Dave Smith – The Arsenal Obituary 2022

Dave Smith, 1972-1974

Dave Joined Arsenal on 12 July 1971 as reserve coach in what can only be described as a coaching magical merry-go-round. Basically he was to replace Steve Burtenshaw, but it was much more complicated than that!

During the summer of 1971, Don Howe went to West Bromwich Albion as manager, taking Arsenal’s youth team coach Brian Whitehouse and physiotherapist George Wright with him.

Bertie Mee knew that Howe was going to leave at the end of June, so approached Smith who was a close friend, having both qualified as coaches and also attended several medical courses together. Smith also played at Brighton with Steve Burtenshaw who had been Arsenal’s reserve team coach up to this point. Smith was replaced as assistant-manager at Newcastle by Keith Burkinshaw!

Steve Burtenshaw moved up from reserve team coach to become first team coach, Dave Smith came in as reserve team coach and Ian Crawford replaced Whitehouse as youth team coach. Fred Street replaced Wright. It was quite an upheaval.

In his time as Arsenal’s reserve team coach he played a large part in bringing through talented players; such as David O’Leary, Liam Brady, David Price, Frank Stapleton, Sammy Nelson, Richie Powling, John Matthews, Brian Hornsby and Wilf Rostron.

Prior to Highbury he had a playing career as a full back at Burnley, Brighton and Bristol City punctuated by serving two years national service in the RAF, and by breaking his leg five times! He moved into coaching firstly for a short term in Libya then Sheffield Wednesday, and was chief coach at Newcastle when they won the Fairs Cup in 1969, a full year before the Arsenal won the same trophy.

Born in Dundee, Scotland on 22 September 1933, he spent almost all his football career in England.

Dave left Arsenal on 1 April 1974 to take on his first managerial role at Mansfield Town. After two years at the Stags he moved to Southend for seven years, before landing a role at Plymouth Argyle in 1984. At all three clubs he had obtained promotions, but at Plymouth he performed at a different level gaining elevation to the Second Division (now Championship) in 1985-86, and finished seventh in the second echelon the following season.

In January 1987 he brought the Green Army to Highbury for a 4th Round FA Cup tie, but returned home empty handed after a 6-1 win for George Graham’s side. Smith said of the Gunners “Arsenal’s extra pace and class told. Arsenal are the Mean Machine of 1987.”

On the move again in 1988 he took over at Dundee for a short period, remembered for beating Celtic both home and away, a genuine rarity for Dundee. This was the only time he worked in Scottish football, and he moved back to the West Country with Torquay. Resigning from Plainmoor in April 1991 he retired from management, but remained involved in football with his celebrated Plymouth Soccer Schools.

Smith was voted Plymouth’s second greatest manager in the club’s history in 2019. His status amongst Argyle fans was helped by his on-pitch achievements and an engaging off-field personality; which included talking to the fans via a microphone on the pitch, effusive poetry to describe his team’s performance and donning his lucky tartan cap. This popularity is also reflected by ‘The Ciderman’ appearing on one of the many murals within Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park stadium.

He settled down for retirement in the West Country and died on 8 September 2022, just shy of his 89th birthday.


Official Arsenal Programme (various)




Copies of our books Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South and Arsenal: The Complete Record 1886-2018 are still available from the publishers.