Alex Smith, one of Halifax Town's greatest ever goalkeepers, has died aged 85
Smith was one of the club's greatest goalkeepers, for though standing at 5ft 9in what Smith lacked in height he more than made up for it in agility and safe handling, becoming one of the most consistent custodians in the lower divisions in the late sixties and early seventies.
In his first three-and-a-half years with Halifax Town he missed only three games and but for the emergence of Terry Gennoe would undoubtedly have made more appearances than he did.
Yet, despite being a renowned goalkeeper, the biggest surprise is how he came to settle on that position in the first place.
For it wasn’t until he was 18 and doing National Service that he was persuaded by Jim Dailey, Weymouth’s centre forward, to be converted from right-winger, where he had played with Morecambe, to goalkeeper, and it was with the south coast club that Smith began to build a fine reputation.
Smith had joined Weymouth as an amateur but signed semi-professional terms following his demobilisation from the 15th RASC in December 1959.
It was Fourth Division Accrington Stanley who gave him his break in league football, signing the promising keeper at the beginning of what turned out to be their final season.
He made his League debut in a 2-0 defeat at Tranmere Rovers on 19 August 1961 and went on to play in all 33 of Accrington’s games played that season before the club folded in March 1962.
However, he was then quickly snapped up by First Division Bolton Wanderers but had to wait until the following year before being called up by manager Bill Ridding for the first team, Smith making his Bolton debut in a 2-2 draw at Birmingham City on 3 April 1963.
But five seasons with the Trotters yielded just 19 league appearances due to the consistency of England international Eddie Hopkinson and it was in January 1968 that Smith moved to Halifax Town in search of first team football, being one of Alan Ball’s first signings.
He replaced the departing Malcolm White and immediately gave confidence to the defence by keeping ten clean sheets in almost half the league games he played during the second half of that 1967-68 season.
Ever-present during Town’s 1968-69 promotion campaign, Smith recovered from the shock of having eight goals put past him by Fulham in September 1969 and being dropped for the first time in his career, to rediscover his form.
After helping Town to third place in Division Three in 1970-71 under George Kirby, Smith’s finest hour came in the defeat of Manchester United in the 1971-72 pre-season Watney Cup competition, and not surprisingly did he consider his finest save being that from Willie Morgan’s penalty in that game.
Smith also played a crucial role in Town’s remarkable run that saw them avoid relegation from Division Three, clawing away a looping header in the dying minutes of Town’s do-or-die last game at Walsall on 1 May 1973.
Smith continued to hold off the challenge of reserve team keeper Barry White for five seasons but manager Johnny Quinn favoured Terry Gennoe for the 1975-76 season, only for Smith to reclaim his place in the first team following a hip injury to Gennoe that January.
The following month, Smith’s former manager Alan Ball returned to the club, but neither Ball nor Smith could prevent Town’s relegation that term and upon the season’s close Smith left the club under something of a cloud following a disagreement with the board over arrangements of a promised benefit match.
In total, Smith made 381 first team appearances in all competitions for Halifax Town, more than any other goalkeeper with the club, and his league total of 341 was bettered only by John Pickering's 367.
Smith went on to make eight league appearances with Preston, whom he joined in May 1976, before finally retiring from the game.
There was just time for him to make a poignant return to first team action with the newly formed Accrington Stanley, turning out once as replacement for injured Mick Finn during the 1978-79 season.
During his time with Halifax, Smith had opened a tailor’s outfitters with Ian Lawther, but he moved into coaching at the Bolton Wanderers Academy and as late as 2019 was still helping out in the family-run business Bolton Bed Centre.