John “Jacky” or “Jack” Smith was born into a coal mining family at Wardley, a mining village east of Gateshead located alongside the railway line between Newcastle and Sunderland. Smith himself worked as a coal miner as a teenager whilst also playing local football and impressing with his goalscoring prowess. After spending the 1904/05 season at Northern Alliance side Hebburn Argyle, in June 1905 Smith was signed by the newly formed Hull City Association Football Club that was about to enter the Football League after a season of preparations and friendly matches. Jacky impressed in pre-season trials but was injured prior to the start of the season so had to wait until late September 1905 for his Tigers’ debut. He was initially used sparingly by City manager Ambrose Langley but Smith did hit 23 goals in the reserves (including seven in one game against Driffield White Star) to demonstrate his promise as a fast, skillful inside forward with deadly finishing capability in front of goal. He also scored twice for City’s second string side that dumped Denaby United out of the FA Cup on the same day as the Tigers’ first XI played a League match against Manchester United. He was handed a regular first team start in January 1906 and missed only one game for the remainder of the season, scoring four goals in four months.
Jacky was now established as City’s first choice inside right and he started the 1906/07 season with seven goals in the first seven fixtures as City started the season unbeaten and top of the table. City’s form closely mirrored Smith’s and one goal for Jacky in the next four games saw City lose all four, but his form picked up in the New Year as he scored 11 goals in 18 starts. Smith began the 1907/08 season as part of a renowned and deadly strike force with Jacky at inside right, fellow North Easterner Joe “Stanley” Smith on the right wing and England amateur international Gordon Wright on the left. Jacky missed only one game all season – because he had been chosen to represent the English Football League against their Scottish counterparts, a rare honour for a Second Division player – and scored 31 League goals, the largest haul in the English senior game. His scoring exploits included four goals in an October 1907 5-0 defeat of Clapton Orient and goals in six consecutive League games in March and April 1908 following his return from representative honours. Smith was by now regarded as one of English football’s most potent forwards and overtures were made by First Division clubs, but he preferred to stay with Hull City and live with his new wife in their home off Mount Pleasant (the location of their home later became occupied by a showroom for Vauxhall cars).
Following his breakout season, Smith’s form dipped at the start of the 1908/09 season due to injury and it wasn’t until Christmas Day 1908 that he was restored as a first team regular. His form picked up in April 1909 with three goals in the last four games of the season, and this reinvigoration continued into the 1909/10 season as Hull City soared high in the table and Smith once again topped the English, and indeed European, goalscoring chart with 32 League goals. This remarkable season included hattricks against Leeds City (September 1909), Oldham Athletic (the club that eventually pipped City to promotion, December 1909), Stockport County and West Bromwich Albion (both April 1910). Smith had now proved himself twice as a top level striker and in the early part of the 1910/11 season his form dropped again as he sought a move to the top flight, a wish that was granted in November 1910 when it became clear that the Tigers’ teenager tyro Tommy Browell was capable of replacing Jacky’s goals.
In November 1910 Jacky transferred to First Division side Sheffield United for a fee variously reported as £150 and £500. He began well, scoring a brace against Preston North End in his second start and added four further goals over the next two months. However by the end of February 1911 Smith was out of the first team and after just 13 appearances for the Blades he moved again to Nottingham Forest, a switch that yielded only three starts and a solitary goal. Smith’s dissatisfaction continued to heightened during April 1911 when Forest firstly suspended him from training due to a lack of effort, then were relegated to the Second Division from whence Smith had come six months earlier. His big move to the top flight had quickly led to ignomony and disaster.
Leaving Nottingham Forest in the 1911 close season, Smith dropped out of the Football League and joined Lancashire Combination side Nelson, but he was released by October 1911. Another career relaunch at Midland League side York City in August 1912 also quickly came to nothing, as did a short spell as captain of Heckmondwike in 1914. Smith had fallen from Europe’s top goalscorer to disillusioned ex-footballer in the space of 3 years.
Jacky joined the war effort in 1915, initially with the East Yorkshire Regiment. In September 1916 he transferred to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in preparation for the Somme Offensive, where he lost his life on 17 October 1916 – his passing is recorded at the Loos Memorial near Lens in Northern France. He left behind a wife and five children, three girls and two boys – both boys went on to play professional rugby league for Hull Kingston Rovers.
Date/Place of Birth: 29 September 1883, Wardley
Hull City First Game: 23 September 1905, Leeds City A (Division Two), 21 years, 359 days old
Hull City Final Game: 12 November 1910, Leicester Fosse A (Division Two), 27 years, 44 days old
Felling Equal Rights, Hebburn Argyle (1904-1905), Hull City (1905-1910), Sheffield United (1910-1911), Nottingham Forest (1911), Nelson (1911), York City (1912), Hebburn Argyle, Heckmondwike (1914)
Hull City Record
Career: 168 apps, 102 goalsJacky Smith