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GILBERT OSWALD SMITH

Gilbert Oswald Smith, familiarly known as G. O. Smith or simply as G. O. is the man often referred to as "the first great centre forward" and the finest player of the 19th century. In addition to his football career, Smith played first class cricket for Oxford University and Surrey.

Born on the 25th of November, 1872, Smith was educated, from 1886 to 1892, at Charterhouse School, one of the principal nurseries of Association Football. Like his classmates and future Corinthian teammates, Charles Wreford-Brown, Thomas Rowlandson and William Cobbled, it was while boarding at Charterhouse that G.O.  learned many of the skills that subsequently brought him his fame. He went on to study at Keble College, Oxford, and was by profession a school teacher.

By the time of his retirement, Smith was perhaps the most admired figure in the English game, familiarly known to several generations of schoolboys simply by his initials at a time when only one other sportsman – the cricketer W.G. Grace  – was equally recognised. Such were G.O's talents, his abilities were recalled and praised well into 20th century and even today he remains central on a wall of fame at the National Football Museum in Manchester. The International Federation of Football History based in Wiesbaden, describes him as "the most brilliant, indeed perfect, footballer in the world around the turn of the century".

 

G.O. Smith (sat in the middle) captaining the Corinthians at the Queens Club, 1901.

 

Smith made his debut for Corinthians in the final game of the 1891/92 season after starring in four varsity matches against Cambridge. In a match against a Hampshire select eleven - it has proved a game memorable for also being the game that Charles Miller represented the club. Miller would later return to his native Brazil with balls gifted to him by the Corinthians with which he introduced the sport to the country with... Whereas G.O. would go on to create his own legend, becoming his nations finest player.

Smith's scoring record for the club – 132 goals in 137 matches – remains one of the best strike rates in the history of the game, equating to one goal for every 93 minutes played. 

In the course of his club career, Smith captained Corinthian in the first Sheriff of London Shield (the pre-cursor to the Community Shield) fixture, a competition created to match the best professional and amateur teams in Britain. The match, played in 1898 against Sheffield United, proved controversial and with the score standing at 1–1 after 90 minutes, the professional side declined to play extra time because they had disagreed with several of the referee's decisions. Smith also scored the winning goal in Corinthian's memorable 2–1 Charity Shield win against Aston Villa, a game played at the Crystal Palace in November 1900.

Other notable performances include a hat trick he hit in a 10-0 victory over Bournemouth, a brace he scored in a 7-1 victory over Leicester City and the game he scored 4 in the 8-4 defeat of Wolverhampton Wanderers!

G.O. also toured with the club and his reputation quickly spread around Europe. On the 1904 tour to Hungary, Austria, Czech and Germany the striker scored a =n incredible 15 goals in just 4 games - scoring 6 against Budapests Magyar Athletikai Club.

After this game, the club were thrown a lavish banquet where in the middle of his speech, G.O. was draped with the Slavia flag and carried round the room shoulder high, amidst tremendous cheering. His international star shining bright.

 

G.O. and the Corinthians in action in Budapest, when the striker hit 6 goal. 1904.

 

For England, Smith was no more a sensation. The forward captained his country  on as many as 16 occasions between 1896 and 1901.

His most productive game in an England shirt came in February 1899, when he netted three times in only five minutes and four times in all during the 13–2 demolition of Ireland. Not only was it the golden age of the amateurs, but an ear dominated by England and Smith was at the heart of both.

 

G.O. Smith (sat in the middle) captaining England.

"Fine fellows they were," the great Welsh player, Billy Meredith wrote of the Smith-led, all-amateur England forward line of 1895...

"some six feet three in their socks and carrying plenty of weight with their inches. And they were not afraid to use their weight either, as some of us discovered. All in true sporting fashion, of course, for they were just as ready to take as to give hard knocks. Every man of them could run like a deer and before the game was over most of us were crying bellows to mend. Most of them were Corinthian stars and they played the Corinthian game. 'Twas a grand sight to see their forward line sweeping down the field, though probably our backs didn't think so."

He made a total of 20 appearances for England (scoring 11 goals), between 1893 and 1901. 

 

The games finest player of the 19th Century, G.O. Smith

 

G.O. Smith was renowned throughout his playing career for his exceptional balance and timing, and was further noted for his close control of the ball.

Unlike the majority of centre-forwards of the day, Smith also excelled at passing. "He was," his obituary in The Times contended, "a maker rather than a scorer of goals. He "transformed the role of the centre-forward from that of an individual striker into a unifier of the forward line, indeed the whole team." In style he may be comparable to a player such as the Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino, for the selfless way in which he brings others in to the game.

Physically, Smith seemed unprepossessing. Though standing nearly 5 feet 11 inches, a good height for the day, he was of slight build, suffered from asthma and lacked the obvious brawn that had characterised predecessors in the England team, in a period in which body-checking and other rough tactics were considered fair play. He was also noted for his reluctance to head the ball, stating that he would be happy to see the practice banned. G.O. atoned for these deficiencies by positioning himself intelligently and by shooting accurately, and – so his obituary observed – "invariably low", though opponents testified that he was also "hard as a whipcord" and by no means easy to shake off the ball.

After 137 games and 132 goals for the club, Smith surprisingly made his last appearance in 1904, in the final game of the Corinthians European tour.

The sudden death of an old friend and fellow Corinthian legend, Arthur Dunn - forced G.O.'s decision. In retirement from the game, he took over the Ludgrove school that Dunn had both founded and been the headmaster of. Sharing his new venture with another Corinthian, William Oakley, the pair ran the school until 1934. Smith would later die, aged 71, in 1943 at his home in Lymington.

G.O. Smith - a true legend of not just his club or his country, but the game.

When people debate Pele and Maradona, Messi and Ronaldo they should remember the 19th century had just one name out front... that of G.O. Smith.

 

G.O. Smith stood to the right with Tip Foster (left) and C.B. Fry (centre) before a Corinthian match against Stoke at the Queens Club.

 

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