His legacy will stand forever - Eastbourne football says goodbye to icon on same day world says goodbye to Sir Bobby Charlton

On the same day as the nation mourned the death of Sir Bobby Charlton, the world of Eastbourne football was paying tribute to its own iconic figure.
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Around 300 people attended Len Smith's funeral, and afterwards at the Eastbourne Borough clubhouse there were anecdotes aplenty covering half a century of an amazing life.

Len was born in East London, but moved to the Sussex coast as a boy when his father brought the family printing firm, Smith and Ouzman, to Eastbourne. The attenders at Eastbourne Crematorium - who spanned many decades of his life - were reminded of the many facets of that life: family man, rock band member, businessman, benefactor to many charities including the Acorns Trust and the Children's Respite Trust, and local politician. In 1983 Len became the UK's first ever elected SDP borough councillor.

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But it was a day filled with football memories. It had all begun back in the 1960s when a group of lads wanted their football to be more than just a kickabout. So they got organised and began the long climb up from parks to County League, and then to professional ranks - as local journalist Kevin Anderson recalled in his moving tribute - a little club known as Langney Sports became one of the most successful, stable and respected non-league clubs in the country.

Len Smith. Picture: Gareth ConnollyLen Smith. Picture: Gareth Connolly
Len Smith. Picture: Gareth Connolly

But any successful club needs a leader who can steer it over stormy waters, and that man was Len Smith, whose ambition was a successful team - but without the silly money so many local players were demanding at the time.

The team-building and the physical building of Langney Sports Club progressed step by step. Said Kevin, 'If Pete Cherry (manager for 13 years), wanted to sign a player, Len would not ask about his goal-scoring record - he would ask if the guy was a plumber or a plasterer.'

Another indication of Len's tight hold on the purse strings was recalled by former match-day announcer David Bauckham. Even a visiting inspector from HMRC initially refused to believe that such a successful football had only one paid employee, its commercial manager, and that everyone else including the CEO and Chairman was a volunteer!

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The final words went to family member Martyn Key as he recalled Len's last match at Priory Lane - the Borough under 11 girls team managed by his grandson James with his great-grand-daughter Millie in the team. One of them spoke for everyone: "Being his grandchildren was one of the greatest privileges of our life and we are so grateful for all of our amazing memories we shared with him."

Martyn told the young members of his family: "Now it is for you, that invaluable gift he gave us - that of knowing it is ok to believe in yourself - don't shy away, even when they tell you it can't be done. Bite off more that you can chew, and chew it - that was one of Len's mottos - But above all look out for your family, that was always the most important thing."

We were all happy to have been a part of Len Smith's extended sporting family; and what Len gave to us, and to the town of Eastbourne, will stand as his legacy for ever.