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Gone but not forgotten:
Jack Smith
Position: Full back
From: Youth team
Record: Played: 25(3) Scored: 2
To: Swindon Town - free transfer - July 2005
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Paid up, forced out

In this summer of conveyor-belt exits from the club, few departures have really been a surprise if you think hard enough. I mean after all, a football club is only supposed to be, first and foremost, a company which provides a football team for its “customers” to gaze adoringly at. It is amazing to many that there are any players left! So it seems that while the unceasing expansion of off-field staff continues, the sudden and drastic swathes being cut through the playing staff come as little surprise.

Players come and go at all clubs; whether released, sold for nothing or sold for something. Many are missed; some for a short period of time until the next hero dons the shirt. For others, it takes longer. Perhaps a departing talent will come back and either haunt us with performances of valour (Andy Hessenthaler) or simply go onto significantly better things (Tim Sherwood, Dean Holdsworth, Kevin Phillips), not forgetting of course those who by and large the fan base breathe a collective sigh of relief under a chorus of “Good Riddance” (Kerry Dixon).

So which category will Jack Smith fit into? As possibly his biggest fan at the club and the most vociferous critic of both managers when selections did not make use of his talents, forgive me if I am not particularly objective when I suggest Jack Smith will go onto do much greater things than sitting on the sidelines at Watford.

His first team stats are not particularly special. Twenty-five appearances, three substitute appearances, two goals and a penalty shoot out goal. His home goal was in a 4-0 demolition of a team formerly called Wimbledon, but his goals at Bramall Lane – his first an exquisite shot on the turn from a position he had no business being in, then the penalty decisive in the League Cup match which gave the opportunity of massacring Southampton in Round Four – really should have been his own personal springboard to better things.

However, after a hugely impressive first season mixing it in the first team, the signing of James Chambers suggested Lewington did not see Jack as his right back of choice. Signing Darlington seemed to close down the left back option, despite the former MK Don having no left foot. This followed on from the signing of Mayo the season before, initially providing Jack with a hurdle to successfully navigate.

Things appeared to go off the rails at the end of the 2003-04 season at, of all places, The Grove. As the awards were being presented, Jack sat at a table near me as relaxed as ever, with literally everyone in the vicinity confidently predicting that he would walk off with the Young Player of the Season award. Two goals from defence, a first team regular and had it not been for a horrible injury at Stoke – which caused mum Hillary to reach of state of apoplexy not seen since the building of the Britannia Stadium and subsequent demolition of the old Victoria Ground – he would have ended the season in clear ownership of the left back spot. However, as Hameur Bouazza walked up to collect the award, it became obvious that for a striker to score only one goal and win the award ahead of a defender who scores two, Jack was not likely to be the first choice much longer despite Paul Mayo’s own personal horror show at Upton Park the day before.

2004-05 came and went with the occasional appearance in the first team and an almost permanent residency in the centre of the reserve team defence, before the inevitable. Like his brother Tommy, he left the club.

With the club pleading poverty, yet another player is paid up and forced out, as opposed to being given the opportunity to prove their worth. If you honestly think that a young, home grown, versatile defender is worth disposing of before being given the chance to prove he is a "winner", then fair enough. I just happen to think that seventy-three minutes at Turf Moor is not much of a chance to shine under a manager who wants to build a young side.

Jack was and is a lovely bloke. But this is not the same old story of a lovely bloke who did not quite cut it and has moved onto lesser things. He has indeed moved on, but what are the odds that in twelve months time he might be looking over his shoulder at the club he left behind, with Watford regretting yet another of this summer's transfer decisions.

In years to come you might be asked a quiz question about which game the Smith brothers played in together. The conventional answer will be on Jack's debut at Brighton in April 2003, this being the catastrophic 4-0 defeat which accelerated Sam Swonnell's departure from the club. However, the truth is they played fourteen minutes apart as brother Tommy came off on sixty-seven minutes before Jack made his debut nine minutes from the end of a quite hellish game.

Pete Fincham