths of one of his team-mates and two former players, and insider views on the terrible problems that befell two of his teams, Oxford and Wrexham – the latter becoming the first side to be deducted points for entering administration, during his time as manager.

An incident from his time at the Race­course Ground demonstrates how age has not mellowed Smith, who broke 28 bones during his playing days and is so stricken by injury he has to sit and watch training sessions. While recovering from an operation on a broken neck bone, he is sent to the stands by the referee for heading the ball into the crowd to waste time. Part stupidity, part bravery, nonetheless it provides evidence that the story of Smith’s life and times is one that deserves to be told. It just deserved a far better telling than this.

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