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Forgotten Black Cats: Tony Smith

A former England U20s international, Tony Smith was a Sunderland-born lad with a bright future. His short time in football was brought to a heart-breaking end due to injury, with his career never even beginning to see its true potential.

It’s a club that is still very close to my heart, and always will be. I had a great time there and I’ve got great memories. It’s the best job in the world, as a youngster leaving school and being in that environment.

When I first started going to see Sunderland myself, Tony was essentially a bit part player who due to his young age and niggling injuries would struggle to dislodge Gary Bennett and Andy Melville from our side under Terry Butcher. However, despite this, he was seen as highly dependable by the Fulwell End - my Dad and his mates always seemingly nodding in agreement whenever he was named amongst the subs, or as was so often the case, he was brought on as a substitute.

His biggest run of games came in our 1990/1991 season, as he chalked up 11 appearances in total at the centre of defence, mostly partnering a man that would come to be a legend at the club, Kevin Ball. Smith showed calmness at the back, whilst being good on the ball and was an old head on incredibly young shoulders. Despite his relatively small stature for a centre back, he was also combative with a great ability to read the game.

An impressive debut season saw him called up to the England under-20 squad. Manager Denis Smith would come to view him as a dependable left back too, as we slipped down a division following relegation from the old Division One.

Sadly, the following season, Smith didn’t feature as much as expected; playing only twice as his namesake Denis struggled to force us back into promotion contention. He was sent on loan to Hartlepool to gain match practice a division below, but despite playing well and impressing at Victoria Park he struggled to break back into the team at Roker ending the season well down the pecking order, as Johnny Byrne fired us to a Wembley FA Cup final. Despite that, the then 21 year old somehow got back into the team under Malcolm Crosby, appearing in 7 games under him.

His career though was effectively abruptly ended that very same season, unluckily just as he had begun to come back to the fore and with mountains of time on his side. A late tackle from Bristol City’s Andy Llewellyn broke his leg pretty severely and he sat out the rest of the season, as well as much of the next. Almost three years after making his debut for his home town club, whether he knew it or not, his career was ended that day.

Niggling injuries seen him make only two more appearance over the next two seasons, with his last appearance as a sub for Peter Reid’s side in 1995 at home to Swindon. He would make one more attempt at resurrecting his career as he made a free transfer move to Northampton Town, to join former Black Cat Ian Sampson, but despite featuring 5 times for them, he knew the injury had finished what could very well have been a fantastic career, even if only in the Second Division. A

Anthony Smith retired at the age of 24 and went straight into coaching, earning his badges, whilst also working as a scout at the club for a short period.

Despite managing Gateshead and Chester-Le-Street, Smith keeps a connection with Sunderland. His brother Dan turned out at left back during Kevin Ball’s short time as caretaker, although he’s probably best known for being the man that effectively ruined the career of Abou Diaby. He is also credited for being the scout that first recommend a young Jordan Henderson to the club, who is of course now Liverpool captain and a fully fledged England international.