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Gone but not forgotten:
Allan Smart
Position: Striker
From: Carlisle United - £100,000 - June 1998
Record: Played: 50(14) Scored: 13
To: Oldham Athletic - £250,000 - November 2001
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: Responsible for the best minute of every Watford fan's life

"Finally, we made one of these vicious counter-attacks pay. It's all a blur, Kennedy rampaging through on the left, Smart arriving in the middle to slam the ball into the bottom corner, the rest is the biggest roar I've ever heard and floods of tears and screaming "YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!" and forgetting to breathe and losing it completely and the most intensely emotional few seconds of my entire life."

That moment, when we knew with a gigantic surge of choking ecstasy that we'd bloody done it, lives forever. Close your eyes and you can still see it all, both from your own vantage point and from that of the camera which captured Allan Smart's own tears after he'd flattened the corner flag on the way to celebrate in front of his pregnant wife. Should anyone be naive enough to bother, a "favourite Watford goal of all-time" poll would be a foregone conclusion.

That was the pinnacle of Allan Smart's Watford career. Hell, it would've been the pinnacle of pretty much anyone's Watford career. Nevertheless, it'd be greatly unfair, not to say inaccurate, to reduce the rest to a mere footnote.

For, although he took a short-cut to becoming a Watford legend, the possibility was always there. In fact, he was only a regular part of the first team for a relatively short period, before falling victim to injuries, fragile confidence and, finally, his agent's over-eagerness in handing in a transfer request. Yet that period in the club's history was pretty damn glorious, and Smart had played his part long before eighty-ninth minute of the playoff final.

Signed from Carlisle United along with Nicky Wright in the summer of 1998, he was absolutely instrumental in the transformation of the team's attacking style as it became a force in the First Division. Until then, we'd been concentrated around the aerial presence of Jason Lee, particularly once our sensational start to the second Graham Taylor era had faltered somewhat. While never particularly prolific in front of goal, something that he took considerable and largely undeserved stick for when things weren't going well, Smart's strength quickly became apparent. Simply, he gave the attack cohesion.

For a time, it seemed that you could've used a cannon to fire the ball at him from ten yards away while a professional wrestler hung around his neck and he'd still have taken it on his chest, brought it down, held off his opponent, and laid it off tidily to a colleague. We needed that, and we profited quickly. As, it must be said, did Gifton Noel-Williams, who began to display those same attributes at a key stage in his development.

By the end of the season, he'd been the subject of some fairly heated arguments. Something of a cause on BSaD, his strength, aggression, subtle touch - a volleyed gem of a goal at Swindon springs to mind - and under-estimated work-rate had this particular writer labelling him as a future Watford hero. Really, all he ever needed was to find the back of the net a bit more frequently. But the whole team had slumped in the new year and, typically, he slumped more than most, taking his turn as the club scapegoat. Always strange how, even in the best of times, supporters need to have one individual that they can openly, demonstrably and childishly refuse to love. Frankly, he was only occasionally as rubbish as his detractors would've had you believe, and never as lazy.

While his form picked up with everyone else's and he began enjoying his football again, he was playing something of a bit part in the playoffs until that famous moment, used as a late substitute in both legs of the semi-final and again at Wembley. That said, you shouldn't forget his significance as a catalyst for that late run into the top six, for without his retaliatory chinning of Tranmere's David Kelly in a goalmouth punch-up and the resulting red card, we wouldn't have been reduced to nine men and the victory would've been rather more low key. The rest is history, obviously. It's not history that you'll need to look up in a book, though. It ended at Wembley, and Allan Smart not only scored the most famous and celebrated goal in the club's history, but felt it as fiercely as we did.

That might - indeed, ought to - have been the start of a special relationship between club and player. But, as with so many other key figures in the promotion campaign, Smart sat out great chunks of our season in the Premiership. There were still some splendid moments - a fabulous strike from twenty yards to beat Chelsea at the Vic, then a run of four goals (and a few howling misses) in six games when finally he returned to action in February - but, in truth, it's probably his absence that we can remember more clearly. With Smart, Noel-Williams and Mooney all in the treatment room, the lack of a target man was keenly felt and contributed greatly to our rapid fall back into the Nationwide.

There, one might've expected Smart to flourish once more. Perhaps he would've, if he'd been fit to start the season. Instead, he was sidelined again. By the time that he'd recovered his fitness, others - Helguson, Mooney, Noel-Williams - had nipped in ahead of him. His performances were poor, listless and uncharacteristically weak in possession, and his time at Watford was coming to a sad end.

When a hat-trick for the reserves still didn't buy him a first-team place, his agent hastily submitted a transfer request. Smart quickly offered to withdraw it, but his manager, never one to be messed about by players, decided to let it stand. He was frozen out, subsequently making a few depressingly nondescript appearances, including a couple for Luca Vialli in pre-season, before heading out on loan to Hibs and Stoke. For the latter, he played just once, as a substitute in a goalless draw against Oldham, and was dismissed for punching Darren Sheridan. Bizarrely, he signed for Oldham only a few days later, which would've made for an entertaining speech from the manager. "Everybody, say hello to our new signing. Oh, you've already met...."

Really, it's a shame that it ended with such a whimper. Looking back, it's remarkably difficult to recall just what a terrific player Allan Smart was in his first few months at Watford. A compact, purposeful centre forward with a really positive, composed air and a slight sense of menace, you could stick him in the middle of your attack and build everything else around. Which is precisely what we did.

Remember that, even if Allan Smart hadn't drilled the ball into the bottom corner to put the game beyond the reach of Bolton, we probably would've won the playoff final anyway. But if he hadn't arrived at all, you wonder if we'd have been there in the first place. He gave us far more than that one magical moment.