Hibs blew big chance with my boy, says Gordon Smith senior

THE house is similar to any other in Edinburgh. A half-built snowman stands in the garden and the Christmas decorations have been deposited in a dustbin. But the Smith family are like no other family, even if some familiar issues can be detected.

• Hearts striker Gordon Smith and his father, Gordon senior, show their true colours. The 18-year-old, who scored a stunning debut goal at Easter Road on Sunday, signed for Hearts after Hibs lost interest in him – causing mixed emotions for his father, a former Hearts player who is a lifelong Hibs supporter. Picture: Jane Barlow

"I am no longer the favourite son, am I?" asked Kevin Smith in a phone call to his mother Linda on Sunday night. He had just watched his little brother volley home an explosive goal on his debut for Hearts in the Edinburgh derby. Consequently, his own achievements with Raith Rovers, where he is on loan from Dundee United, have been reduced to under-card status for the time being. But if Kevin wants empathy he need only turn to his father, the flaxen-haired striker whose exploits have seemed to pass many by in the rush to welcome yet another Gordon Smith onto the scene.

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Gordon junior, who turns 19 on St Valentines's Day, is already half-way towards the haul of goals his father – also Gordon – amassed for Hearts. Smith senior scored twice in 10 competitive games for the Tynecastle club in the mid-to-late Seventies, during a peripatetic career which saw him also sport the colours of Partick Thistle, Falkirk, East Fife, Meadowbank Thistle and Berwick Rangers, among others. A fiery customer, he might be viewed as a prototype Chic Charnley. Smith picked up 13 red cards, with one earned during a Hearts reserve match for a trip on the referee. He was handed an eight-game ban.

But he also collected goals at a decent rate. "One in three," he reckons, though this is questioned by Gordon jnr, who prefers to round it up to one in four. Not in question is his nickname. Smith snr was known to all and sundry as Pogo. Like many who have spent most of their lifetime operating under an alias given to them in the playground, he forgets the reason why it was earned in the first place.

"I can't really remember," says Smith snr, now in the painter and decorator trade. "Everyone has known me as Pogo since I started playing football. I played up front with Gordon Rae at Musselburgh Windsor. I signed for Hearts, he signed for Whitehill."

It was a significant move for Pogo. Not only did it mean full-time football, but it also necessitated crossing Edinburgh's divide. He is a Hibs fan who played for Hearts. It was a novel feeling when he leapt to his feet on Sunday to greet his son's 44th minute opener. "That's the first time I ever jumped up when Hearts scored," he smiles. Except when he played for them, of course. But then it was a far from vintage era for Hearts, who were relegated from the Premier Division at the end of the 1976-77 season.

Smith snr's wife, sitting beside him in the away end on Sunday, barely saw anything in the bedlam. But there was an extra thrill when things eventually began to calm down around them. Smith snr whispered in her ear that he had put a fiver on their son to score the first goal, on her and her sister-in-law's behalf at odds of 8/1.

Although Smith snr never played against his boyhood heroes in a maroon jersey he did score against them for Meadowbank Thistle. He would have loved for his son to do what he did not and play in green and white, although Smith junior has no complaints at the way it worked out. He is a Hearts fan, like his father's two brothers and two sisters. Smith snr's own Hibs allegiance was something he inherited from his father.

Bound to further deflate those Hibs fans who were wounded by the sight of a raw teenager scoring on his debut against them is the news that he could easily have been shooting the other way. Smith jnr started off on the books of the Easter Road club but parted ways with Hibs in what were, according to his father, unsatisfactory circumstances.

"Hibs were letting people go and Glenn Roeder phoned us and said Gordon should come down to Newcastle, where he would train with the first team," recalls Smith snr. "We thought 'that's a likely story'. But the three of us went down anyway. We went to the training ground and the guy on the door said: 'You must be with the youths'. And we said: 'No, he is training with the first-team'."

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And so he did for one magical training session, alongside Alan Shearer and Shay Given.

"Shearer came up to me and said: 'What age is Gordon?'" says Smith snr. "I told him 15. And he said: 'He is some prospect for 15'. He trained with Newcastle for two days but Roeder left the youths and got the first-team job. It went quiet after that.

"But Hibs were stupid. They were entitled to compensation but (Hibs youth academy director] John Park took a stance and said 'no'. It was a political thing. They didn't like it that he had gone down to Newcastle without their permission. He had done well as a top goalscorer from midfield. When it came to being offered a contract they said he had done well but they didn't think he was good enough. All the other parents said: 'Has he signed then?' When I replied 'no' they said: 'Well it's a waste of time us being here too then, because he's the best player in the team by a mile'.

"One of the Hibs scouts phoned me last night and said: 'That's another of our youth players who has gone away and done well'."

Smith jnr went to Livingston, where he was re-styled from a midfielder to a striker under the watchful eye of youth coaches Graeme Robertson and Paul Connolly. But the deadline to re-sign him was missed. "Their Italian chairman kept phoning the house: 'Gordon, we need you to sign'."

Darren Jackson, the youngster's agent – and a former strike partner of Smith snr's at Meadowbank, was in London, and thus unavailable to seal the deal. However, it sounds as though the Smith camp had not tried very hard to prevent him slipping out of contract, amid financial uncertainty at Livingston. "After missing the deadline he was free to sign for anyone," recalls Smith snr. "He went to Dundee United the next day and they made an offer. But he is a Hearts supporter. And they had been after him for a long time."

Other than the fact he was plastered across newspapers yesterday, Smith is like any teenager. He seems embarrassed by his father's enthusiasm. "I wasn't the best player," he cautions, when Smith snr narrates the story of his release by Hibs. "I was one of the best players." He celebrated Sunday's goal with a Chinese takeaway with his family, and then spent an hour in a pub in Jock's Lodge with friends. Afterwards he met up with his girlfriend Kerry.

He was in demand. Danny Wilson, the Rangers centre-half who was also in action on Sunday afternoon against Celtic, sent him a text to say "well done". His manager, however, tried his best to keep his feet on the ground. "He (Csaba Laszlo] just said I done good," says Smith jnr. "He also said that for the Hibs goal maybe I could have kept possession of the ball better. It was not straight from that when they scored, but about a minute later." Christian Nade also threw away his team-mate's blue boots. "He said they were only good for a goalkeeper," smiles Smith, who is rapidly learning about dressing room banter. That said, he gets a taste of it at home.

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"There's no dirt on it – he didnae do much running about," rags his father, when Smith jnr brings out the very shirt he wore on Sunday. But in reality it is the perfect souvenir for such a divided household – a Hearts top smeared with the hallowed turf of Easter Road.

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