"I'm just someone that's hopefully exciting to watch" - Winger Smart on his move to Halifax

Sam Smart knows a thing or two about trying to make a good impression - and hopes to do exactly that at Halifax.

By Tom Scargill
Friday, 1st July 2022, 9:17 am
Updated Friday, 1st July 2022, 9:19 am

The winger has experienced ups and downs in his career so far, in which he worked his way up from the grassroots game to become a professional at Eastleigh.

Smart's ability has been spotted by some big clubs, and although moves never materialised, the 23-year-old is now ready to take the next step in his career with Town.

"I started playing for a local team where I lived, just playing with my mates and enjoying football," he said.

Sam Smart

"When I got a bit older I was like 'right, I've got to take it a bit more seriously and start playing for some other teams'.

"I started playing for different youth teams and did a college course with Portsmouth, where you do your college work on the side as well as playing football.

"That was for three years, it was really good.

"I was playing men's football as well for a local team, which helped me quite a bit.

"I did two years at college and then went out to America because I was going to go to university out there.

"But I was there for a month and came home, I didn't really enjoy it. I thought it was going to be better than it was.

"I'd just turned 18, I don't know if I was ready to go out there, plus you had to do your maths, English and science all over again when I'd already passed them so I thought 'I can't really be bothered to do them all again'.

"So I came home from that and said to my mum 'if I'm going to play football I'm going to do it here'.

"Basingstoke, who I eventually signed for, would train where we played for the college, so they saw me play and asked me to come along to pre-season.

"I did two or three years there, and got trials from there at Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and did a few months at Chelsea, which was good.

"Our assistant at Basingstoke left to join Eastleigh and that's then how my move there came about."

Smart is pragmatic about his ultimately unsuccessful trial spells and has no regrets about his career trajectory so far.

"For me, I fell like with trials, you're in a new environment and you don't know the players so sometimes it's quite hard for a player coming in to truly show how good they are," he said.

"I wouldn't have my pathway be changed in any way, it's made the player I am to day.

"Maybe if I'd been in an academy it would have gone a different way and I might have been a completely different player.

"It's maybe the rawness of how I play, it's not robotic in a way, it's not 'do this, do that', I'm just going off what I feel is best at the time, which is maybe why when I did go on trials isn't what they were looking for, maybe they wanted someone a bit more regimented, I don't know.

"It's a bit self-taught, I've been at teams where they've coached me but it's what I want to be doing when I get on the ball, I want to be taking people on and having fun while playing."

Smart had a memorable time at Chelsea, and says that, like his short spells at Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, it helped shape the player he is today.

"We played a cup game at Basingstoke against Southampton under 23s, and I had a good game, I got a goal and an assist," he recalled.

"We had a player on loan from Chelsea, a centre-half, and they were keeping tabs on him.

"But because I had quite a good game, they wanted to have a look at me. So I went in there for about a month.

"When I first heard it I was like 'woah, this is crazy'.

"It was only for the under 23s but some of the players there were Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour, Marc Guehi.

"At first I felt massively out of my depth, but it was really enjoyable and I thought I did really well.

"I got a little injury there so I missed a game, which didn't help. I think I was 21 at the time so I was already one of the oldest payers there, but it was a very good experience.

"The facilities there are a joke, they're so good.

"Obviously the side of a trial where you get rejected and told you're not wanted is not nice, but it motivates you to go 'I want to be in this environment, I want to be here one day'.

"It gives you that motivation to think 'maybe I wasn't good enough and I have to make sure I'm better next time'.

"For young players, if you're not in an academy, don't stress about it or feel you're not going to be a professional footballer because so many players have got so many different pathways.

"I know so many who have played in academies, got released and then fell out of love with football, so it's just how motivated you are. If you want it, you've got to go after it."

Smart certainly made a strong first impression at Eastleigh, and was quickly into the first-team.

"My first two years were really enjoyable. I didn't think I'd be playing as much after I signed, having come from three leagues below," he said.

"I thought I might get the odd game here and there, maybe the cup games, then kick on in the second season, but I made my full debut within the first five or six games.

"I was pretty much playing every week, really enjoying it. I was playing as a wing-back, which I didn't enjoy at the time, but I was like 'I'm playing games, so it doesn't really matter'.

"That was my main position for two-and-a-half years, but the third year was on and off, not really sure why I wasn't playing but that's football I guess.

"I went on loan to Havant and Waterlooville for a month, which was really enjoyable. Got a few assists, got in the team of the week, just started to really enjoy football again.

"Then I came back and was playing more in a 4-4-2 as a wide right, or in a 4-3-3, started scoring and getting some assists.

"The third year was definitely not the same as the first two but it was a very good experience.

"I'd played full-time before at Basingstoke but it wasn't properly full-time. But being at Eastleigh, playing full-time every day for three years, it massively helped me grow and get better as a player."

Smart's positive attitude helped him deal with falling out of favour at Eastleigh, where he ended up getting back in the side after his loan spell.

"It was quite a frustrating time, because you can have so many conversations with the manager but I sometimes feel you don't obviously always get the answers you want to hear," he said.

"It didn't make me hate football, but it made me understand that it's so up and down, one minute you could be the main guy in the team, first name on the team sheet, and then the next minute you could be sat in the stands.

"You've just got to stay motivated and I feel like maybe my past experiences of being at trials and getting rejected made me keep that motivation, to say 'if I'm not going to be playing, I'm going to be training twice as hard to make sure I'm in the team next week'."

Smart says there were expressions of interest from clubs down south but that Halifax was an instant attraction to him.

"I got contacted by the gaffer, and he said 'Hi Sam, it's Chris here from Halifax, we're interested in signing you, would you like to call me?'

"It was a team I was really keen on. Because I wanted to try to get up north and with the season Halifax had, I thought if I could get into Halifax then I'd have done really well.

"As soon as I heard about it I thought 'this needs to be done straight away'.

"It got done within two days over my holiday, I signed my contract online. I just wanted to get it done as soon as possible.

"Before that, you don't know what's going to be happening or where you're going to be playing next year.

"I just said to my family and my missus 'just be patient, football's a waiting game sometimes, you never know, you could be signing the day after the season's finished or a week before the first game'."

Smart was was on holiday in Quinta do Lago in Portugal - where he went on daily runs and did daily gym sessions - when he was contacted by Town boss Chris Millington.

"I think I was still asleep, it was like nine o'clock in the morning - I like to have a lie-in in holiday," he said.

"I just woke up and saw I had a message, so I woke my missus up and said 'you're going to want to hear this' because she's been chewing my ear off asking if there'd been any updates.

"It was nice to know I could enjoy the rest of my holiday stress-free after it was all sorted.

"We had a few phone calls and it was just really nice each time, explaining what was happening at the club, how professional it is and talking about where he sees me playing or trying out playing.

"He gave me that confidence that I was wanted and was part of his plans.

"It just felt like I wanted him to be my gaffer."

Smart's move to Halifax marks a significant change in his life, moving away from the south coast.

"It helps that my missus lives in Sheffield but I wanted a change anyway, I wanted to try something new," he said.

"I like testing myself, I want to be in and around a team that's pushing for the play-offs or for first spot, that's what I want to be doing and I know I can do that with Halifax.

"Hopefully we can go one better next season."

And Smart is confident he can make another good first impression.

"I'm just someone that's hopefully exciting to watch, will get on the ball and try to create things," he said.

"I always want to be positive. I feel I had a good connection with the Eastleigh fans and every time I got the ball they'd be excited that something was going to happen.

"Hopefully the Halifax fans will take to me quite quickly because of how I play and how exciting I can be.

"Hopefully they'll be impressed with what they see and they like me."