MY JOURNEY DOWN MEMORY PAIN
It would have been easier to stop and be remembered as a top star but my love of it made me play through agony
ALAN SMITH hobbles every day he gets out of bed.
It is a legacy of 20 years in football from the Premier League title and Champions League semi-final to League Two.
The former Leeds starlet has decided his body cannot take any more and retired after his most recent stint with Notts County on £500-a-week in the fourth tier.
But Smith reckons most other pros would have taken that decision 12 years ago after his horror injury for Manchester United at Liverpool. He was carried off in agony with a broken left leg and dislocated ankle aged 25 after a challenge with John Arne Riise. Sir Alex Ferguson described it as one of the worst injuries he had seen and the star now has “about 10 pins” in his ankle.
That he played on for so long after, and enjoyed notable subsequent successes, tells you everything about Smith’s character and passion for football.
It was a competitiveness which he admits sometimes got the better of him and cost him a place at the 2002 World Cup with England after being sent off in qualifying.
Despite 19 caps, he never went to a major tournament, even after a £7million move to United in 2004 after his boyhood club Leeds were relegated.
But as Smith spoke for the first time about retirement and moving to America to coach kids, he had no regrets and was proud to have played on until the end of last term.
Smith, 37, told Mirror Sport: “I knew with the injury it would be touch and go whether I could carry on playing – the surgeon said that. It would have been easier to walk away but because I loved playing football your love of it makes you go through the pain barrier.
“Most of the people I have played with, and managers, have respected me for staying in football when it would have been easy to walk away.
“But I dropped down to the Championship, to League One and to League Two.
“Loads of people would say to me: ‘Why I am bothering?’
“But if people felt I could still contribute I wanted to keep playing. The injury made me a better person after doing so well so young. I am lucky through sheer grit and determination I carried on.
“The good people I met lower down the leagues probably drove me on to stay in football longer.
“But by the end, the day-today training was doing more harm than good. I couldn’t compete at a level I felt I could
ALL LEEDS TO UNITED Alan Smith starred at boyhood club Leeds and it earned him a £7million move to Old Trafford