Meeting Smudge

The annals of Arsenal’s goalscorers requires sunglasses. Absolutely bursting at the seams with eye-scorching gold, the history the Gunners have with lethal finishers is famous. Some of the English game’s finest strikers have plied their trade in the red and white and we have more often than not had an accomplished frontman at the vanguard of our team.

Charlie Buchan, Cliff Bastin, Ted Drake, Ronnie Rooke, Derek Tapscott, David Herd, Doug Lishman, John Radford, Frank Stapleton, Ray Kennedy, Frank Stapleton, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp. This is just a sample of the delights we have been able to savour and who have given so much in terms of goals.

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Goals are the lifeblood of success. Without them, no matter how much possession we have, or intricate passing we conjure up, or chances we create, without a predator in the box any team will suffer from intermittent results.

Alan Smith was a forward who had the enviable skill of sensing where he needed to be to plunder a goal which would tip the favour of a game toward his side. Invariably finding a yard of space was enough for him and he scored roughly one in every three games, with a total of 115 goals for Arsenal.

Another often overlooked facet of his game is his disciplinary record. He received one solitary booking in his entire career – which was given cruelly in his last ever game. To work effectively as a striker in his generation, a dash of rough and tumble is par for the course. If not up for the fight, the centre forward will be swept aside and an opening to score will be closed quickly.

This was the artistry of Alan Smith that is in the shadows somewhat amidst the pizzazz of the Premier League. He could smell the space he needed. He lurked, he fought, but always within the confines of the rules. He was efficient, he could be counted on, and there was no game he shirked. If the occasion got the better of some, you could always depend on Smith to rise to the fore.

I had the pleasure to meet and quiz the man himself recently. Once I had downed about three coffees prior to him arriving and nervously eyeing the door of the generic coffee shop I was sitting in, the tall frame of the voice of FIFA and Sky walked in.

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It was surreal, but a more genial and warm man you will struggle to meet. He never batted an eyelid as I chucked questions at him, and he provided real insight into his time at Arsenal.

He spoke enthusiastically of his time under George Graham in his Brummie twang, making sure to let me know that there were no room for passengers in training when George was in charge. He told me of his battles with defenders, his glory moments and the controversial times when trophies could have been missed.

I hope I can reveal his answers soon, but they will be part of a project I’m working on. Alan Smith’s contribution will be featured heavily, as will other players. What has become abundantly clear though, is that ‘Smudge’ was more than accommodating and was happy to help. He was just like one of us – if you can forget what he has done for the club, which is extraordinary.

It was a real honour to meet a man who made a huge difference in his time at Arsenal, and his talents are often forgotten when recalling our great strikers. He may not have hit 35-yard screamers or danced past the whole defence, but there was few who could rival Smudge when aiding the attack through flick-ons or finding space in the danger zone – which in turn would create space by dragging defenders towards him or he would provide the finish himself.

The picture of me meeting him hopefully paints a picture of how pleased I was to be in his presence. I wasn’t a fan of football when he was on the pitch at Highbury, but the more I found out about him and the team the more I realised his brilliance. I’m certainly a retrospective fan now. 

Originally posted on Goonersphere.

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