Whenever there is a Diaby thing it is always related to me. He could have a migraine and it would be Dan Smith. I think about what might have happened to my career if if were not for that tackle, probably every day.
Dan Smith's lasting memory of his appearances in his boyhood club's red and white stripes were clouded by harsh, and probably unfair, comments from Arsene Wenger.
Smith had came through the ranks at The Stadium of Light, making the left back slot his own at every age group. He made the under 16, 17 and 18 England squads too and, much like his older brother Anthony, he was very well thought of at the club.
Unfortunately for Smith, his big break for Sunderland came during one of the most difficult times in our clubs history, the dreaded 15-point season. Handed his debut by Mick McCarthy in the 1-0 win over Cheltenham Town, Smith managed to be part of a side that kept a clean sheet, but Smith was sent off for two bookable offences. In truth, the second one was a tad unlucky. Impressive reserve appearances and a taste of first team football led the youngster to Huddersfield Town on loan in January of 2006. Performing steadily over the two month period at the McAlpine Stadium, Smith returned to Wearside with fresh impetus to get into the first team. With his mentor Kevin Ball now in caretaker charge, and with the team he supported as a boy going down like a led balloon, Smith was determined to stake a claim for his place in a struggling Sunderland back four.
Despite our struggles there was a glimmer of optimism sweeping in at the club. We had a reason to be buoyant too - Niall Quinn had just submitted a bid to current Chairman Sir Bob Murray to buy the club, and despite a torturous season, the tunnel finally had a chink of light. "Kevin Ball, the caretaker manager, just said 'go on and have a good go at it, let the fans see a young lad coming through the ranks".
Smith eventually started against Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.
Gunner's midfielder Abou Diaby received a pass near the halfway line. Smith, desperate to get into the action, flew into the Frenchman late and snapped his ankle. The Arsenal bench went into hysterics as a man used to a good, honest tackle in Kevin Ball stood beside them wondering quite what the issue was. Little did anyone in the ground know at that time, but the former Gunner would struggle with injuries throughout his career, something which still blights him to this day. Wenger threatened legal action, citing the young lad making his home league debut was nothing but an "assassin", and a player who did want to play the game of football.
As it was, a mentally scared Smith would move on from Sunderland that very summer to Aberdeen's Pittodrie. He later claimed that the outrage from the Londoners had blighted his memories of those games he'd waited a lifetime to play in. "I think it took away the pride of playing for the team I always wanted to play for. In the space of three games it just went down the drain". His career at Aberdeen also subsequently failed to ignite. Although he did make 13 appearances, he was let go 2 years into a 3 year contract. A failed trail at fellow Scottish club St. Johnstone meant he made the journey back to the North East, signing up for Conference team Gateshead's 2008-2009 season.
As it sometimes goes in non-league football, a relatively positive season at the International Stadium still failed to secure a further contract and he moved around the North East's lower leagues for the next few seasons, turning out for Darlington 1883, Seaham Red Star, Blyth Spartans and Dunston before he returned to play under his brother Anthony at Gateshead in 2013. However, he would not make a single appearance during that period and his contract was cancelled by mutual consent to allow a move abroad to Australian side Holland Park Hawks.
During an interview in 2015 Smith, now 30, is still plagued by the words of three time Premier League winner, Wenger. "They were my super-heroes and when Wenger came out and said what he said... it still hurts to be honest. It will never go away. He keeps bringing it up and I just don't understand it. I have had people say to me I wrecked Diaby's career, but it is not the only injury he has had. Anything related to an injury and it was always down to me."