Obituary: Jim Smith, football manager

Jim Smith, who has died at 79, was a former footballer and manager from South Yorkshire who took charge of nine clubs and played for five more.

Queens Park Rangers manager Jim Smith lines up on the Wembley pitch alongside his team in 1986

Known fondly as The Bald Eagle, he is perhaps best remembered for his time as boss of Derby and his spells at Oxford, but he also won promotions with Colchester and Birmingham.

One of football’s most respected and well-liked personalities, Smith was part of a select group of managers to take charge of more than 1,000 matches – he actually oversaw 1,475 – and he also served as chief executive of the League Managers’ Association for a brief time.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Born in Sheffield on October 17, 1940, James Michael Smith grew up a Wednesday supporter but was signed by and turned professional with their rivals, Sheffield United, in 1959. He never made a first-team appearance for the club, however.

As a wing-half, he never made it out of the lower divisions but he did make more than 370 league appearances for Halifax, Aldershot, Lincoln, Boston United and Colchester before retiring in 1973.

By then, he was making his first strides into management, beginning as a player-boss at Boston United, putting together an impressive run of 40 league games without defeat before being offered a job at Colchester.

Smith was from the old school of plain speaking, no frills management, and the more likeable for it. In his autobiography, he said he thought he had been appointed by Colchester for having told the directors that the team as “bloody awful”. They respected his honesty, he believed.

It was there that he hung up his boots and concentrated solely on management, and he got the team promoted from the old Fourth Division.

After that it was Blackburn, then Birmingham, where he won promotion from the Second Division in 1980.

Smith joined Oxford in 1982 and led them to the Third Division title in 1984. He achieved back-to-back promotions as they won the Second Division crown a year later to reach the top flight for the first time in their history.

But despite the success, a fall-out with Oxford’s owner, the controversial media mogul Robert Maxwell, saw him leave for QPR, whom he took to the 1986 League Cup final – only to see them lose to Oxford.

He managed Newcastle for three years from 1988, presiding over a Division Two play-off defeat at the hands of local rivals Sunderland, before taking over at Portsmouth in 1991.

His time at Fratton Park saw the club reach the FA Cup semi-finals in 1992 before missing out on automatic promotion to the Premier League a year later on goal difference, and then losing in the play-offs.

Smith left Pompey in January 1995 for the job at the League Managers’ Association, but returned to club management that summer with Derby – where in his first season the club won promotion to the Premiership.

In his six years there, the club was transformed – and not just by moving away from the Baseball Ground to Pride Park. Smith’s teams were exciting to watch with the additions of players like Igor Stimac, Aljosa Asanovic, Paulo Wanchope, Dean Sturridge, Georgi Kinkladze, Francesco Baiano and Stefano Eranio.

The Rams finished a respectable 10th in their first season in the top flight and achieved eighth position in 1998-1999, narrowly missing out on a place in Europe.

Coaching roles at Coventry, Portsmouth and Southampton followed, and Smith played an important part in Pompey’s promotion as First Division champions in 2003.

He returned to front line management in March 2006 back at Oxford and was also given a seat on the board of directors - but failed to prevent them falling out of the Football League at the end of the season.

He stepped down from the club’s board and severed ties with the club in 2009, never to return to the game.