“And Smith must score……”: That miss and the 1983 FA Cup Final

And Smith must score

Arguably two of the most famous commentary phrases uttered at Wembley have been;

“They think it’s all over….”


“And Smith must score”

The first one is obviously from Kenneth Wolstenholme’s iconic 1966 World Cup Final. The second one came from the mouth of legendary BBC radio commentator, Peter Jones, during the closing minutes of extra time in the 1983 FA Cup Final.

Embed from Getty Images

This really was a case of ‘Alas Smith & Jones’ as Jones was commentating on the moment Gordon Smith had the chance to win the cup for Brighton against Manchester United. Instead of scoring, Smith’s shot was saved by the legs of lucky United keeper, Gary Bailey.

In the 80s Bailey was generally a figure of much malignment, so perhaps it was more remarkable he saved it than Smith didn’t score.

The phrase became so famous it spawned a Brighton fanzine and has followed Smith everywhere.

Unless you have seen the chance you could be forgiven for believing it was harder to miss. But along with Jeff Astle in Mexico ’70 and Kevin Keegan in Spain ’82, the opportunity wasn’t a simple tap-in. Yet the myth which has grown up over after all these years was that it was a sitter.

Brighton had come into the game having already suffered relegation from the old First Division. They’d finished rock bottom of the table, eight points from safety. United ended the season third, a good 30 points better off than their opponents but still 12 points behind the champions, Liverpool.

United were overwhelming favourites. Yet these were heady days for Seagulls’ fans as their first-ever foray into English football’s top tier was coming to an end after four short years.

The man who’d led them into the big time, Alan Mullery, had moved on. After a steady season under the guise of Mike Bailey, they finished mid-table, until last season their highest-ever finish. The following season they were back to the relegation-flirting of the last days of Mullery. The board at the Goldstone Ground decided to relieve Bailey of his duties and asked former Liverpool midfielder, Jimmy Melia to take temporary charge.

Embed from Getty Images

Melia was a character.

The FA Cup Final just seemed to attract characters, from Sunderland’s Bob Stokoe in 1973, to Lawrie McMenemy (Southampton) in 1976 and then onto Terry Venables (QPR) in 1982. It seemed for an underdog side to succeed, they needed someone who would take the pressure of publicity off them. In that regard, Melia was perfect.

A smell of Liverpool wafted over their cup run that season. Melia was in the team which won Shankly’s first league title in 1964. In his Brighton team, he had Jimmy Case, another Liverpudlian, who’d been in Paisley’s first league title side in 1976.

In the Fifth Round, they were drawn to meet Liverpool at Anfield. In the Fourth Round, both Liverpool and Everton were drawn at home. These were the days when the cup matches all kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, weather permitting. To avoid a clash Everton moved their fixture to the Sunday, and Goodison hosted its first-ever Sunday match.

Remarkably, the same thing happened in the Fifth Round so this time Liverpool moved to the Sunday and Anfield witnessed its first-ever outing on a Sunday.

As if the script had been written by a Brighton supporter, Case scored the winner. That was Brighton’s second win in their last three visits to Anfield, having waited 73 years for their first.

They’d already knocked out Newcastle United (after a replay) and Manchester City, then proceeded to see off Norwich City and Sheffield Wednesday to come up against Manchester United at Wembley.

United had made their way past West Ham United, Luton Town, Derby County, Everton and Arsenal to line up against the blue and white of the Seagulls.

But Smith did score

What’s never mentioned about the game is it was Smith’s goal which separated the two sides at half-time. As he walked off at the break he looked up to see his name in lights, dreaming he could be the hero.

Embed from Getty Images

Midway through the second half Frank Stapleton and Ray Wilkins turned things around for United. There were just three minutes to go when Gary Stevens grabbed a late equaliser. For the third Final running the game would go into extra time.

With barely seconds remaining Case sent Brighton’s striker Michael Robinson powering towards the United area. He fought off Kevin Moran and then noticed Smith was up with him. He slid the ball to him on the right of the area, about eight yards out.

Unmarked and with a clear chance on goal, Smith steadied himself with one touch then fired at the United goal.

Gary Bailey had taken over from Paddy Roche as the first-choice keeper at Old Trafford. The club had struggled to replace European Cup winner, Alex Stepney. Roche was a bit of a joke figure and Bailey, although an improvement, was not consistent enough to be admired by all. His poor judgement of Graham Rix’s cross in the cup final in 1979 which lead to Alan Sunderland scoring a dramatic late winner was still in many observers’ minds when Smith bore down on his goal, four years later.

Bailey, born in Ipswich and brought up in South Africa, was on his six-yard box. He went to his left, even though the angle gave Smith the greater part of the goal to aim at. He gambled on the Scot hitting a low shot. Smith went to the keeper’s right but Bailey’s legs unwittingly blocked the shot.

Instead of rebounding back into play, the ball fell behind the keeper who just sat on it and the chance was gone.

With the game ending 2-2, Brighton were still confident for the replay. They’d been without their captain, Steve Foster for the first game but his suspension was over and he’d be available for the replay.

Embed from Getty Images

It wasn’t to be as United ran out 4-0 winners in the replay. It remains Brighton’s only ever appearance in a cup final.

For Smith, he still blames himself. Many have said he was unlucky, or credit Bailey with the save. The keeper does too. But for Smith he still feels he should’ve scored.

He told Phil Shaw in Backpass magazine;

“I hit it low and hard, close to his feet. He was coming towards me so I didn’t think he’d get down to it. He made a mistake and went the wrong way, but the ball stuck in his legs. I knew I should’ve scored. No matter how many times people say I was unlucky, or it was a good save or whatever, I still feel bad. I’ll always feel I should’ve scored. I’ve got a lot of affection for Brighton, so it hurts to this day. I’ve apologised for it many times”

People have never let him forget it. Even 20-odd years after the event people were still shouting at him, whether he was filling his car up or in a shop.

In his interview with Shaw, Smith recounted numerous encounters where people have suddenly recognised him as being the guy who should’ve scored. Even a kid collecting autographs in Malaysia, of all places, suddenly realised the Gordon Smith who’d signed his book was THE Gordon Smith.

The player would often joke how the chance was made difficult for him as he was still in shock that Robinson passed to him.

Born in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, Smith began his career at Kilmarnock where he spent five years before Jock Wallace brought him to Ibrox. In his first season at Rangers, they won the domestic treble, with Smith scoring the winning goal in the League Cup Final against Celtic. That season he scored 27 goals from midfield.

He was in the side which won both domestic cups a year later too. He headed the goal which knocked Juventus out of the European Cup, on their way to a Quarter-Final appearance.  Then came the record transfer (£440,000) which took him all the way down to the south coast of England.

His time with Rangers was successful on the pitch but his relations with management were patchy. He idolised Wallace, but after his shock resignation, Smith was less comfortable with his successor, club legend John Greig.

In years to come he would discover there were various clubs who’d shown an interest in him during his time in Scotland but his employers never told him.

After three years at Brighton, he moved to Manchester City. Billy McNeill, one of the men to show an interest in the player when Celtic’s boss, brought him to Maine Road. They too were a Second Division side.

The following season he was the club’s top scorer as they went back up to the First Division. He then moved to Oldham Athletic under former Man City forward, Joe Royle. His career then saw him move abroad to Admira Wacker in Austria then onto Basel in Switzerland. His final games were played back home at Stirling Albion before he decided to call it a day.

Yet for all his medals, all his goals, he is remembered by some for one moment late on a Saturday afternoon in May 1983.