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Cult Heroes: Martin Smith

As I stood waiting for my friend to return from his usual inopportune post match piss break following Sunderland's dismal display this weekend I tried to make sense of what had transpired that afternoon. During those few moments of contemplation it dawned on me that the following day I would not only be nursing a massive hang over, the consequence of drowning my sorrows, but that I also needed to pen this week's Cult Heroes piece.

Call it fate, good fortune or sheer coincidence but at that very moment I happened to glance up at one of the many bars in the concourses of our ground. You know the ones, over priced crap that is served at a snail's pace... I digress, the bar in question was named after an old favourite of mine and also a suggestion from a long time follower of The Roker Report on Twitter, @thedoctor_84, or Gary Soulsby to his friends and family.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I reintroduce you to - Martin Smith.

Martin, in his early days at SAFC, had the footballing career that I, as young fan, dreamed of. Smith was the star of the Sunderland Schoolboys side that adventured their way to the 1990 School FA Trophy final and was on the shopping list of many a great side in English football.

The skilfull 14-year-old midfielder however chose his boyhood side over offers from the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United in the Christmas period of 1988. Smith was just a month short of his nineteenth birthday when he was handed his league debut and in true Roy of the Rovers style he converted a nineteenth minute freekick against Luton Town in front of the hallowed Fulwell End. I can only imagine the rush that a young Smith must have felt when the net rippled that afternoon at Roker in front of the fans that he himself used to be part of.

Smith's undoubted ability earned him a call up to the England under 21's squad in 1994 and despite jeers and abuse from our Magpie friends at St. James, Martin put in an impressive shift in a game against Ireland.

Smith was a breath of fresh air during a period of time that most SAFC fans would care to forget under the tutelage of Mick Buxton. Dubbed the "Son of Pele" by the Sunderland faithful, Martin was expected to be the catalyst for Sunderland's revival as a footballing force.

My personal memories of Martin include his stand out performance in the first ever game I attended, the six goal thrashing of top of the table Millwall in 1995 and his two strikes against Grimsby at the SOL in November of 1998.

Unfortunately for Smith injuries were to ruin his promising career. Martin went from being a key player and a fan favourite in the 1995/96 Championship winning side to a squad player that found first team football very hard to come by.

The end of Smith's Sunderland career can be traced back to a knock he took in November of 1997 at Fratton Park where he was replaced by debutant Nicky Summerbee. The right winger was to capitalise on his chance by wrapping his fluorescent orange right boot around the ball to convert his chance in the 4-1 away win. Nicky went on to star on record breakers with the hardest shot in football, while Smith was released by Sunderland and picked up by Sheffield United.

At least they play in red and white stripes.

Whilst starring for his new club Martin was named in the starting eleven in an FA Cup fourth round tie in 2000. "So what?" you may be asking yourself. Said tie was at St. James, the scene of the infamous U21's match against Ireland. Whilst Sheffield United were on the end of a comprehensive 4-1 demolition at the hands of Sir Bobby's side, it was Wearside's own Smith that notched the only goal of the game for the blades, a goal which tied the game for a short period of time. The Son of Pele again endured constant abuse from the Gallowgate. "Mackem, whats the score, Mackem, Mackem, whats the score?" were the cat calls from the stands. Smith's reply? A simple reminder of the recent Tyne-Wear derby via hand signals.

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