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The Ben Smith column: The grass isn't always greener

Part 2 of Crawley Town midfielder Ben Smith's weekly column

As a young player embarking on a career it is important that you move to the right club at the right time. The wrong move can stall a player’s development and take a long time to recover from.

A good season is quickly forgotten if it is followed by six months in the reserves. On two occasions I made moves to new clubs for the wrong reasons. I often look back on those decisions and think what might have been.

The first mistake I made was leaving Yeovil Town for Southend United. I joined Yeovil from Championship side Reading in the late 90s. Yeovil was the first club I played at where I was a regular member of the first team squad.

I instantly liked Yeovil as a club. It was run by good people and I was made to feel at home straight away. I started off brilliantly and thought it was only a matter of time before I moved back up the leagues. Unfortunately my performances deteriorated along with my fitness levels.

Over the next two years I produced some erratic displays, the only thing consistent about me was my inconsistency. I was either the best player on the pitch or the worst, no middle ground. In my third year the ex Chelsea player David Webb became manager.

Strict and straight talking 

At that time in my career he was the ideal manager for me, very strict and straight talking. I went from being a peripheral figure to a first team regular. As a team we started the next season brilliantly. Out of the blue the manager left the club suddenly after a couple of months to join Southend.

Colin Addison took over as manager. He was an excellent manager and also a great guy. Up until the last couple of years I would regularly bump into him at Hereford games. However, Colin’s style of management was a lot different to the previous manager. He was a lot more laid back and cut us plenty of slack. Unfortunately at my age, 21 at the time, I wasn’t mature enough to set my own professional standards. 

On the pitch everything was going well moving into the new year. However off the pitch I was living my life like a 21-year-old, which is great unless you are trying to be a professional sportsman! Both mine and the team's performances deteriorated as the season wore on.

I was dropped for the last month of the season because of an off the field incident and the team eventually finished runners up in the time before the play offs. Colin was sacked at the end of the season. Looking back on those last few months I was ashamed of myself as I let Colin down.

As the club had no manager the chairman said we all had to wait for a new manager before finding out about new contracts. As an impulsive youngster I wasn’t happy with this and decided to rejoin David Webb at Southend. What a mistake! My time there was riddled with injuries and I made a grand total of one substitute appearance for two minutes.

From strength to strength 

On the other hand Gary Johnson joined Yeovil as manager and the team and club went from strength to strength, eventually winning promotion to the Football League. I played against that Yeovil team numerous times and used to spend the majority of the time chasing shadows and thinking what might have been. I’m sure I would have fitted into their style of play perfectly. 

After my disastrous year at Southend I rebuilt my career at Hereford United. My first season was plagued with injury again but in my second year Graham Turner created a really exciting team. We were scoring goals for fun and regularly tearing teams apart.

I didn’t realise it at the time but looking back at it the team was set up for me to do well. I was given plenty of freedom and had Jamie Pitman behind me covering up my defensive inadequacies. In my first 30 games I scored 13 goals which is a great return from central midfield.

Although I still liked to enjoy myself I had installed some discipline into my life and only enjoyed myself when football permitted. The mixture of Graham Turner's strict aloof nature and Richard O’Kelly's boundless enthusiasm was really working for me and I was enjoying my football.

Unfortunately in February of that season my shoulder injury reoccurred and I was out for the season. This was a massive blow personally as I was convinced I would have got 20 goals that season.

I just saw the pound signs

My success that season had attracted attention and a couple of agents were trying to engineer a move into the Football League for me. In reality I needed another year or two working with Graham and playing for Hereford before making the step up but unfortunately I just saw the pound signs. Hereford wanted me to stay but only offered me a small increase on my wages and seemed pretty resigned to the fact I was leaving.

In the end I had concrete offers from Chester and Shrewsbury, not exactly glamour moves but the money was pretty much double what Hereford were paying me. I instantly ruled out Chester as the club seemed very unstable and nobody I spoke to who played there had a good word to say about the place.

I went and met Jimmy Quinn at Shrewsbury and he didn’t make much of an impression on me. He seemed like a nice enough guy but didn’t inspire me. I had my doubts then about the move but went ahead with it anyway basically because it meant I was earning enough to buy a house for the first time. 

In hindsight I’m convinced if I had stayed at Hereford for another year or so I would have ended up getting a much better move but I was in too much of a rush. Much like Southend the move to Shrewsbury was a disaster. It started off well enough though.

Football philosophies 

I scored a few goals and settled in well but my persistent shoulder injury reared its head again and I was out for six months. During my recovery period Jimmy Quinn was sacked and Gary Peters became manager. Our football philosophies couldn’t have been more different. He humoured me at the start but it was pretty obvious things weren’t going to work and much to my relief I moved on. 

It is quite ironic that a year after I left Shrewsbury I ended up re-signing for Hereford. This time I had decided money was not going to have a bearing on my decision. I ended up turning down three offers that were financially a lot more attractive than Hereford's as I felt I owed that to Graham. That decision cost me quite a lot of money in the long run but that is a story for another day. I suppose you could call it Karma!

The moral of the story is that it is imperative when moving clubs that you make the right choice, otherwise you could spend the next couple of years repairing your reputation. Unfortunately for me the only person I have to blame for this is myself.

As a lot of you know, I am also involved in Futsal. If you are based in Essex and have small children who would like to improve their football skills please visit the Essex Futsal website at www.essexfutsal.vpweb.co.uk

Also if you are on Twitter follow me at @bsmudger7


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