DCSIMG

Veteran Smith is not ready to hang up his gloves just yet

HENRY SMITH may be approaching the age when most people start to allow their minds to wander to the prospect of a less demanding way of life.

But you certainly won’t find the 46-year-old former Hearts star entertaining such thoughts as he prepares to kick-off his umpteenth season as a professional footballer.

Smith, of course, made a name for himself during a successful 15-year stint at Tynecastle during which time he was capped on three occasions for his country.

He likes nothing better than pulling on the gloves on a Saturday afternoon, which is why, after leaving Hearts, he dropped down the leagues to Ayr United, then non-league Glenafton and Gretna in the Unibond League before Clydebank came calling.

Smith gets the same kick out of playing today that he did back in 1981 when he made his debut for the Gorgie side in a League Cup win over Airdrie at Broomfield.

That insatiable appetite for a piece of the action will see the evergreen keeper head for Berwick next season, Shielfield Park boss Paul Smith having persuaded his former Hearts team-mate to join the wee Rangers as player-coach.

"I first knew Paul was interested in me towards the end of last season with Clydebank," he said. "I am looking forward to teaming up with him as we go back a long way to our time together at Tynecastle.

"I may be 46, but I’m still going strong. The body is okay, and if I still feel good after pre-season then I will carry on playing. If not, then my role will purely be as a coach which is something I have been aiming for over the last ten years.

"I am quite fortunate in the fact that people have seen me playing and I have been able to continue doing a job for various clubs."

Despite holding the honour of being the oldest player in the Scottish Football League, Smith gives the impression that his namesake will have some difficulty in confining him solely to a backroom role.

"As long as you can play, you should," he said. "People can sometimes look back after they have stopped and ask themselves ‘did I finish too early?’ and maybe end up regretting it.

"I don’t want to do that and, if I can still do the job, then why not carry on? I trained very hard when I was younger, looked after myself and basically just did things properly. That is holding me in good stead just now.

"I never make a decision about retiring at the start of a season. I’ll do a pre-season and if the enthusiasm is still there then I don’t see a problem.

"There is nothing better than going out and playing in front of a crowd on a Saturday. That buzz will never leave me and that’s why I still love playing - and long may it continue," he added.

Smith earned his first international recognition as a substitute against Saudi Arabia in 1988 and went on to win further caps four years later against Northern Ireland and Canada.

Such honours are proudly regarded by Smith as the pinnacle of his career, and they were achieved during more than a decade of turning on the style for the Jambos.

Having spent 15 years in Gorgie, Smith maintains more than a passing interest in the fortunes of the men in maroon. And, judging by the reception he received from the supporters at a half-time penalty shoot-out in the last game of the season against Livingston, he has a special place in the fans’ hearts, too. "You don’t spend that length of time at a club without having a soft spot for them," he said. "I am sorry to see the club’s recent decline and the money problems which Hearts have.

"Craig Levein has been unable to offer new deals to guys like Steve Fulton and Ricardo Fuller, and these are the players who made Hearts tick and brought punters through the gates at Tynecastle. If they are driven away then the fans will soon go, too, and that will also have an affect on the club’s revenue.

"That is the disappointing aspect of what is happening. They have a great stadium there now and it deserves to be filled."

Amid all the doom and gloom enveloping the game in Scotland, the Gorgie outfit at least managed to announce some major good news with the capture of Antti Niemi on a new, long-term contract.

The Finn has been an inspiration for the Jambos since arriving from Rangers and Smith is in no doubt about the benefits of Niemi staying in the Capital.

"The fans will have been given a tremendous boost with Antti signing as he has done the business almost every week for them," he said. "He has continued the long tradition of the club having top-class keepers. Hopefully, with him staying, others may be persuaded to sign and the club can again have players who will help them challenge and take them back into Europe."

Niemi’s understudy, Roddy McKenzie, last season stated his desire to move on in a bid for regular first-team action and Smith believes it’s not before time.

"I think Roddy should have left ages ago," he said. "He is capable of being a first-team keeper. But it is difficult with Antti there as you know if he’s injured as soon as he is fit he’ll be straight back.

"Roddy has got to remember to keep on performing, no matter at what level.

"In football, you never know what is round the corner."

 
 
 

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