Born on 26th February 1910, and signed by Wakefield Trinity as a professional in 1927, Stan Smith rose to stardom almost overnight, the young left-winger celebrating his 18th birthday a day late, with a place in the Tour Trial at Rochdale, and that in his very first season. Passed over for the Tour, no doubt on account of his slight physique and inexperience, but quick to find favour with the Yorkshire selectors, the chance to win his spurs at the highest level came in the 2nd Test at Headingley in November 1929, Tommy Gorman’s Australians having already put the Ashes in jeopardy with a runaway 31-8 victory at Hull Kingston’s Craven Park.
The atmosphere was electric, the vast crowd of 31,402 giving voice to Land of Hope and Glory as the teams filed on to the field. Even so, of nerves Stan seemingly had none. Resourceful and tenacious, and so near to a sensational touchdown in the first five minutes following a dribble by Fildes, the 19-year-old’s every move was admired by many a covetous eye from the moment he raced back like the wind, to overhaul Spencer· and bring him down in the nick of time with a tigerish try-saving tackle. As for inexperience, that was never in evidence, ‘Jonty’ Parkin’s men running out winners by 9 points to 3.
One thing for sure, thereafter his days at Belle Vue were numbered, with the Tenth Commandment unlikely to exercise any restraint on those clubs with the necessary wherewithal. Imagine, then, the jubilation at Headingley just seven weeks later, when Secretary-Manager George Ibbetson worked the oracle on New Year’s Day 1930, Leeds replenishing Trinity’s depleted coffers with a record transfer fee of £1,075.
A new Club, a New Year, and certainly no lack of resolution! It was just as well, too, his steel being tempered three days later in the white-hot intensity of that scoreless 3rd Test at Swinton, best remembered for the hotly disputed no-try decision, when loose-forward Fred Butters saved the Ashes by ploughing ‘Chimpy’ Busch into touch-in-goal in a frantic finale of fearsome ferocity. Then, within four days of making his debut in Leeds colours, he was the man of the hour in the hastily arranged 4th Test ‘decider’ at Rochdale sprinting back times without number to retrieve lost causes, and defying the Australian cover in the dying minutes, to win the match with a suicidal twenty yard dash to the corner. In these days of widespread unemployment, it is interesting to note a press comment on Stan’s superb all-round performance:
Like many others on the dole, he was prepared to take on work wherever he could find it. And how he revelled in the hard-ground conditions Down Under in 1932, playing in all six Tests and enjoying his finest hour in a Great Britain jersey at Sydney in the 3rd., his match-winning hat-trick of tries prompting a columnist in the Sydney Sun to describe him as a white phantom of speed and superlative grace. Nevertheless, the Swinton Test versus Australia only a year later proved to be his last, for he was dogged by misfortune on the 1936 Tour and consequently never given an opportunity to recapture the magic of four years earlier. Not that Sydney was ever likely to forget the man from Fitzwilliam, with nine tries to show for his eleven Tests.
Nor will Headingley! The long stride, the exceptional pace, the perfect balance, the incomparable polished style, the dauntless spirit, the heroic tackling… What thrills he gave over a period of ten seasons! Quiet and unassuming, yet courageous to a fault, never would he sacrifice valour on the altar of faint-hearted discretion, preferring rather to match the odds, however great, with his own blend of speed, skill and unflinching determination: here, a lethal sidestep or lightning swerve; there, perhaps, a subtle change of pace or a beeline sprint to the corner. Countless were the breathtaking tries he scored, yet only at cost of recurring disappointment, injuries ruling him out of the Challenge Cup Finals in 1932 and 1936, and rendering him a virtual passenger at Eiland Road in the 1938 Championship Final.
As luck would have it, however, he missed only one of the Loiners’ five Yorkshire Cup Final triumphs in the Thirties (v Huddersfield in 1930), and made vital contributions in three of them, completing a scorching hat-trick at Parkside in 1934, to end the marathon against Trinity; scoring the only try at Thrum Hall in ’35, to put paid to York, and a couple more against Huddersfield at Belle Vue in ’37. Yorkshire, England, Great Britain, Wakefield Trinity and Leeds. Lucky Leeds, with Stan Smith on the left and Eric Harris on the right. By the time they both retired in 1939, they had notched up no less than 579 tries in a decade of sparkling champagne wing-play, with ecstatic supporters more often than not ‘under the influence’ long before 4.55 on a Saturday evening!