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Cheltenham Town legend Jimmy Smith returns to former club for special day

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 27th July 2022, 12:00

Jimmy Smith married long-time partner Kate last week Jimmy Smith married long-time partner Kate last week

Jimmy Smith went back home last week.

Not to Scotland, the country of his birth and the place where he spent his formative years, but to Cheltenham Town, the football club where he achieved legendary status back in the 1990s.

Jimmy, now 52, married his long-time partner Kate (nee Morgan) on Friday and the wedding reception and evening do was held at the football club where he is still remembered with great fondness by many.

And a quick look at the history books will tell you why he is held in such high regard by supporters of a certain age because he scored 131 goals in 275 starts, helping the club to two promotions, as well as playing a key part in that never-to-be-forgotten day in May 1998 when the club won the FA Trophy at Wembley.

That 1-0 win over Southport – Jimmy went on as a substitute and won the free-kick that his great mate from yesteryear Jason Eaton headed home at the far post – was the obvious highlight of his seven years at the club but there were many, many others after he made the move from Salisbury City, initially on loan, in the spring of 1992.

Cheltenham were just about to lose their place in the top flight of non-league football when Jimmy made his debut, but although the club were on the way down, Jimmy’s career was very much on the way up.

And it was during that loan spell that he scored what he considers to be his best goal for the club.

“We went to Slough on a Wednesday and won 3-1, I scored two,” he told The Local Answer. “The first was a left foot volley, I’ll always remember it. The ball fell out of the sky and I caught it right on the laces.”

That wonder strike helped earn him a £5,000 move to Whaddon Road and while never the biggest forward, Jimmy certainly had an eye for goal.

“I was good technically,” he said. “I could score with both feet. I scored 21 penalties for Cheltenham but of the other goals I’d say 35 per cent were with my left foot. It wasn’t my strongest but I was as comfortable on my left as I was on my right, I never had to cut back and take it on my right.”

It was those attributes that encouraged then Cheltenham manager Lindsay Parsons to sign Jimmy back in the summer of 1992 and it was a relationship that soon flourished.

Jimmy enjoyed playing for Parsons more than any other manager and he said: “You knew where you stood with him, I got on well with him. He was a nice guy but you wouldn’t underestimate him, he was hard as nails.

“He was an ex-pro – he was a left-back – and took no prisoners, but I had a lot of time for him.”

And Parsons clearly had a lot of time for the young Jimmy, so much so that Jimmy, who started his career with Torquay United who were then in the Football League, used to stay over at his home in Bristol in those early days.

“It was when I first started playing for Cheltenham and I was still living in Torquay,” he said. “I stayed at his house when we played away at Barrow and Gateshead. Mind you, it could be a bit awkward if we’d had a bad result!”

Jimmy is easy to interview and loves telling a good story. He lives in Bishop’s Cleeve these days and has worked in Cheltenham for a good number of years, and he still goes to the occasional Cheltenham Town game.

Cheltenham are now a firmly established Football League club, of course, and Jimmy is proud of the role that his generation of players played in the club’s rise.

And there is still a strong link to the 1990s today because Jimmy’s one-time team-mate Russell Milton is part of the current coaching staff.

“Our team kick-started everything," said Jimmy. “When Steve Cotterill took over as manager, he changed the culture away from being a part-time club.

“He wanted to go in a certain direction and things started to go forward very quickly, but he had some good players, he inherited a very good squad.”

He added seasoned professionals such as Clive Walker, Neil Grayson and David Norton in those early years, too, and after guiding the club back to the top level of non-league football, followed by that great day at Wembley, the club won promotion to the Football League at the end of 1998/99 campaign.

The aforementioned Walker, who played close on 200 games for Chelsea, was one of two players that Jimmy picks out when asked to name the best player he played alongside at the club.

“He’s the obvious one,” Jimmy said. “To see him in training, his left foot was like a wand. I think he was 39 when we signed him, his first touch was second to none.”

And the other player?

“Archie Howells,” he said. “He should have played at a much higher level. I’m not saying Premier League but he should have played 200 games in League One.

“He was athletic, hardworking, he could score goals, he created goals, he was a top midfielder.

“He was dedicated, he was skilful but solid, when he was in his prime he was a great player.”

Howells, who played more than 360 games for the club, was a key player in Cheltenham’s success in the 1990s and also in helping to establish them in the Football League.

That 1998/99 campaign was Jimmy’s final season at Cheltenham – he moved just down the road to Gloucester City – and while he hung up his boots some 20 years ago, he has no doubts that he would have been successful in today’s game.

“When I played we didn’t have diets, there wasn’t the physiotherapy there is today,” he said. “We trained twice a week, we ate what we wanted and we drank what we wanted.

“I would have held my own today.”

And his record certainly suggests he’s right about that.

“I scored goals but that was what I was paid to do,” he said. “I remember when we went to Bashley, we were 2-0 down but I came on as a substitute at half-time, scored a hat-trick and we won 3-2.

“The Southern League was a hard league, players got paid decent money.”

Jimmy was worth every penny, of course, and he has many happy memories of his time at Cheltenham Town. It was certainly fitting that last week he celebrated another very special day at the club, a club where he enjoyed the best days of his football career.

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