Death of Cup Final hero

End of an era as 1940s soccer hero dies in Cayman

Sammy Smyth pictured in his playing days for Wolverhampton Wanderers. – PHOTO: EXPRESS & STAR ARCHIVE

To the football world Sammy Smyth was a hero of a bygone era and the scorer of one of the greatest goals ever seen at England’s famous Wembley stadium. To Cayman Islands realtor Sheena Conolly, he was just her “poppy.”

Mr. Smyth’s death in Grand Cayman last week at the age of 91 prompted tributes from across the U.K. and a wave of nostalgia for a forgotten time in English football.

The Northern Irishman is best remembered as the scorer of a fabulous winning goal for Wolverhampton Wanderers in front of nearly 99,000 spectators in the 1949 FA Cup Final, the crowning achievement for a legendary team in the small Midlands city.

The flags at Wolves’ Molineux stadium were flown at half-staff this week as a mark of tribute to the inside forward, who also played for Liverpool and Stoke City.

Despite his exploits on the field, Mr. Smyth was remembered as a humble man who shunned the limelight and worked part time as an engineer during his football career.

Sammy Smyth pictured last year at home in South Sound.
Sammy Smyth pictured last year at home in South Sound.

His passing prompted memories of a simpler time in the sport, before the huge salaries and superstar personalities that dominate the game today.

When he moved to Stoke City in 1951, the club paid a record of 25,000 pounds to secure his services, a fee described as “huge” by the club chairman at the time. Stoke’s new record transfer fee is 18 million pounds. The U.K. record is 89 million pounds. But Ms. Conolly believes the sports stars of today could learn something from her dad.

“It would be interesting for the young sports stars to hear about his life. The lifestyle and the humility of the players was different back then. He used to earn just a few pounds a week and he took the bus to training.”

Mr. Smyth, who suffered from Alzheimer’s and had been confined to his bed for several years, lived with Ms. Conolly at her home in South Sound. Despite his ailments, she said, he always retained his good humor and his passion for sports. She was with him when he died last week.

“He was surrounded with love. He was a great character. He would always say thank you 10 times a day. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile.”

Ms. Conolly admits she was surprised at the press attention in the U.K. following his death.

“He never really talked about his career. It has been overwhelming. The amount of press coming out of the U.K. is quite incredible. He is very fondly remembered. He was so humble, he seems to be a very popular guy.”

The U.K. press reports naturally focus on that 1949 Wembley performance. Mr. Smyth scored the winning goal, dribbling the ball from the halfway line before smashing it into the net to secure a 3-1 win against Leicester City.

A contemporary report in the Daily Mail said it was possibly the finest ever seen at the stadium.

Until his death, he was the last surviving member of the team.

In all, he scored 43 goals in 116 appearances for the Wolverhampton club.

Despite the success, Ms. Conolly says, “He always maintained the best thing that happened to him in Wolverhampton was that he met my mother. They were a real love story.”

After retiring from football, the couple moved back to Northern Ireland, where Mr. Smyth worked as a wholesaler and distributor of sports equipment. He was also a first-class Irish cricketer and the captain and president of Clandeboye Golf Club in County Down, Northern Ireland.

A service of thanksgiving for his life will be held at St. George’s Anglican Church in Grand Cayman on Nov. 5.

 

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