In an exclusive interview, former Shrewsbury Town midfielder Ben Smith discusses his ‘underwhelming’ time at the club.
I’ve watched Ben Smith play three times. Once as an 11-year-old whilst he was plying his trade at Hereford United, and the other two occasions came much later in his career at Crawley.
He struck me as a combative midfielder who liked a tackle but was just as useful at the other end of the pitch.
It would have undoubtedly been these attributes that led to Shrewsbury Town signing him in 2004.
Smith arrived with a promising reputation having began his career at Arsenal. The mid 90’s was a successful time for the Gunners whose star-studded squad included Dennis Bergkamp, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, John Hartson, Ian Wright, Paul Merson, Tony Adams, and David Seaman.
It would have been improbable for even the most talented player to break into that first team; but Ben Smith made a decent impression in the youth side scoring four times in 29 appearances.
Either side of a fruitful period at Yeovil which yielded 141 appearances; Smith struggled to cement a place at Reading and Southend.
Following his first spell at Hereford United, Smith moved to Shrewsbury Town, but his two-year stay was not what he had hoped for.
Speaking exclusively to Shropshire Live he said: “I would summarise my time at Shrewsbury as very underwhelming.
“I joined the club with a lot of personal optimism after moving from the Conference to a club that had just been promoted to the Football League.
“I was still recovering from a shoulder injury that reoccurred early into my time at the club. In actual fact my start at the club was quite promising after I scored three goals in the first 10 or 12 games in a team that had a slow start.
“However, I then dislocated my shoulder again in a game against Bournemouth and didn’t start another game that season.
“In the meantime, we had a change of managers as Jimmy Quinn was relieved of his duties, and Gary Peters took over.
“In my second season at the club I found myself in and out of the team, sometimes playing out of position, in a team that played in a very different style to what I was used to.
“In the end there was an inevitable parting of ways in the January transfer window which was in the best interests of everyone. I had a slight regret as I felt that the club only saw fleeting glimpses of what I was capable of.”
As alluded to previously, Smith spent part of his Town career under the stewardship of Gary Peters. The former Fulham defender who was in charge for a mixed four-year spell, once admitted that he only took the reins to manage Joe Hart.
Perhaps understandably his relationship with Peters was fraught to say the least. Smith added: “My relationship with Gary Peters wasn’t particularly great. We tolerated each other when he needed me, but I never really felt he fancied me as a player which is entirely his prerogative.
“To be perfectly honest, we had totally different views on how football should be played. He had been brought up, and had plenty of success, playing the way the old Wimbledon played; and I had been schooled in a totally different way.
“Both Gary and I were the type of people that had strong opinions and were willing to air them. This obviously led to disagreements, and there was only one winner and it certainly wasn’t me!”
Smith left the club in 2006 after making 24 league appearances and scoring four goals – one of which was Shrewsbury’s first back in the Football League.
He joined Weymouth and was part of the side that lifted the Conference South Title. The now 40-year-old re-joined Hereford in 2007, and was the first player that cost The Bulls a transfer fee in ten years.
He helped the Bulls gain promotion to League One – and moved to Crawley in 2009. His highlight at the Red Devils was featuring in the side that lost 1-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2011.
Smith ended his career in non-league with AFC Sudbury, Thurrock, and Maldon & Tiptree. Speaking of non-league football Smith added: “The transition from non-league football to the lower echelons of professional football is not that much of an issue.
“The problem is normally changing the perceptions of people regarding which level they think you are capable of playing.
“The division that you have your breakout season, unless you are clearly above the level that Joe Hart and Dave Edwards were, is normally the standard people associate you with.
“A lot of my best football was played in the Conference or League Two. Once you establish yourself at this level, it is hard to convince people that you have the capabilities to play at a higher level.
“I have always been aware of my strengths and weaknesses, but did feel that I had the ability to play more of my career in League One.”