After the cold shock of leaving Riccarton for the final time, David Smith is warming to life at Falkirk.
Hearts, the club he joined aged ten, deemed him surplus to requirements but a quickfire move up the M9 has uncovered an ideal platform to relaunch his career. Smith needs to play regularly, Hearts couldn’t offer him first-choice status, Falkirk can.
The winger harbours no grudge after a sudden and unexpected exit from Hearts. An option to extend his contract by 12 months was invoked in May by the club’s director of football Craig Levein and head coach Robbie Neilson. It was somewhat surprising, then, when Neilson informed Smith two weeks ago that he was free to leave if he found another club.
Reasons for the decision were two-fold. He wouldn’t command a starting place and the substitutes’ bench was the best he could hope for. Furthermore, after another few appearances, he would have been due increased terms as part of his contract. Being told you aren’t wanted is hard for any player to take, although Smith was not alone. Scott Robinson was also told he could leave but the midfielder opted to stay put and fight for first-team football.
Smith prioritised the need for regular game time and asked his agent to find a club who could facilitate it. A two-year contract at Falkirk helped ease the dejection of leaving Hearts. “Robbie pulled me in and basically told me my situation at the club,” explained Smith, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“He said I wouldn’t really be playing this year so I could find a club and he wouldn’t stand in my way. I appreciated him telling me straight. I spoke to my agent and Falkirk seemed keen. Right away I thought it was a good club to go to. I had to sort stuff out with Hearts so they could release me from my contract and let me join Falkirk.
“Hearts did take the option up in my contract [in May] but there were certain things in my contract and that’s maybe part of the reason I was told I could leave. It was just after another number of appearances or whatever, but I don’t really want to talk about that. I wasn’t surprised because at the start of the season I wasn’t playing. I’m happy to go and play first-team football at Falkirk.
“It was disappointing leaving Hearts. They’re a massive club and it was a pleasure to play for them. I’ve got a lot of good pals there. I’ve been with Hearts since I was ten. It was brilliant to play last year in games like the Edinburgh derby and scoring against Hibs was a dream. My time is up there now so it’s time to move on.”
Several Premiership clubs in Scotland cupped their ears as news of Smith’s availability spread during the final days of the summer transfer window. Falkirk made a concrete offer and a concerted effort to persuade the 21-year-old that his future lay with them in the Championship.
“My agent spoke to some Premiership clubs and a few of them got back to him and kind of hummed and hawed,” continued Smith. “Falkirk came up and they seemed keen. I’m looking at it and thinking, ‘do I play in the Premiership or Championship?’. The Championship is arguably better this year. You’ll find crowds in the Championship are just as good as the Premiership, so I wasn’t disappointed I didn’t get a club in the top flight.”
In particular, the Falkirk manager Peter Houston went to great lengths to make Smith feel like a vital part of his plans. The recent departure of Conor McGrandles to Norwich City left a gap in the attacking area of the team. Signing Smith would go some way towards filling that void.
“Peter spoke to me and said he was very keen to have me. He said he’d been aware of me and he knows I played for Scotland at different age levels. He said he watched me last year so right away I knew he liked me. He said he would give me chances to play so I’m looking forward to that.”
Smith had existed as a bit-part player at Hearts for more than two years since breaking into the first-team squad. Despite some impressive performances, such as the aforementioned derby, he had not nailed down a regular place in the side. It remains the only regret from his time in Edinburgh.
“Last year, I was in and out of the team. Then I got injured and I got a wee bit of a run after that. You want to play as much as you can so there’s maybe a wee bit of disappointment there,” he said. “On the whole, I would say I enjoyed my time at Hearts. I was five years as a full-time player and I’ve only got good memories. I’d like to thank all the coaches I worked under for helping me.”
He now must deal with the unique sensation of playing against Hearts when they visit the Falkirk Stadium on league business on November 15.
“It will definitely be a strange one having been at Hearts so long and with all my friends there. It will be weird but it’s a game I’m looking forward to.”
Looking beyond that, Smith believes he has joined a club with genuine promotion potential in the future. “Falkirk came third in the Championship last year and then lost to Hamilton in the play-offs. Rangers, Hearts and Hibs started as the favourites for the league this year but we’ll still hopefully be up there.
“If it’s not going to be this year, then hopefully next year we can get promotion.”