This week we’re going back to 1987 for this week’s Highbury Hero, when George Graham made one of his greatest ever signings. This man played a major role in almost all of George Graham’s trophy wins and was in my opinion one of the best centre forwards ever to play for The Arsenal – The wonderful Alan Smith.
Smudger never gets the praise he deserves, but everybody connected with Arsenal Football Club knew what a priceless asset we had. While Alan didn’t possess the explosive pace of Ian Wright or Thierry Henry, Alan was no slouch, who was a real handful for any defender he played against, constantly mobile and dragging defenders out of position.
A very intelligent player, who would make runs to lure defenders and open up space for other players, or coming short to hold the ball up. Alan was brilliant at shielding the ball with his back to goal and laying the ball off.
At 6 foot 3 inches he was magnificent in the air, scoring goals with powerful or deft headers. He could also head the ball down expertly to a players feet, or nod the ball on perfectly for them to run onto.
He must have been a dream to play alongside, so very unselfish and hard working. Alan also had a brilliant temperament. Incredibly he was never sent off and only received one yellow card in his entire career, against Sheffield Wednesday in the 1993 FA Cup Final, at Wembley of all places! Smudger was also a decent finisher, who scored many important vital goals for the club.
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Alan was born on the 21st November 1962 at Hollywood, Worcestershire and still retains his strong Midlands accent. Alan was as intelligent off the pitch as he was on it, getting three A Levels and ten O Levels at school. He started his career at non-league Alvechurch, where he could combine football, with studying for a degree in Modern languages, his subjects being French, German and Spanish, at Coventry Polytechnic. But a year into his studies Leicester City came in for him in June 1982 and he had to abandon his academic studies, as part of his degree was to go abroad for a year. So Alan signed professionally for Leicester City and in his first season there, he formed a brilliant partnership with Gary Lineker, their attributes combining perfectly. Their goals saw the Foxes promoted to the top flight in Smudger’s first season.
After five seasons at Leicester City, Arsenal bought Alan in March 1987, on transfer deadline day for a bargain £750,000. A condition of his signing was for him to be loaned back to Leicester till they were safe from relegation. This wasn’t a problem for Arsenal as they were out of the running for the league and the English clubs were banned from Europe. Unfortunately Leicester were relegated so we didn’t get to see Alan play in an Arsenal shirt that season.
Although he did play against Arsenal for Leicester, at Highbury, in a 4-1 defeat for Leicester, after he’d already signed for Arsenal. It must have been a difficult situation for Alan to be in. In fact he got a bollocking from Gary McAllister for waving at both sets of fans!
There were two other clubs interested in signing Smudger, he had talks with Chelsea, three months before joining Arsenal and met with Ken Bates and Chelsea manager John Hollins. Chelsea were prepared to pay a million pounds for Alan, but he didn’t fancy going there. See I told you he was a smart cookie! Manchester United wanted him as well but the cash plus players deal United had in mind didn’t suit Leicester City.
In his first season for Arsenal in 1987-88 we had to wait till the fourth game of the season before Smudger scored, but he did it in style by scoring a hat-trick in a 6-0 win against Portsmouth at Highbury.
Smudger scores his first goals for The Arsenal
Later in the season he suffered a small dip in form and Niall Quinn came in for three games, but Smudger returned and ended the season strongly, scoring in the League Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg against Everton at Highbury and the League Cup Final, which we lost, against Luton Town at Wembley.
1988-89 was a magnificent season both for Alan Smith and The Arsenal. I remember being a little envious that Spurs had signed Paul Gascogne and we’d only added Steve Bould, but after going to Wembley and seeing us smash Spurs 4-0 in a pre-season tournament, which Smudger scored in, my spirits were lifted and I fancied us strongly for the Title.
Arsenal hammer Spurs 4-0
I went to my local bookies to see what odds he’d give me for Arsenal winning the League. He said 14/1. I said I’d seen 16’s advertised in the newspapers. He laughed at me and said you can have 16/1. He wasn’t laughing when I took £170 off him the morning after Anfield 89!
Smudger was at it right from the start. I was at that shithole of a ground Plough Lane, to see Arsenal hammer Wimbledon 5-1 with Alan bagging a hat-trick on the opening day of the season and he didn’t stop scoring throughout the whole campaign.
Smudger bags a hat-trick at Wimbledon
A season which culminated in Alan scoring that glancing header at Anfield and producing a wonderful piece of skill to control a long ball from Lee Dixon and put Micky Thomas through to score that last gasp goal to secure the Title, when Brian Moore came out with that immortal commentary “Thomas charging through the midfield, it’s up for grabs now” which will be remembered forever by all Arsenal fans.
Highlights from That wonderful night at Anfield in 1989
It has to be mentioned that Smudger had a great partner upfront in a young Paul Merson and they received some terrific ammunition from both Brian Marwood and of course Rocky Rocastle. All four players were outstanding that season. Smudger ended up winning the Gordon Boot with 23 League goals and there wasn’t a finer target man in the country.
1989-90 was a disappointing season both for the club and for Alan goals wise. We finished fourth in the League and also went out early in the League Cup to Oldham Athletic away and the FA Cup to QPR away. Alan only scored 13 goals in all competitions. But I thought he was very unlucky to be omitted from the 1990 World Cup Squad, being left out for Steve Bull of Wolves. Smudger, Rocky and Tony Adams were all named originally but all three didn’t make the cut when Bobby Robson whittled the squad down to his final selection. Like so many Arsenal player’s over the years I feel 13 England caps for a player of Smudger’s quality was a poor return.
1990-91 was another memorable season both for The Arsenal and Alan Smith. George Graham realised he had to strengthen the side and made three close season signings, Andy Linighan from Norwich City, George loved a Centre Half! As well as Linighan we had Adams, Bould, O’Leary and Pates to choose from. George also signed David Seaman from QPR. John Lukic was a fine keeper for us, but there can be no doubt that Seaman was a world class upgrade in that department. The third new signing was Anders Limpar, like Lukic, Brian Marwood had served us well, but he was coming to the end of his career and Anders Limpar made a sensational impact that debut season. Kevin Campbell also came to the fore scoring 13 League goals. Smudger was again magnificent finding the back of the net 27 times in all competitions and again winning the Golden Boot.
When we had two points deduceyd for the fracas at Old Trafford George Graham used it to our advantage by creating a siege mentality at the club
George Graham addresses the squad after the points deduction
We almost went the whole season unbeaten, losing just one game at Chelsea, when Steve Bould went off injured and despite having those five centre backs on the books we ironically ended the game with just one recognised centre back on the pitch. I’m sure we wouldn’t have lost that game but for that
Despite the two point deduction Arsenal won the Title by seven points, conceding only 18 goals. We won the Title with two games to spare and finished with a flourish beating Manchester United 3-0, with Smudger scoring another hat-trick and we ended the season putting six past Coventry City, a game where Alan scored again, plus Anders Limpar got a hat-trick. We also came very close to the Double that season, until Spurs stopped us in our tracks in the first FA Cup Semi-Final to be played at Wembley. Although Smudger did score our goal in the 3-1 defeat.
Some great highlights from the 1990-91 season
In the 1991-92 season Alan had to alter his game drastically when Ian Wright arrived from Crystal Palace, in September 1991. He had to sacrifice his goals, in order to provide for Wrighty. To illustrate this point, Smudger scored 11 times in the first 11 games, before Wrighty arrived, but in Smudger’s remaining 36 appearances (albeit six were as a substitute) he only managed to score another six goals. Ian Wright was now the main man upfront and Alan, along with Limpar, was his provider a lot of the time.
The following season 1992-93, Smudger’s goals tally dropped again to just six goals in all competitions, although he was still contributing to the team in other ways. This was of course the season of the cup Double over Sheffield Wednesday. Alan was an unused substitute in the 2-1 victory in the League Cup, but he came on as a substitute in the FA Cup Final and started in the replay, which was settled by that late goal from Andy Linighan.
In 1993-94 Smudger scored 7 goals in 37 appearances, in all competitions. But one of those goals was one of his most important. Smudger produced a brilliant volley, with the ball kissing the post on the way in, to score the only goal of the game in the Cup Winners Cup Final of 1994. This was the famous back four’s finest hour, as we were under seize for most of the game, but Alan’s goal gave us the trophy.
Highlights from the 1994 Cup Winners Cup Final
1994-95 was Smudger’s last season as an Arsenal player. He managed to play 27 games in all competitions scoring four times. His last goal came at Manchester City away, on the 12th December 1994, which was the winning goal and his last game was against Millwall away in the FA Cup, on the 7th January 1995, which ended in a 0-0 draw. In all Alan made 347 appearances for Arsenal scoring 115 goals
The following season Alan was advised by a specialist, who examined his knee injury to hang his boots up which he did. He did play one more game for The Arsenal, a 2-0 win against the Italian club Sampdoria in his benefit match at Highbury.
Alan has gone on to have a highly successful career in the media as a columnist with the Daily Telegraph and a co-commentator on Sky Sports. Alan says he loved his time as a player but he doesn’t miss playing. I’m sure there are many Arsenal fans like me out there, who miss watching Smudger play.
I’ll never forget the contribution Alan has made to Arsenal’s rich history, especially his assist and goal at Anfield in the Title decider and his goal against Parma which won us the Cup Winners Cup. Alan Smith will rightly be remembered as an true Arsenal legend.