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Atonement bid for York City skipper Chris Smith
YORK City captain Chris Smith is targeting redemption as he prepares to help guide the club back into the Football League after an eight-year absence.
Smith’s former club Mansfield travel to Bootham Crescent tomorrow night (kick-off 7.30pm) for the first leg of a mouthwatering Blue Square Bet Premier play-off semi-final and the 30-year-old City skipper has a double incentive to defeat the Stags before going on to clinch promotion at Wembley on Sunday, May 20.
The former Reading trainee was a member of the City side that saw relegation from the Football League confirmed at Doncaster’s ramshackle old Belle Vue ground in April 2004.
An opportunity to lead the team back into League Two at the awe-inspiring world-famous national stadium, therefore, represents a great chance for Smith to make amends for one of the darkest days in the club’s 90-year history.
Doncaster, who needed the points to clinch back-to-back promotions, raced into an early 2-0 lead in that fateful match and, despite Darren Dunning’s second-half reply, went on to complete a comfortable 3-1 win.
Even though City still had two fixtures left to play, Smith was released immediately after the match, along with Darren Edmondson, the late Mark Ovendale, Mitch Ward, Christian Fox, Stephen Brackstone and Stephen Downes.
None of the above players has played in the League since, while of the 16 players on duty for the Minstermen at Doncaster, only on-loan striker Jon Newby and then player-manager Chris Brass would briefly perform at the same level again.
For Smith, a return to League Two would mark the end of a very long journey.
Former City chief Terry Dolan brought Smith to Bootham Crescent in 2001 from Reading and he went on to make 88 appearances for City during his first spell.
At 22, though, a promising career stalled when the Minstermen finished 92nd in the Football League standings and, for six years, Smith combined playing part-time for Stafford Rangers, Worcester City and Tamworth with working as a plasterer.
He returned to professional football with Mansfield at the start of last season. However, little more than two months later, he became Gary Mills’ first signing as the manager of the Minstermen.
On his unique chance to atone for the pain of 2004, Smith said: “It was a horrible, horrible feeling to get relegated.
“At any level, it’s a bad experience but, to come out of the League, is such a hard thing to deal with and not a good thing to have on your CV.”
Added Smith: “It was a sell-out at Doncaster’s old ground. We needed a win to stay up and they needed a win to go up but we were 2-0 down after eight minutes and it was all over really.
“That game marked the end of my time at York and I never thought then that I would be coming back years later as captain with the chance of taking the team back up at Wembley.
“I would have loved to have felt that might happen, but never thought it would be the case.
“It’s such a nice feeling now that I might be able to repay the club for being a member of that squad.
“I thought I’d done well for York in my first spell and wanted to stay but that was taken out of my hands.
“We had a bad year and finances were tight, which did not help but, if we can win two finals at Wembley this season, I’m sure that will all be forgotten about.”
The Derby-born defender added he will have no point to make against Mansfield, where he was quickly deemed surplus to requirements at Field Mill where, then manager David Holdsworth, recruited Rhys Day and Simon Grand on loan.
Holdsworth, Day and Grand have all since departed with Smith saying: “It’s not a problem for me facing my old club.
“I didn’t take it personally when I left there and I’ve still got a few mates at the club.
“I just want to get promoted but the players from both teams will be in the same boat.
“We all want to go up and it will be all about who wants it more.”