It is difficult to imagine how a player with George Smith's
scoring record might ever become surplus to requirements, even at a First Division
club. Having emerged from the Adelphi Lads' Club in Salford (a place familiar
to fans of The Smiths, coincidentally!) he joined Manchester City just before
the war and returned as the conflict ended to play 166 times for them, scoring a highly
creditable 75 goals.
His return to football was not straightforward; George saw wartime service with the King’s African Rifles and
was commanding a detachment of black troops on a training exercise when they
came under fire from their own air force. Smith took a bullet in his right
elbow; the thing travelled down his arm and came out just above his hand,
leaving his hand partly paralysed and his arm badly disfigured.
George returned to Maine Road as the war drew to its conclusion to find that many at the club doubted his ability to play on with such a wound. Concerns that he wouldn’t be able to “bustle” his way past opponents ignored the fact that he was a classier player than that, and those who thought that it might affect his balance or his ability to play forcefully were answered when he scored four goals for City in a local derby with Manchester United. After scoring 45 goals in 90 wartime games for City, he won a Division Two championship medal in 1946-7, scoring five goals against Newport County at the end of that season.
George’s time at City came to an end in November 1951, at the age of 29. He still had plenty to offer and was arguably released too early; City's loss was Chesterfield's gain, though, and he changed clubs for a £5,000 fee. George stayed long enough at Saltergate to take third place in the Spireites' list of all-time League goalscorers. With a long-sleeved shirt rolled down to cover his wounded arm he scored at least fifteen goals in each of five successive Spireite seasons and was selected to play for the Third (North) against the Third (South) in a televised match at Peel Park, Accrington, in 1955.
Photo sources: above: George Smith; above right: Denise James
With his marvellous consistency in mind, it is tempting to speculate how Chesterfield might have done had they signed him a year earlier - when they were relegated from Division Two for want of a regular goalscorer.
Why would a player of George’s undiminished class drop into the Third Division North? The maximum wage helped Chesterfield to match what he was on at City and the club allowed him to live in Manchester for part of the week, travelling over to Chesterfield as a matchday approached. The Spireites probably picked up his tab for accommodation at The Wheatsheaf, on Newbold Road, where he lodged for almost all his time here. Upon leaving Chesterfield in 1958 George returned to Manchester, working until retirement in Kennings' tyre department in the city - Kenning’s were, of course, a local firm with connections to the Chesterfield boardroom, and it is difficult to resist the idea that we helped him out in finding post-football employment, too. The club thus properly rewarded a loyal servant.
George served non-league football in the area, playing for Mossley and managing Prestwich Heys. George was probably the first Spireite to appear in a light entertainment programme on television - he guested on a 1958 "This is Your Life" tribute to Matt Busby that went out a month before the Munich disaster. The last five years of George’s life were spent in a retirement home and he passed away at the Fairfield Hospital in Bury, on Sunday July 14, 2013.
For Chesterfield: 250 Football League appearances, 98 goals.