|Ted Smith, left, coach of Benfica|
I was fortunate that my Dad wanted me to watch games from an early age. We'd take in matches at Preston, Blackpool, Blackburn as well as Lancaster City. But he was always keen to take in European nights and that meant a trip to Anfield or the Racecourse at Wrexham. One was a complete write off when a game against Anderlect was swathed in fog, but we particularly enjoyed a 3-0 win over Trabzonspur in about November 1976.
Obviously we never became Liverpool fans. But the root of my Dad's love of European football opens up an extraordinary story of an English football coach who played a vital role in the shape of the game in the 1960s as club competition became more intense and styles collided.
My Grandfather, Stan Taylor, had been a Commando in the war, served his country heroically and was a man of some stature in the community in Lancaster where he moved to be the manager of Woolworths. He became friends with a man called Ted Smith, pictured above, who at the time was the landlord of a pub in Skerton, just over the River Lune from the town centre.
Here's the amazing story. Ted Smith had been a player with Millwall and Crystal Palace. For reasons and circumstances I can't fathom, but am eager to learn more about, he became the coach of Benfica. The foundations of the team he built included the legendary Jose Aguas, the lynchpin of the side that went on to break Real Madrid's dominance of European football in the 1960s. Ted had brought Aguas from Angola to Portugal and the two had a strong bond. I know this because my Dad witnessed their emotional reunion outside the Park Lane Hotel in London in 1962 when Benfica were in town for a European Cup semi final at White Hart Lane against the double winning Spurs side.
Such magical memories, such a proximity to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people has become part of our family folklore, even if I didn't realise it. These exotic influences on my Dad's life - a trip to London, seeing the greatest club side in the world at the time, meeting such legends. These things weren't accessible or easy to find back then. They shouldn't be now, either, but somehow television makes them rather less mysterious. That memory, those moments, encouraged my Dad to seek out such experiences for me. Maybe that what was also behind the first Subbuteo sets he got me, Juventus and Ajax - after the 1971 final.
I notice that Google puts a previous post by me about Ted Smith fairly high on the search criteria. I've been contacted since by Ted's son Harvey, and by a bloke writing a Millwall A-Z. Beyond that the trail is cold - I've found newspaper cuttings from Lancaster that rather coldly reports how "Mr Ted Smith, the former Benfica coach," became the manager of Lancaster City FC in 1967, as if that achievement was on a par with Barrow or Bamber Bridge. But what more can we celebrate and know of these pioneers, these adventurers who saw football as a route to a new life and amazing experiences that shape our culture today. People laud Terry Venables for what he did at Barcelona, but surely this was greater?
Harvey has told me via email that his father passed away in 1993 and is buried in Lisbon, where Benfica looked after him in his final years, respect and love from a fine club who remembered a hero of their history.