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Road to Wembley '98 - Jimmy Smith

14 March 2018

This season we are celebrating 20 years since Cheltenham Town lifted the FA Trophy with a series of 'Road to Wembley' features with the players and staff from the Robins of 1997/98. Here the prolific Jimmy Smith looks back...

Cult hero Jimmy Smith was a revelation during his successful seven-year spell at Cheltenham Town – and a crucial performer the day the Robins lifted the FA Trophy at Wembley.

The second highest goalscorer in Cheltenham history behind Dave Lewis, Smith made an impressive 42 appearances in all competitions in the 1997/98 campaign. But it was a 13-minute cameo under the twin towers that would be pivotal to trophy success.

After being named as a substitute, the Scotsman climbed off the bench and within seconds won a free kick out wide from Southport. Moments later Russell Milton whipped over the ball and Jason Eaton did the rest.

“I’d been a little but out of favour and it was between me and Keith Knight for the right-wing position,” revealed Smith.

“Keith got the nod but I got on and won the foul which gave us the free-kick that led to Jason’s goal. That’s when the party began and we spent the night celebrating back in Cheltenham.

“I started around 25 games that season, finishing second in the league and winning the FA Trophy. We had that amazing game against Halifax who we beat 4-0. Jason Eaton got a hat-trick, Bob Bloomer scored that brilliant volley.

"Steve (Cotterill) was totally different to previous managers we had. He signed the likes of Neil Grayson and bolstered the squad because it was thin before.

"He added quality, pace and strength and it really paid dividends. We had three promotions in five years, an FA Trophy win it was a good time. The camaraderie was second to none.

"We had some fantastic FA Cup runs too. Any cup run was special and gave the town a real buzz, but playing at Wembley was special."

Born into a big football family, Smith's road to Cheltenham had started at Linwood Rangers - where he played in the same team as current Stoke boss Paul Lambert - before he joined the Academy ranks at St Mirren.

Later released, Smith headed over the border and down to the south coast to join Torquay on trial, where we would earn a two-year YTS deal.

The following year Lee Sharpe, who went on to play for Manchester United and England, also signed YTS forms at Plainmoor and he and Smith were to become good friends before Sir Alex Ferguson came calling. Smith eventually earned a two-year deal from Torquay manager Cyril Knowles.

When Knowles departed so did Smith, and he went on trial at Weymouth before joining Salisbury City where hit the goal trail and his near goal a game ratio alerted the Robins.

”I scored something like 48 goals in 52 games and Sheffield Wednesday and Aberdeen were rumoured to be interested in me,” revealed Smith. “A £20,000 price tag was put on my head. Eventually they said they’d accept any bid above £5,000. 

“Lindsay Parsons (manager) and Colin Farmer (director) came down to watch me and they took me on loan. There were only a few games of the season left and Cheltenham were down at the bottom of the Conference.

"I went on loan initially and had four games, scored a few and they made it permanent for about £5,000. We went down and the team split up, but we built a good side afterwards and I was lucky to play alongside the likes of Archie Howells. Really good, inventive players."

Over the next seven years the prolific Smith would rattle in 131 goals for the Robins.

"When I first came I was playing alongside Martin Boyle," he said. "Then I formed a decent partnership with Jason (Eaton). He was a totally different player to me, but I always joked that I carried him!

"I used to enjoy every goal, but the one I remember was a left foot volley away against Weymouth. And goals against Gloucester were always sweet!”

After FA Trophy success, the following season was even more successful for Cheltenham as they clinched promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history.

For Smith, though, his time at the club was to come to an end as he moved to Gloucester City where he played for a season under Brian Hughes.

"There were numerous players who left. The likes of Jason Eaton and Dave Norton. It was mixed emotions for us all," he said. "I would have had to give up my full time job and the club were honest with me. The club gave me a free transfer and moved to Gloucester.

"It was different playing for Gloucester having been at Cheltenham for so long. We had a decent side and Gloucester fans saw me score 20 goals in 41 games. My goal ratio stood up.

“I've always looked back at my time at Cheltenham with pride. We had some very good times, and I’ve played at Wembley and no one can take that away from me.”

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