Scottish football’s godfather discusses retirement, title agony at Ibrox, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jock Stein and more…..


Alex Smith – regarded as the Godfather of Scottish football – admits he is ready to take up the role of hands-on grandfather as he prepares to close the chapter on a colourful and illustrious football career spanning 60 years.

“Football was always in my blood, it has been a way of life for me,” declared the 78-year-old.

The former Stenhousemuir, Stirling Albion, St Mirren, Aberdeen, Clyde, Dundee United, Ross County and recently Falkirk interim manager will officially retire from the game at the end of the season when he steps down as Bairns technical director.

(Pic: Falkirk TV)

Smith will then emigrate to Brisbane in Australia to be closer to stepson Alan, wife Maree and grandchildren Eden and Ocean.

A modest playing career that began with Kilmarnock in 1958, saw the striker turn out for Stenhousemuir across two spells, Stirling Albion, East Stirling and Albion Rovers.

However, it was in management that Smith made his name.

The highs were leading both St Mirren and Aberdeen to Scottish Cup success in 1987 and 1990, the season he won the cup double at Pittodrie.

There was also title joy with the Binos and the Bully Wee in the old second division.

The one that did not go his way, however, was the top-flight title-deciding match on the final day of the season in 1991.

Needing only to avoid defeat to Rangers at Ibrox, Aberdeen lost 2-0 and never recovered – with Smith losing his job the following season following three successive runners-up places.

He has been in his current role since 2009 but insists the time is right to bid farewell to the game that has served him well.


Smith, who became the oldest manager in Europe when he briefly took interim control of the Bairns following Peter Houston’s departure last September, said: “My wife Janice and I have spoken about it for a while and we always planned to go to Australia there because our kids and grandkids are over there.

“We wanted to spend time with them while we still can.

“Over the years I have been in the game she has never complained so she deserves to have this time with the family.”

Title decider

Reflecting on that fateful day in 1991 when Aberdeen came agonisingly close to snatching the title away from Rangers during what became their remarkable nine-in-a-row success, he said: “I remember the morning of that game in the Moat House Hotel, my room was facing the city centre and I got up about half six.

“The sun was starting to rise and I was looking over Glasgow and it was so peaceful and quiet and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got this city by the balls today, they’re sh***ing themselves’.

“To me, it’s still one of the most special things Aberdeen has ever done, to chase Rangers from 13 points behind when it was two points a win. We won 23 points from 24 going into that game.

“It probably gave Scottish football it’s most exciting run-in that it ever had.”

St Mirren

Cup success at St Mirren preceded Smith’s four years in the Granite City, the apex being glory at Hampden.

“It was a fantastic day with St Mirren, it was such an fantastic thing to happen and they had an opportunity to drive the club forward but they didn’t.

“They were afraid of the dark and the chairman changed and I didn’t see eye-to-eye with the new chairman.”

Football friends

Smith also rubbed shoulders with some of the most successful Scottish managers in history. Being mentored by Bob Shankly at Stirling opened the door to enlightening car journeys with Jock Stein.

As a close friend of Scotland icon Billy Bremner, he got access to the Leeds United dressing room to listen to Don Revie’s team talks.

Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was a one-time dugout rival at East Stirling, while he speaks fondly of his experiences with the likes of Walter Smith and Jim McLean.

Smith, who was also part of the Scotland coaching team under Craig Brown, added: “Jock Stein and Bob Shankly were best friends, they would travel to games together.

“I was in their company quite a lot, maybe in the back of the car when they were going to watch a game.

“Bob would say to Jock, ‘is it okay if I bring young Alex along’ and he’d say ‘alright’.”

Asked what Ferguson thinks about his decision to retire, Smith, who will also step down as chair of the League Managers’ Association, added: “He thought it was great. I said it would be just like when he retired but flew back and forward from Manchester to New York getting hundreds of thousands of pounds for talking a load of bloody rubbish.

“But Alex thought it was great. He said we’d have to meet before I left.”

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