The day Alan Smith announced himself to the world

14 Nov 2020 03:03 pm, by YorkshireSquare

There are moments in history when you remember where you were, Alan Smiths first goal for Leeds United on 14th November 1998 was one of those moments for me. Sat at home watching the game on teletext, try telling the kids these days about that, when the score flicked to 1-1 (Smith 79). Smith! Smith who? My introduction to Alan Smith was his pixelated name flashing up on my screen. Replacing Clyde Wijnhard in the seventy-sixth minute he had scored with his first touch. A goal which would spur Leeds on to a three one victory with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring twice in the next seven minutes.

Thousands of Liverpool fans streaming out of Anfield in despair before the end of the game is not a sight Leeds United had witnessed in their many visits down the years. United had found Anfield to be a graveyard for their hopes, having won only one league game there in the past twenty-six years, and they looked to be heading for another defeat when Robbie Fowler stroked in a penalty to give Liverpool a sixty-eighth minute lead. Leeds, who had knocked the ball around in encouraging fashion in the first half, stuck to their task and when manager David O’Leary made the decision to send on Leeds-born Alan Smith in place of the ineffective Clyde Wijnhard after seventy-six minutes, the gamble paid off handsomely.

Since he took charge of the team affairs at Elland Road, O’Leary had not been slow to pin his faith in youth, and three minutes after coming on, and with his first touch of the ball, Smith had scored a debut goal to hoist his side back on level terms. It could hardly have been a better start to a first team career for the lad who had celebrated his eighteenth birthday only three weeks previously and his strike, a coolly taken low shot from sixteen yards after David Hopkin’s shot had been blocked, proved to be the inspiration for United to go on to a particularly satisfying victory.

Not surprisingly, his manager was beaming afterwards, “I have seen him develop over the two years that I have been at the club and have been wanting to give him a go in the first team”, said O’Leary. “But I wasn’t brave enough to put him on from the start at Liverpool. I wouldn’t say that putting him on as a substitute was a genius decision on my part but I am glad I did. To make your debut in such a wonderful stadium as Anfield and to score as well is special and having his father there to see it all is something to cherish. When I played with Arsenal and we won the title at Anfield, my father was there to see it and it was a proud moment.”

Alan Smith’s equaliser inspired United and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink certainly drew encouragement from it as he burst into life and came up with the perfect answer to recent criticism of his form with a stunning double blast. Suddenly all his old sharpness was in evidence as he determinedly and skillfully carved up Liverpool’s hesitant and disorganised defence to hammer in goals, with his left foot in the eighty-first minute and his right foot minutes later.

Liverpool were going through a depressing patch and were without Steve McManaman, tormentor in chief of United in those recent encounters, and England striker Michael Owen, but United’s victory was richly satisfying for the players and sweet music to the ears of their fans. With five players aged twenty-one or under on the field at the end this triumph was all the more satisfying for United and their recently appointed boss, but for Frenchman Gerard Houllier, in sole charge of the Reds for the first time following the mid-week departure of Roy Evans, it was a nightmare.

This had been Liverpool’s third home defeat in eight days following a 2-1 league defeat by Derby County and a 3-1 Worthington Cup triumph by Tottenham Hotspur in mid-week and Houllier admitted that they were too frail mentally and must stick together. He claimed that Liverpool should have had a second penalty when Jonathan Woodgate brought down David Thompson just before United broke away for Smith’s goal. “The referee’s decision not to whistle when Thompson was brought down changed the game.” He said.

Referee Dermot Gallagher, who had awarded Liverpool a penalty in the sixty-eighth minute when Nigel Martyn charged out and flattened Karl-Heinz Riedle. Had a good view of the later incident and saw nothing wrong. “If that is what they are claiming, then it’s a sorry state of affairs,” O’Leary retorted.

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andrewjohnsmith wrote on 20 Nov 2020 06:38 pm

Great read.

I was always a huge fan of Alan Smith. I've always enjoyed watching our young players coming through more than anything else. From Batty and Speed to Shackleton and Phillips. I love the club and I love to see our own products making it to the big time.

I hold no grudges over what happened with the Man United move. He would have never left Leeds if it was his choice. That photo of him and Robinson in tears is one of the most indelible in Leeds history. And I understand why he went to the enemy. He wanted to play with the best and win trophies. Despite what we think, Man U had a great culture back then with the number of young English players that came through, as well as the best manager, and you could see why Smith would want to be a part of that.

Yes, Alan Smith will always be one of my favorite Leeds players.