The prolific 26-goal former Portsmouth striker who's eyeing a Football League return

Dan Smith’s Pompey journey came to an end in typical Kenny Jackett fashion.

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 6:00 pm
Dan Smith. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dan Smith. Picture: Joe Pepler

A straight-to-the-point conversation in the manager’s office meant the striker’s 11-year association with the club was over.

Despite a highly fruitful loan spell at Bognor and two first-team appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy – with an assist at Southend the highlight – Smith wasn’t offered professional terms when his third-year scholarship expired in May 2019.

Naturally, disappointment was the first emotion. After all, he’d been with the club since he was eight, having turned down Bournemouth, Reading and Southampton when forced to make a decision.

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Dan Smith in action for Pompey against Peterborough in the Checkatrade Trophy. Picture: Joe Pepler

But fast forward a year since his Fratton Park departure and he holds no resentment. In fact, it did him a favour.

Despite having offers from Football League clubs, Smith opted to join Bognor on a permanent basis.

Regular senior minutes was what he coveted – and he’s reaped the dividends.

Before the Isthmian League premier division was declared null and void, the Warsash talent had bagged 26 goals in all competitions.

Dan Smith celebrates scoring for Bognor against Pompey in pre-season. Picture: Tommy McMillan

A fine tally for the 20-year-old, who’s undoubtedly attracted potential suitors from higher up the football pyramid.

And a return to League One level at least remains the long-term ambition.

Speaking to The News, Smith said: ‘I was disappointed to get released at first, but I always had confidence I could come back and make it back to that level.

‘Definitely, at first, I was gutted because I’d been at the club for the past 10 years

‘Kenny said he liked me but couldn’t offer me a contract because Pompey haven’t got an under-23s squad and couldn’t see me being in the squad for the next season as I wasn’t ready.

‘He was right, I wasn’t ready for League One football. That was pretty much the conversation, no longer than probably four or five minutes and I was out the door.

‘It was a shame but, if I’m being honest, they probably did me a favour.

‘I’ve got free rein now of where I want to go.

‘If I was still at Pompey, I’d have been training and maybe out on loan at Bognor, but wouldn’t have had the same success because I’d be pulled back to be 19th man on a Saturday or pulled back for under-23s games.

‘Men’s football is better and that’s why I’m happy I am left looking back on it.

‘It has benefited me because I still train full-time. Had I stayed at Pompey, I’d have been a bit stuck and frustrated.

‘The only thing is that they could have let me know earlier. I thought I’d done enough to warrant a contract.

‘In the games that I played, I got an assist at Southend as a right-back then played up front and put in a good shift against Peterborough but didn’t get any chances on goal.

‘If I'm honest, I don't think it was a good business decision because why wouldn't you hang on to someone who can score goals and possibly be worth money when you're not going to pay them big wages?

‘But I'm happy they made the decision and I left because I'm reaping the rewards.’

A crunch period during Smith's career was his loan spell at Cork City midway through last term.

Having shone during his loan at Bognor, he was offered a fresh challenge to join the League of Ireland side.

Smith found himself out of favour at Turner’s Cross, though, which was a key reason behind Jackett’s decision to release him.

But circumstances arose which were out of the forward's control.

The sacking of manager John Caulfield meant Cork started to plan for the following campaign – leaving Smith surplus to requirements.

Smith said: ‘The manager who took me over there got the sack and then the assistant became manager and said: “you’re not going to play because we’re planning for when you’re gone”.

‘There were about six or seven of us on loan and only one lad played. I was out of the squad and people were playing above me who I thought “really?”

‘Obviously, Cork were planning for the next season. They were nowhere near the top but weren’t in any danger of being relegated so were just thinking they wouldn’t have got anything out of playing the loanees.

‘Even if I did play well, they were trying to get rid of players because they had too big a squad and were cutting back spending.

‘Cork treated me really well by paying for my flights and bringing my car over but it just didn’t go in my favour.’

Smith certainly didn’t let his time in Eire affect him, however, as he impressed for the Rocks this season.

Twenty-six goals in 41 appearances is no mean feat at any level - never mind your first full campaign in the senior game.

The uncertain climate amid the coronavirus crisis means Smith is unsure where he’ll be playing next term.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, a step up the pyramid looked inevitable.

But wherever the London-born front man’s future lies, he's taking a prudent approach and ensuring he's not getting too far ahead of himself.

And the marksman is taking inspiration from his former Fratton Park team-mate Jamal Lowe, who also had to drop down to non-league football before being given another chance in the game.

Smith added: ‘I still speak to a couple of the lads like Jamal and Conor Chaplin, who helped me out a lot.

‘Jamal and Matt Clarke were always doing extra work in the gym and out on the pitch. I’ve taken that work ethic with me.

‘Jamal spoke to me a couple of times about his previous situation before I was released. He told me he got rejected by eight or nine teams and had a real tough time. He’s reaping the rewards of it at Wigan now and doing well.

‘You come up against so many different types of players in non-league. In one game, I played against a lad who was on loan from AFC Wimbledon and he was hyped up by everyone, but I worked out what he wanted to do and scored.

‘That’s what I’ve got a lot better at, figuring out how I can hurt defences and relaying it to my team-mates.

‘Bognor had a decent run-in and were going for the play-offs. We fancied ourselves and it’s annoying.

‘This season, I think I’ve proved myself at this level and it’s put me in good stead to climb the football ladder.

‘Obviously, the level is different but I just need to go on, try to keep improving and scoring goals.

‘I’ve got to sit tight and see what everyone is saying, including my agent and Bognor.

‘People don’t know what’s going to happen, whether teams are going to have money or when we’re going to start again.

‘I’ve got no clue where I’m going to be at the moment. I’ve got to be sensible about what I do. I’ve proven that I have the capabilities at Bognor’s level.

‘A lad called Muhammadu Faal was in the same division playing for Enfield this season. He'd scored a similar amount of goals as me and joined Bolton in January.

‘I’ve proven I can be at that level but do I want to jump up that quickly?

‘He hasn’t really been in the squad and only made two substitute appearances.

‘It’s about making the right step rather than the highest level you can straight away.

‘You need to work your way up and prove yourself at each level.’

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