With Hull City struggling at the lower end of the Division Three table in December 1979, it was a considerable coup when the club was able to recruit Wales international manager Mike Smith to the Tigers hotseat (Smith was accompanied by his two Wales assistants, Cyril Lea and Bobby Brown). It was likely that the £35,000 annual salary on offer, considerably more than his reward for managing Wales, assisted Smith’s decision. He took over a side in decline on the pitch within a club that was suffering financial hardships off the pitch. Nevertheless Smith steadied the ship and four wins in the last eight games were enough to lift City to 19th place and avoid relegation.
Smith’s fortunes were not to last in the 1980/81 season. Despite nurturing much young talent that would go on to assist the Tigers to promotion under his successors, Smith’s results were poor and by the end of October 1980 the club was bottom of the Division Three table, having won just two of the 17 League games. An eleven game winless run in February and March 1981 sealed the Tigers fate, who slumped to Division Four for the first time in the club’s 77 year history.
Smith’s Hull City side performed slightly better in the early months of the 1981/82 season as the club’s financial woes deepened and eventually resulted in receivership. Smith and his staff had taken pay cuts in the 1981 close season but when the receivers took over the day to day operation and sought to cut costs, it was the expensively assembled management team that was an obvious target. Despite having lost only two of the last ten League matches and risen to 14th place in the table, Smith and Lea were dismissed in early March 1982 – Brown stayed on as joint caretaker until the summer, working with Chris Chilton.
Michael John “Mike” Smith was born in Hendon, North London, his father was professional footballer Les Smith whose career had come to an abrupt end in January 1932 thanks to a knee injury suffered in an FA Cup tie against Manchester City. Les hailed from Brighton and the Smith family moved back to Sussex where Mike grew up – he played junior football for local amateur team Lancing Athletic and made his debut for the club’s Sussex County League first team at the age of 15. Despite earning a contract offer from Football League side Brighton and Hove Albion Smith instead chose to study at Loughborough College of Education and became a PE teacher – Loughborough was an influential institution that employed and taught many figures that would lead top level English football in the decades to come. Mike qualified as a PE teacher and between September 1959 and April 1968 he was a PE master at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School, combining his teaching duties with playing for noted amateur team Corinthian-Casuals (between 1958 and 1961), being player-manager for Lancing Athletic (between 1961 and 1968) and conducting many coaching courses for the Football Association and the Conference of English Grammar Schools. It is during these years that he developed a considerable reputation as both a football coach and a gentlemanly amateur left half.
In April 1968 Smith left the teaching profession and was appointed the Director of Coaching for the Football Association of Wales, or FAW, based in Wrexham. Over the next six years, ably assisted by future Wales and Hull City assistant manager Bobby Brown, Mike transformed football coaching systems across Wales and also managed the Wales international Under-18 side – through this work he became a well respected figure in Welsh football and notably amongst the young up-and-coming Welsh stars emerging in the early 1970s. In 1974 the FAW decided that it needed to up its investment in the national football team, which had drifted for many years since qualifying for the 1958 World Cup finals in Brazil. The international team had operated on a shoestring basis using the part-time services of club managers – most recently Northampton Town boss Dave Bowen – so when the FAW advertised for a full-time international manager’s post the potential for improvement was considerable. Smith was chosen for the role ahead of Bowen, former Manchester United manager (and future Hull City coach) Wilf McGuinness and ex-Aston Villa manager Vic Crowe.
Smith appointed Cyril Lea and Bobby Brown to his coaching staff – both of whom would join him when he moved to Hull City – and took over at the Welsh side at the start of the qualifiers for the Euro 1976 tournament. Through improving the professionalism of the operation and galvanising the talented players he had at his disposal – such as Terry Yorath, Leighton James, Mike England and Dai Davies – Smith led Wales to qualification from the group stage and earned a place in the Quarter Final play-off stage, which ended in controversial defeat to Yugoslavia. He managed Wales for a further three years as they competed well in the British Home Championship but failed to qualify for the 1978 World Cup. Having improved the international setup in Wales, Smith left his post in December 1979 when interest emerged from Division Three strugglers Hull City.
Smith left the Tigers in March 1982 and worked in sports promotion until 1985 when he was appointed international manager of North African country Egypt. He fulfilled this role for three years and led Egypt to triumph in the 1986 African Cup of Nations before returning to North Wales in 1988 to work in Football Development on Anglesey. In 1989 he resumed his role as youth team manager for Wales, the post he had vacated in 1974, and in April 1994 the full cycle was repeated when Smith took over the senior international side a second time, replacing recently-sacked Terry Yorath and his successor John Toshack, who had left the role after just one match and returned to his club role managing Spanish side Real Sociedad. Mike led Wales for another eighteen months with little success before being replaced by Bobby Gould in June 1995.
Smith retired in the Shropshire town of Shrewsbury, where he died in July 2021.
Date/Place of Birth: 16 August 1936, Hendon, England
Date/Place of Death: 21 July 2021, Shrewsbury, England; 84 years, 339 days old
Appointed by Hull City: 1 January 1980; 43 years, 138 days old
Left Hull City: 3 March 1982; 45 years, 199 days old
Tenure: 792 days
Lancing Athletic (1961-1968), Wales (1974-1980), Hull City (1980-1982), Egypt (1985-1988), Wales (1994-1995)
Hull City Record
Playing Record: Played 116, Won 32, Drawn 35, Lost 49, Goals For 128, Goals Against 172
Achievements: 20th in Division Three, 1979/80 season