G. O. Smith

G. O. Smith

Gilbert Oswald Smith was born in Croydon, Surrey, on 25th November, 1872. He learnt to play football at Charterhouse School. He attended Keble College and was selected for the Oxford University team that defeated Cambridge University in three out of four Varsity football matches.

Smith won his first international cap on 25th February, 1893. England beat Ireland 6-1 and Smith, who played centre-forward, scored two of the goals. In his next game against Wales on 12th March 1894 he scored two more in England's 6-1 victory.

Smith was 5 feet 11 inches tall but was of slight build and was extremely reluctant to head the ball. However, he had a good shot and made a lot of goals for his fellow attackers with his accurate passing.

After leaving university Smith became a school teacher at Lancing College. He played for the Old Carthusians in the 1897-98 season. Later he moved to the Corinthians, one of the best amateur teams in the country.

Ernest Needham was England's captain during Smith's early internationals. He later wrote: "Young players who wish to make a name for themselves as forwards would do well to watch such a player as Mr. G. O. Smith. In him they will see one of the finest centre-forwards England has ever had to represent her in International matches. He is one of the most brilliant and gentlemanly players who ever stepped on to a football field. He has never been known to do anything that was not scrupulously fair, nor to charge foully. He plays the game with ease and gracefulness; he is clever with the ball; he passes accurately; and he is one of the best shots at goal I have ever seen. When he shoots he seldom fails to hit the mark, and he is, above all, unselfish. There you have the ideal forward."

James Catton, Britain's top football journalist at the time, argued: "On the field he (Smith) was courageous and most unselfish. In his case, mind triumphed over muscle by quickness of decision, the swiftness of his movements, the perfect simplicity of his style, the swerve and balance of his body, and his neatness of footwork."

Smith developed a great playing relationship with Steve Bloomer for England. According to Frederick Wall, the president of the Football Association: "Smith used to call out Steve, and he made the position so favourable that in the twinkling of an eye the ball was in the net."

The London Charity Shield was established for the best professional and amateur teams in England. In 1898 Smith was captain of the Corinthians' team that drew 1-1 with Sheffield United in the final of the competition. In November 1900 he scored the winning goal in his club's 2-1 victory over Aston Villa.

Smith's main problem was that he was slightly built. James Catton pointed out: "Anyone could knock him off the ball if he could get into contact with him. But he was difficult to find, so elusive was he. His value consisted chiefly of wonderfully accurate passes to either wing; either to the inside or the outside man. And his body balance and swerve were such that when he left the arena not a hair of his head was out of place."

During his time playing for Corinthians (1898-1901) he scored 113 goals in 131 games. He also had a good record for England scoring 11 goals in 20 games. Smith played his last game for England on 30th March 1901. Also in the team that day was Ernest Needham, Steve Bloomer, William Oakley and Fred Blackburn. England drew 2-2 with Scotland with Smith and Blackburn getting the goals.

G. O. Smith retired from football after this international game. His place was taken by Vivian Woodward, another amateur player with a great scoring record.

Smith taught at Ludgrove School with his great friend, William Oakley. Eventually, the two men became joint headmaster of the school.

Gilbert Oswald Smith died in Lymington, Hampshire, on 6th December, 1943.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Ernest Needham, Association Football (1901)

Young players who wish to make a name for themselves as forwards would do well to watch such a player as Mr. G. O. Smith. In him they will see one of the finest centre-forwards England has ever had to represent her in International matches. He is one of the most brilliant and gentlemanly players who ever stepped on to a football field. He has never been known to do anything that was not scrupulously fair, nor to charge foully. He plays the game with ease and gracefulness; he is clever with the ball; he passes accurately; and he is one of the best shots at goal I have ever seen. When he shoots he seldom fails to hit the mark, and he is, above all, unselfish. There you have the ideal forward.

(2) Frederick Wall, 50 Years of Football (1935)

Bloomer had an intense admiration for G.O. Smith. The Old Carthusian, according to both Goodall and Bloomer, was so easy to play with, and he was a man without petty pride. Smith used to call out "Steve," and he made the position so favourable that in the twinkling of an eye the ball was in the net. And whether you counted it a good shot or not, Bloomer held that there was never a bad shot that scored. I firmly believe that Bloomer in many respects never had a superior...

I am going to make a statement that may be considered startling, but as my opinion is honest, I am not concerned if it does not agree with the views of others. G.O. Smith and Woodward were both great players, but the Tottenham and Chelsea forward was the better. Why was he the better footballer? Woodward was the more versatile, the more consistent, and cleverer with his heading.

(3) J. A. H. Catton, The Story of Association Football (1926)

The first time I met G.O. Smith was in the grounds of the Crystal Palace, when I was introduced to the famous Oxonian by Mr. J.J. Bentley, and he struck me as rather frail in physique, gentle in manner, and kind in disposition. On the field he was courageous and most unselfish. In his case, mind triumphed over muscle by quickness of decision, the swiftness of his movements, the perfect simplicity of his style, the swerve and balance of his body, and his neatness of footwork.

Anyone could knock him off the ball if he could get into contact with him. But he was difficult to find, so elusive was he. His value consisted chiefly of wonderfully accurate passes to either wing; either to the inside or the outside man. And his body balance and swerve were such that when he left the arena not a hair of his head was out of place.

There have been far more prolific scorers - Tinsley Lindley, for instance-but as John Goodall said to me in his bird shop at Watford it was "no trouble to play with him." Good Master John believes that G.O. Smith, irreverently called "Jo," was the finest centre he ever saw or played with, because he was such a master of doing the right act at the right moment. That is really the whole art of football-and yet how many men can so nearly approach the perfect?

(4) Alan R. Haig-Brown, The Leading Amateurs of Season 1902-03 (1903)

Perhaps the name which was most prominent in football circles during 19O2-3 was that of Vivian Woodward. G.O. Smith had taken his well-earned laurel wreath into seclusion, and an anxious eye was being cast round for his successor. Few thought he was to be found among the ranks of amateurs until the Spurs brought to light young Woodward, and England decided that what was good enough for the London Cup-fighters was good enough for her. He is a player with a great future before him. Though built somewhat on the light side he is clever and tricky, a master of the art of passing. It is a 1,000 pities that his lack of weight renders him a temptation which the occasionally unscrupulous half-back finds himself unable to resist. His record of goals both in League matches and in Internationals is a flattering one, for, all said and done, the most important duty of a centre forward is to find the net, and find it often.

(5) C. B. Fry, statement made in (January, 1903)

It must be very satisfactory to the selectors to find Woodward so great a success at centre forward, especially as he is likely to improve for several years to come, and will thus, perhaps, provide them with another "G.O.". At present I see not much likeness between Woodward and G.O. Smith. Indeed, the fact that they are both amateurs is about the full extent of the resemblance. But Woodward is a fine player who may become a great one, and he has a style of his own which is sufficiently good in itself... He is to be heartily congratulated on his success. It will be a surprise and a great disappointment now if he does not get his cap against Scotland.