“Never one to mince his words, he was a leader in the truest sense.”
Those were the words of Yorkshire footballing legend Howard Wilkinson last night after the death of fellow Sheffielder Jim Smith, aged 79.
Smith started out his playing career at Sheffield United in 1959, but it was at Halifax Town where he first made his name making 113 league starts.
The wing half moved to Boston United where he became player-manager, the first step on a long career in the dugout which saw him take Birmingham into the First Division and helped Oxford into the top flight.
He also served as League Managers Association (LMA) chief executive before returning to management and leading Derby to the Premier League.
Smith was also inducted into the LMA Hall of Fame - 1,000 club.
LMA chairman Wilkinson – the former Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United manager – paid tribute to Smith, saying: “Jim and I have known each other since our teenage years, and I have been in his debt since the day he asked me to become player-coach at Boston United where I served my apprenticeship.
“I have so many fond memories of Jim as a football manager but foremost as a friend.
“He was intelligent, passionate, determined, honest and always great fun to be with. Never one to mince his words, he was a leader in the truest sense.
“He was liked and admired by everyone around him, truly an authentic, down-to-earth gentleman.”
LMA chief executive Richard Bevan added: “Jim was a true friend to the LMA and will be very sorely missed by his colleagues and friends.
“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with his wife Yvonne and all his family and friends.”
Another of Smith’s former clubs, Newcastle, wrote on Twitter: “Newcastle United are sad to learn of the passing of Jim Smith, who was the Magpies’ manager between 1988 and 1991. He was 79.
“Our thoughts are with Jim’s family.”
While Oxford tweeted: “It is with great sadness that we must announce our former manager and #OUFC great Jim Smith has passed away.
“Our thoughts and love are with Jim’s family and friends.”
Harry Redknapp worked with Smith at Portsmouth and described him as probably his best-ever signing.
Redknapp told Sky Sports News: “Jim was an amazing character. I think everyone who came in contact with him absolutely loved him.
“For me, he was probably my best-ever signing. When I took over as manager I rung up Jim and said ‘do you want to come here and work with me?’
“He said: ‘Harry I’d love to’. He came back with me and we had a great time. It was an amazing time in both my life and Jim’s life. Loved every minute of it.
“He was really old school. He was fun, he was just a character, you just couldn’t stop laughing at his stories and the way he was. everybody loved Jim. He was just a loveable character.”
Birmingham described Smith as “a great football man”.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Jim Smith, aged 79,” the Blues wrote on Twitter.
“Jim managed Blues between 1978 - 1982, guiding the team to promotion to the old First Division. A great football man and a great character, he will be sorely missed.
“Our condolences to Jim’s family and friends. RIP, Jim.”
While Blackburn posted: “The club are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former manager Jim Smith. Our thoughts are with Jim’s family at this very difficult time.”
League One Lincoln, for whom Smith joined as a player in 1968, tweeted: “Rest in peace, Jim Smith.”