THE death of legendary former Oxford United manager Jim Smith has prompted a flood of tributes.

News of Smith’s passing on Tuesday, aged 79, led to an outpouring of emotion from the football world following a successful career nearing 40 years.

But the ‘Bald Eagle’ will always hold a special place in the hearts of those connected with United after guiding the club to the top flight with successive titles in the 1980s.

He left the U’s to join Queens Park Rangers and, in a twist of fate, faced United in the 1986 Milk Cup final.

Oxford Mail:

Smith went on to manage Newcastle United, Portsmouth and Derby County.

But he returned to United as part of a consortium which bought the club in March 2006.

He moved into a directorial role in November 2007, before leaving the club in 2009.

Fans will be able to pay tribute with a minute’s applause at United’s next home game – the Carabao Cup quarter-final clash against Manchester City next Wednesday, with the club producing a special programme for the game.

Oxford Mail:

Peter Rhoades-Brown was signed by Smith in January 1984 and went on to play a significant role in both promotions.

The ex-winger, now business development manager at the U’s, will forever be grateful to his former boss.

“He changed my career and changed my life,” he said.

“If it hadn’t been for Jim I wouldn’t be at the club today.

“He was (thought of as) an old school manager but he moved with the times, doing a lot of work behind the scenes.

“The training sessions we had were the best I’ve known. Nobody compared to Jim in the way he worked with players. He really was one of a kind.

“Jim was just a generally nice man, you got what it said on the tin.

“After games, especially when we won Division Two, he was just so proud of all the players. He gave us all belief.”

Oxford Mail:

Rhoades-Brown added: “Jim was one of the nicest men in football and took Oxford United to the top.”

Although Smith only managed the U’s from 1982 to 1985, he left a lasting impression on a generation of fans.

Former England manager Steve McClaren, who had a spell in charge of United’s youth team after playing for the club, won promotion into the Premier League as Smith’s assistant manager at Derby County in 1995.

He said the influence the Bald Eagle had on his career was huge.

“He gave me a big opportunity and we had some great times together,” McClaren said.

“Working with him was an absolute joy. He wasn’t old school. He wanted new ideas, and welcomed change.

“He was like a father to me.”

Oxford Mail:

Paul Peros, chairman of United supporters trust OxVox, was a teenager during his tenure and believes the former boss’s influence is still felt today.

He said: “When I first started watching Oxford it seemed the norm that we could beat anybody.

“He instilled in the club this feeling that we could do anything.

“He wasn’t manager for the Milk Cup final in 1986, but it was Jim Smith’s side.

“I don’t think anyone could overstate what he did. I don’t think people realised what he did until he left.”

On Saturday, the U’s visit Milton Keynes Dons, where Peros expects a large away following to belt out their version of Yellow Submarine, which name-checks Smith.

He added: “When I hear Yellow Submarine there’ll definitely be a lump in my throat.”

Smith was a popular figure off the pitch, winning countless friends for his humour and warmth.

John Ley covered United for the Oxford Mail between 1981 and 1987, regularly travelling to matches on the team coach as the pair became great friends.

“It was a great privilege to get to know him,” he said.

“They were the happiest footballing years of my life, Jim made it a joy.

“Everyone knew and loved Jim. I don’t think people realise the impact he had – the people he signed for Oxford, like Ray Houghton and John Aldridge, went on to do great things.”

Oxford Mail:

Ley added: “He was a great friend, a great professional and a great man.”

Mick Moore, the groundsman at United’s Manor Ground, said Smith persuaded him to join the club.

“I spent a complete afternoon in Jim’s office with him convincing me it was the right thing to do,” he said. “How correct he was.

“It was without doubt the most exciting football ever seen at Oxford.

“He was a massive character and so passionate. He was without doubt the most influential person in my career at United.”

Chris Williams, United’s communications manager, tweeted: “Absolutely heartbroken. So proud to have got to work with Jim, the man who made me an Oxford fan. My hero.”