Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Englishman who transformed Benfica. The strange tale of Ted Smith.

Who was the English manager who triggered a revolution in European football, and transformed a club side that became one of the giants of the modern game? Terry Venables? Nope. Sir Bobby Robson? Nah! Roy Hodgson? Come on!

No, the name Ted Smith will hardly register, but his extraordinary story is as dramatic for the gaps and mysteries as it is for the affect a journeyman Millwall footballer from Grays in Essex, had on the Benfica team he coached from 1948 to 1952 and challenged Real Madrid’s hegemony in the subsequent decade.

Indeed, while this football revolution was underway, the man who planted the seeds had quietly retired from football and was running a pub in Lancaster, having only occasionally dipped back into football with Workington in the Third Division North from 1953-54, before the great Bill Shankly took over, and later with the local non-league side Lancaster City in 1967.

I stumbled across this story by accident. 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 had moved to be the manager of Woolworths. He became friends with Ted Smith, pictured above, who at the time was the landlord of the Red Cross pub in Skerton, just over the River Lune from the city centre.

But John Edward Smith, to give him his full name, had a back story. While he was pulling pints and smoking full strengths Capstans in a fairly draery concrete riverside pub, the Benfica team he built were lifting the European Cup; first in 1961 and then again in 1962. The captain of the team was the legendary Jose Aguas, the lynchpin of a side that went on to break Real Madrid's dominance of European football in the 1960s, then doubling the triumph by defeating Barcelona a year later.

Smith had brought Aguas, from a poor white colonial family in Angola, to Portugal and the two had a strong bond. I know this because my own Dad witnessed their emotional reunion outside the Park Lane Hotel in London in 1962 when Benfica were in town for the European Cup semi final at White Hart Lane against the double winning Spurs side.

As a player Smith had been decent full back with Millwall, playing 143 times and scoring just once. Small pieces of Pathe news archives show him training in 1938 and introducing the Millwall team to King George VIth, a sight which his son Harvey has delighted in watching since, as he was too young to see him play in person.

After England stuffed Portugal 10-0 in May 1947, with Finney and Matthews starring, it was decided to search for an English coach.

How Smith came be in the right place at the right time is a mystery, or just a piece of good timing. But almost as soon as Smith moved to Lisbon in 1948 he quickly made changes. As well as attracting players from the Portuguese colonies, like Aguas, he also introduced a form of health service between the local people in a poor area of Lisbon, and the club.

On the pitch he worked wonders too. Benfica broke the dominance of Sporting, by winning the 1949 Cup. He then built on that and won the 1951 championship, added 2 more cups and Benfica’s first international title, the Taca Latina, the ancestor of the European Cup, featuring clubs from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. The record books show he retired for ‘personal reasons’ and though skipping his job as coach, he kept a link to Benfica as youth coach.

Another side to his character was a jealousy as his attractive wife proved the centre of attention from the Portuguese players and hangers on at the club.

Smith sent his family back to England, tried to go it alone for a while, but eventually followed them home. His life appeared torn, though he fell in love with Portugal its people and its culture, especially the music of Fado, it became a burden to him.

He briefly returned to football in the unlikeliest of jobs - a newspaper cutting from the Lancaster Guardian rather nonchalantly 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 joining from Barrow or Bamber Bridge.

He returned briefly to management at Portuguese side Atletico from 1971 to 1973, but it seems remarkable that so little is known of his life and his achievements.

Even Harvey has told me only the sketchy details he has learned; his father passed away in 1993 and is buried in the English cemetery 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. But there are huge gaps in his life.

These gaps add to the mystery and the sadness that lies behind a torn character unable to settle in one place or anoher. Even his own son, Harvey, has bitter sweet memories.

“My father went missing in the early 70's a great man manager but pretty crap as a dad, I never saw him again I found out he had gone back to Portugal ending up in the Acores where he again proved his talents as a football coach.”

Running a pub in the north of England, and later in the Lake District, could never capture that romance in his life again.

Harvey has told me: “There is so much that I don’t remember and most of the medals and trophies my dad acquired over his time in football have gone, lost or been stolen, however, everything I read from his time in Portugal assures me that he was most highly regarded. There are quotes of him as being part of the club’s history, the layer of the club’s foundations and a beloved son of a great club.

“On a recent visit to Benfica I was returning to Lisbon Airport and a taxi driver turned out to be an ex Atletico player who my dad had scouted for the club, he refused to take the fare. So, I guess he had some uses, the old bugger.

Decision on ASDA & Kirkland planning applications

The ASDA planning application is due to go before our local councillors at Area Committee tonight, Wednesday 27th February, Marple Cricket Club, Bowden Lane at 6.00pm

The doors will open at 5.00pm and as numbers are limited you are advised to get there early.
The Area Committee is requested by planning officers to recommend that the Planning and Highways Regulation Committee refuse planning permission.

Both ASDA and Kirkland applications will be referred to and decided by the Planning and Highways Regulation Committee on:

Friday 1st March - Venue: Stockport County Football Ground, Room TNT 2 Suite, Edgeley Park, Hardcastle Road, Edgely Stockport SK3 9DD at 6.00pm

Doors open at 5.00pm and as numbers are limited to 210 people you are advised to get there early.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Growth Accelerator – partner event in Yorkshire – February 2013

I was delighted to don the purple GrowthAccelerator tie and get back on the road to promote this fantastic business service. The first event was in Rotherham, the next day I was back on the road and up with the lark in Leeds. Both events had a real energy about them and a real rapport between the panel members who I did interviews with. I’ve added insights from them to a blog on the GrowthAcclerator website on international trade tips.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kloot - the band Elbow could have been

We went to see I Am Kloot on Friday. I find lead vocalist and front man John Bramwell so enchanting and his music capable of such stirring, despite such heavy dollops of melancholia. I wonder whether this new album Let It All In will be their breakthrough, certainly it deserves to on the basis of the first few listens. I was happy for Elbow when they achieved great success, but as I've got to love Kloot I've felt a nagging frustration that they are better. It's not a contest, but I wish it more than anything. A new video released this week may help, there's another one up there too (above). One of them will have to be this album's One Day Like This, though I'm not sure which one yet.

Another observation. The audience at the Ritz was a real mix. Usually a musical style like this would be more suited to the Bridgewater Hall or the Lowry, but Kloot appeal to people who like a drink and may have been to the Ritz on a punk might many eons ago. The mixture of drink and quiet moments leads to frequent chit chat during the show. Really annoying.

Anyway, enough of that. Go and buy the album. Piccadilly records are stocking it, but HMV aren't.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The real Harpurhey


Really, don’t bother watching The Estate set in Harpurhey on BBC3, it sounds exploitative and boring, the worst kind of poverty porn. It’s one of those TV programmes that seeks to portray the people of a poor area as freaks for the entertainment and amusement of the rest of us. In the process it upsets the locals and frustrates those who agreed to appear when they come out of it badly. Frankly it sounds exploitative and boring.

If you are interested in understanding the tough north Manchester neighbourhood then may I suggest instead that you take a trip to the Factory Youth Zone.

I went there this week and had a good look round with energetic fundraiser Claire Griffiiths and the CEO Paul Bird.

Up on the wall is plastered the mission statement of the Zone - “Somewhere to go, something to do, someone to talk to.” The three things the kids wanted from the new facility when it opened, following the lead of Bolton Lads and Girls Club.

The sports, social and education facilities are top notch, but it’s the passion and commitment of the volunteers and the enthusiasm of the kids that really set me alight. I think they’ve struck a remarkably successful balance between learning and leisure. Yes, there’s table tennis tables, which we all remember from our youth clubs, but also some incredible courses and projects. Plenty of business people have been through the Zone to talk to the kids about what it’s like in the world of work.

The Zone is our charity this year and we’re going to be doing a few things that bridge entrepreneurship of young Mancunians with the community of Downtown. Please get in touch if you’d like to help us.

On a totally different theme, another story that has loomed large with me this week has been the resignation of the Pope. If you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ll know what I mean when I say it feels like the global headquarters of a major international corporation. A real company town. One of the many ways in which the Roman Catholic church differs from corporations however is that it’s CEO tends to die on the job, rather than gracefully retire.

It annoys me that football managers refuse to resign as they seek a big payout, so many business leaders stay on too long in search of that payoff and the stubborn desire to build a legacy. I have rather a lot of admiration for those who genuinely step to one side and get out of the way of their successor – Sir Terry Leahy did it. Tony Blair wanted to, but was grumpily pushed out. So you have to rather admire Pope Benedict’s precedent-setting move to retire the Papacy. He sees the enormity of the task of leading such a complex organization and is restating what is expected of the role in future years.

It was Enoch Powell who said all political careers end in failure. I suspect that history will be rather kinder to Joseph Ratzinger.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Liberty 5th birthday party


Here’s an audioboo of me at the Liberty Pensions 5th birthday party at the National Football Museum. It was such a terrific occasion, the guest speakers were me and Martin Vander Weyer of the Spectator, who really impressed with his rendition of his poem about the financial crisis. Inspiring stuff.

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Northern Monkeys on BBC Radio Manchester

Finally got round to uploading this interview I did about Northern Monkeys.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Our reservations on HS2

Let’s be honest, successive governments have failed the North of England. A high speed rail line to London is the latest initiative designed to help our economy. But it brings with it some sizeable risks. I think there are four main dangers lurking ahead.
One, and possibly the biggest risk of all to the prosperity of the North of England is that the solution to the economic lag of the North is somehow solved by building a  railway.
Yes, it will help, but it mustn’t be used to tick a box. It is an enormous investment, but it is going to take an absolute age. The time it will take to build the thing is a generation away. It is bold to take such a long view, but much more needs to happen in the meantime.
As I argued on BBC’s Sunday Politics last week – trying to get a word in edgeways between junior Tory disability Esther McVey MP and Labour MP Hazel Blears – Enterprise Zones alone won’t achieve economic growth. The same applies to HS2, Regional Growth Fund and Local Enterprise Partnerships. Too much box ticking is going on in isolation, too little joined up thinking.
Two, it is being built the wrong way round. If the aim is to help the North, then the first phase should be to redevelop Piccadilly station, build the tunnel under south Manchester, connect the airport and provide further connectivity to Manchester Airport, making it accessible from all points south.
Three, something very serious needs to be done to address the transport infrastructure of how the country is crossed from East to West. The expansion of Liverpool docks by Peel deserves fulsome support for how goods are then distributed to the rest of the North. By throwing so much capital infrastructure into HS2, it kicks this urgent need into the long grass.
Four, the shorter journey time to London starts to shrink the reach of the talent pool. As Manchester and Leeds are two hours from the capital then it makes sense to have a physical presence in the North. Cutting journey times to an hour undermines the case for that. I think the flight of senior corporate finance professionals from Birmingham to London has been evidence of this.
Finally though, and positively, the strongest argument for the building of HS2 is that it will relieve capacity on the West Coast Mainline. Yet it doesn’t sound as electrifying as cutting journey time to an hour, but it is the most practical and necessary action that needs to be taken sooner rather than later. Too much freight is on the roads while the line is so full.

This is a crosspost from my Downtown Manchester blog.