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History

Moment in Time: Aston Villa

Two Brentford Hall of Fame members do battle in the snow

7 September 2017

The meeting between Brentford and Aston Villa in early 1947 brought together two men who left an indelible mark on Brentford FC during their time with the club.

On the left, Bill Gorman, an Irish international who spent 11 years at Griffin Park either side of the war, and on the right, in the claret and blue of Aston Villa, Leslie Smith, widely regarded as The Bees best-ever home-grown talent, do battle through the snow on a freezing Saturday afternoon in West London. 

The chill, and The Bees wretched Division One form, didn't deter the 22,000 who turned up to see Harry Curtis' side in action. However, their backing went unrewarded as a Trevor Ford brace condemned the men in red and white to another defeat, which would eventually see them relegated at the end of the season.

Bill's international career came about purely by chance as his Scottish father and English mother were on holiday in County Sligo when he entered the world. When Gorman began his international career in 1936 there were, in effect, two Ireland teams, chosen by two rival associations.

Both associations, the Northern Ireland - based IFA and the Irish Free State - based FAI claimed jurisdiction over the whole of Ireland and selected players from the whole island. As a result, several notable Irish players from this era, including Gorman, played for both teams.

This most famously led to Bill and Manchester United's Johnny Carey having the distinction of playing against England twice in the space of 24 hours for different teams. In total, Bill appeared 13 times for the FAI XI and four times for the IFA XI between 1936 and 1947.

Old Naked Brains, as he was known after going bald aged 19, made 147 competitive appearances for Brentford. During the war he guested for The Bees, Manchester United and Liverpool before hanging up his boots in 1950. He died in 1978 and was inducted into our Hall of Fame, alongside the other man in the photo, Leslie Smith, in 2015.

For Ealing-born Smith's part, he made his Brentford debut in 1936, aged just 18 and became the second and last Brentford player to earn England honours when he replaced the injured Stanley Matthews against Romania in May 1939. Despite joining the RAF as a rear gunner on the outbreak of war, he continued to play for Brentford and England during the conflict, scoring both goals in our War Cup Final win over Portsmouth in 1942.

Unable to find a suitable house in post-war London, Smith was lured to Aston Villa for £6,000 and the promise of a brand-new bungalow in Birmingham. He made nearly 200 appearances for The Villains before enjoying a short swansong back at Griffin Park in 1952 and retirement the following year. He returned to Birmingham and ran a well-known electrical business in Aston, as well as the Aston Villa Old Stars charity team, before passing away in 1995, aged 77.


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