We sang his name over and over and over again that day at Villa Park. Three days earlier, we demolished Roma at Old Trafford, with Smithy scoring his first goal for us in seventeen months. He took it brilliantly, volleying in our second goal of the night, and celebrated like a man possessed. “The forgotten man is back,” the commentator boomed.
The season before, at the end of the February 2006, United were knocked out of the FA Cup at Anfield. Horrendous. Doesn’t get much worse than getting knocked out of the cup by the dippers, does it? Well, that day it did. Our fans got showered in shit and Alan Smith got his leg broken. As he was carted away from the stadium in an ambulance, he was ambushed, the ambulance attacked by a group of dippers who ran out of the ground to disgrace themselves.
So back to that day at Villa Park. Alan Smith played out of his skin. It was the semi final of the FA Cup against Watford, and despite not getting his name on the scoresheet, he contributed massively to our result. He was all over the park, working for every tackle and winning the ball, providing passes to set up goalscoring opportunities, and giving 100% to everything he did.
In the second half, there was a long pause in the game for some injury or another, and the players waited, hands on hips, bored. At the Roma game, we hadn’t really been given enough time to show Smith our appreciation for his performance and goal, with Rooney scoring so soon after, and rest of the players scoring every few minutes after that. So with the game dead, the United fans, who put on a blinding performance that day, sang his name. He turned to the crowd and applauded us, grateful to see us so fond of him after being out of action for so long. That was the last time Alan Smith had a good game for Manchester United.
He jumped at the chance to sign for Newcastle at the end of the season, desperately seeking first team football after spending so long without a game. A year and a half without a match to play allowed him to sort out his priorities, and playing regular football ranked higher than playing for Manchester United. Fair play to him.
Alan Smith returns to Old Trafford today and will no doubt be welcomed warmly. He never really cut it at United, but his attitude is something that was always appreciated by the crowd. Ahead of the game, Alan Smith commented on his decision to leave United and how he feels about returning. “I had three good years there,” he said. “Unfortunately I missed a full season with the broken leg. It’s not a nice way to finish because I never got a good chance to say goodbye to the fans. Hopefully I will get a chance on Saturday. I got to two FA Cup finals, won a Premier League medal. Got to a Carling Cup which I got injured in the process of getting to. The fans were brilliant with me and I had a great time there.” Was moving to United from Leeds worth all the stick he got? “Yes,” he replied. “I’ve got a Premiership winner’s medal. I had an experience you wouldn’t get at any other club. When the chance arises to go there it’s difficult to turn it down. I enjoyed every minute.”
Are you looking forward to seeing Smith back at Old Trafford?