LOCAL football has lost one of its great characters following the death of George Smith three weeks after suffering a bleed to the brain following a fall. He was aged 84.
George, who lived on the Shaw/Rochdale border, was well known as a former player and manager of Stalybridge Celtic and had a three-year stint as Mossley’s goalkeeper.
He later became a household name in the Middle East where he became one of the first English coaches/managers to work and where he enjoyed huge success.
George, who died in Springhill Hospice, Rochdale, was still coaching in his eighties as daughter Jacqueline Jebb explained: “Football was his life which was very eventful and colourful.
“He couldn’t half tell a story and most of them were true. In Oman he was revered just like Sir Alex Ferguson is here.
“Dad was still coaching into his eighties, including weekend courses in Northern Ireland. He would take along a chair so he could sit down.”
George came from Dublin and in his teens signed as an amateur for Manchester United before having spells with Oldham Athletic and Birmingham City where, aged 22, the centre half had a career-changing accident when he fractured his skull and was warned not to head the ball again.
In a remarkable twist, George reinvented himself as a goalkeeper discovering his talent while fielding balls at shooting practice.
After an unsuccessful trial with Gillingham, George’s goalkeeping career began at Ashton United in the Lancashire Combination.
George signed for Celtic in 1957 and had two seasons at Bower Fold before moving to Mossley where he made 139 appearances in three seasons, winning the Cheshire League Cup in 1961.
He later played for Buxton and Altrincham who were crowned Cheshire League champions in 1965-66 when they also reached the third round of the FA Cup. It was while at Altrincham that George began coaching.
George returned to Celtic for one last playing season in 1970-71 before embarking on a hugely successful career as a coach and manager.
His managerial career kicked off with Celtic where he spent two-and-a-half years combining football with work as a coppersmith and running coaching courses for the Football Association.
George’s first foray overseas was as manager of Icelandic club Keflavik where he won the league and cup double and a venture into Europe where they played top Yugoslavian side Hajduk Split. It was a remarkable transition from the Cheshire League to European Cup.
He returned home to manage Buxton and Hyde United before he was head-hunted by a Saudi Arabian prince to coach (effectively manage) by Rhiyad club Hilal where he lost only three games in three years winning two titles and one cup.
After a brief spell as reserve-team coach at Huddersfield Town, George returned to the Middle East for a two-year spell as national coach and technical director of Oman.
George later had four years in Bahrain where he won a title before returning home because of his daughter’s education.
He worked for the FA as a football development officer and then at Manchester City as director of the centre of excellence.
George was back in the Middle East in 1989 for a seven-year stint as technical director of Oman where he coached the Under-17s to victory in the Asian Cup.
This qualified Oman for the U17 World Cup where they became the first Asian team to reach the semi-final of any World Cup. They defeated Argentina to claim third place having lost to Ghana in the last four.
George’s stay in the Middle East came to a halt in 1996 when he suffered a heart attack, with his Arab friends footing his £25,000 medical bill.
He returned home and later worked in the football academies at Leeds United and Bolton Wanderers.
George still followed football locally and attended games at Bower Fold with Don Cooke, another former Celtic player.
George leaves daughters Jacqueline and Samantha, grandchildren Christine and Pamela and great-grandson Bradley.