Born at Overton, near Wakefield, on 8th February 1944, and educated as luck would have it at two soccer-playing schools, Middlestown C.P. and Horbury Secondary Modern, Alan Smith’s love for rugby was nurtured by visits to Fartown to watch Huddersfield in all their post-war pomp, with surely few better wingers than his hero, Mick Sullivan, to kindle the spark of schoolboy ambition.
Perhaps, one day! Eighteen months on the wing with Brookhouse Under 19s, trials with Wakefield Trinity, Halifax and Leeds, before signing professional forms in 1962 and then, on 29th August in that same year, four tries against Dewsbury in a Headingley debut! Why, even the great Eric Harris had opened his account with no more than a couple, way back in 1930! It seemed almost too good to be true!
And so it was. A fractured leg, sustained only weeks later in an ‘A’ team match versus Featherstone Rovers, sentenced him to close on four years of also-ran obscurity, apart from the occasional stop-gap outing with the 1st team. Not that he ever considered himself other than extremely fortunate even to be on the fringe of the Headingley set-up, and consequently was far from unhappy in 1965 when a projected move to Bramley fell through over a question of terms following a four-week trial.
Far from unhappy, indeed! Providence could scarcely have been kinder, for had he gone to the Barley Mow club, who knows? As it was, when his big chance finally came in December 1966, he was quick to cross Headingley’s 1st team threshold, scoring twice against Bramley at the beginning of the month and a couple more against Trinity on Boxing Day, to set the terraces really buzzing … Alan Smith … you know … scored four tries against Dewsbury on his debut … then broke a leg … must be three or four years ago … you know … almost went to Bramley last year … As if by magic, the drab curtain of umdrum anonymity had suddenly lifted to reveal exciting new horizons, and he wasn’t going to miss out this time, if he could help it! Came All Fools’ Day, there he was, scoring a try at Fartown in his first Challenge Cup Semi-Final and so near to Wembley until Featherstone turned the tables in the final half hour. Ah well, at least he was beginning to make his mark!
Some mark! Thereafter established as a right-wing regular in a team scaling peaks of matchless glory with free-flowing rugby that was breath-taking in conception and thrilling in execution, Alan played in no less than twelve Finals during the next nine seasons.
And all that despite missing the 1969 Championship Final (dislocated shoulder); the 1971 Wembley Final (leg injury sustained against Salford at Headingley, only a matter of minutes before the incident that tragically ended Mick Shoebottom’s career); and the 1973 Yorkshire Cup Final (knee).
Not a bad record for a one-time near-reject! More than good enough, in fact, to merit the representative honours that came his way during that same period.
Nine incredible years at the top! Then, the day of reckoning! By April 1976, wear and tear had taken such heavy toll that match-day bliss was followed inevitably by morning-after agony, with creaking knees and aching limbs pleading for a remission of sentence, so that for all his love of the game and total commitment to the Club, Alan seriously contemplated retirement during the close season, before eventually deciding to soldier on.
Some soldier he turned out to be too, for although he missed the 1976 Yorkshire Cup Final, as well as the Wembley victory over St Helens in 1978, and was limited to merely three appearances in 1981-82, by the time Mr Indestructible finally signed off with a try against Widnes at Headingley on 1Oth April 1983 he had collected another fine batch of distinguished service medals.
A finisher par excellence, ever ready to exploit the slightest chink with skill and unflinching valour, Alan’s devastating, chariots-of-fire bursts down the right were in stark contrast to John Atkinson’s rhythmic fluency on the left, yet were scarcely less effective for that. Nor was he all that much slower. At his best, perhaps, from some forty or fifty yards out, never did he quail, whatever the odds, the blood-tingling surge oftremendous power and drive, the sudden zoom infield, to catch some startled defenders unprepared and shunt them aside unceremoniously, using the ball as a buffer, then the check back, from the recoil, before the final charge towards the chalk-line of destiny.
Many, indeed, were the times when sheer, ice-cool determination took him to parts that other players could not reach. I wonder what his favourite tipple is?
For all that try-scoring was his stock-in-trade, he was a tower of strength in defence, specialising in man-and-ball crash-tackles timed to perfection. As for his resource, I recall the Wembley Final in 1977, with Widnes in full cry and the Loiners in dire peril but there he was, racing back to the very line to retrieve a cunning kick from Elwell and fending off the challenge of Eckersley with morale-boosting composure.
Alan Smith … you know … scored four tries against Dewsbury on his debut … then broke a leg … must be three or jour years ago … you know … almost went to Bramley last year … Thousands upon thousands certainly know now, and have good cause never to forget!