Wilf Smith Passes Away

IT is extremely sad to report the passing of Wilf Smith, who will be familiar in particular to those people who watched the team from the mid 1950s to the late 1960s.

Born in 1935, Wilf was a stalwart of his home-town club and was present at Langtree for the Players’ Association luncheon a few weeks ago – as he always did – where he was in the company of his many friends and team-mates.

He was a stalwart of the St. Helens club – the ultimate clubman, in fact – and it is quite true to say that the game was in his blood. His father, Tommy, was a fine second-row forward with the old St. Helens Recs team between the wars and was part of the famous ‘Smith, Fildes and Mulvanney’ back three!

Unfortunately, Tommy, who played more games for the Recs than anyone else [460] died when Wilf was in his very early childhood, but Wilf was naturally extremely proud of his father’s achievements. The family rugby links have continued: it should also be noted that Wilf’s son-in-law is Gary Connolly, who enjoyed a fine career in club and international football.

Wilf was a great all-round footballer, with good hands and a clinical tackler. He signed for the Saints from the Clock Face amateur club on 15 September 1955 and learned his trade in the ‘A’ team before making his debut against Halifax at Knowsley Road, on 12 November 1955. He was stand-off that afternoon, with his great friend Austin Rhodes at scrum-half. The Saints won 13-8 in front of over 18,000 and at hooker was Frank McCabe, whose death was also recently reported.

His progress was rapid and he formed a superb partnership at stand-off outside the legendary scrum-half Alex Murphy in 1958/59, a season when the Saints won the Championship Final after an epic 44-22 victory over Hunslet. Wilf scored a magical try in the second half, slicing through the opposition defence in a 30 yard run to the line.

The Smith-Murphy combination at half-back was once again seen at its best at Wembley in 1961, when the Saints beat deadly rivals Wigan 12-6 in the baking sun.

Wilf’s prodigious work-rate and solid defence were one of the features of his team’s success. He appeared in three more Championship Finals, in 1965, when the Saints lost to a powerful Halifax side at Swinton and two years later, when Wakefield Trinity lifted the silverware after a replay at the same venue, in front of 33,000 spectators!

Wilf played in every position in the backs for Saints during his career and never gave anything less than one hundred percent! It was indeed a pity that such a fine player never achieved county recognition, but competition in those days was tough.

Wilf played just 15 matches in Saints four cups season in 1965/66, as a result of a persistent knee injury, although he appeared in five Lancashire Cup Finals for the club, winning four, against Swinton (1961 and 1962), Leigh (1963), when he played left centre and scored a memorable try and in the replayed final against Warrington in 1967, when he was centre to the great Tom Van Vollenhoven.

His much-needed experience in the back line was a major contribution to Saints 13-10 success. All told, he played in ten major finals for the club, including replays – a fantastic achievement. He will always be remembered as a solid, reliable footballer and he was awarded a well-earned Benefit in the 1967/68 season.

His last game for the Saints was on the subs bench with Bobby Wanbon against Swinton at Knowsley Road on April 7 1969, when the home team won 40-5. Wilf made 205 appearances overall, scoring 55 tries during his fourteen years as a Saint. He spent much of his latter years at Knowsley Road helping out the youngsters in the A team, with occasional matches in the First Team, where he invariably never let anyone down.

Wilf took up a coaching position with Blackpool Borough and became Assistant Coach at Wigan, with George Fairburn and Maurice Bamford in the early 1980s, before becoming involved with the amateur game at Blackbrook and Bold. He remained knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the modern game and was inducted into the Saints’ Players Association Hall of Fame, an honour he particularly cherished.

Indeed, his appetite for the game never seemed to wane and he attended numerous functions over the years involving the Saints. He was a lovely man, who always had time for a chat and he was well-respected in the wider rugby league community too.

We pass on our condolences to his family at this sad time.

Alex Service

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