When Linlithgow Rose’s Calum Smith put his side ahead on Saturday at home to Broxburn Athletic, not only was it special because he had reached his milestone of 50 goals for the club, but it was his first since the death of his father, Francis.
It was an extremely poignant moment for the 26-year-old, with his mum Wendy watching on, just a month after his ‘biggest fan’ was cruelly taken away aged 72 suffering the lung condition asbestosis.
Francis, a retired painter and decorator, suffered for a year with the chronic disease before he passed away on October 17 – the day before Rose’s match against Carnoustie, which Calum showed immense strength and resilience to take part in. His father had still attended games late in his battle with his condition, desperate to see his son play.
“It was really hard to watch,” said Smith in a moving interview. “He tried to get to as many games as he could even when he wasn’t great. The impact on his whole life for a year, I can’t describe it, it’s just a horrible disease – the deterioration and knowing there is nothing you can do.”
Smith was visibly moved when he found the back of the net at the weekend, lost in a moment which he will treasure forever. He had been waiting since mid-August to reach his half century after his 49th goal in a 5-1 win at Lochee United.
After Roddy MacLennan teed up Gary Thom for a cross into the box from the right wing, Smith rose above his marker to head into the top corner on 34 minutes before running off to celebrate with his arms pointing up to the sky. He was joined by several of his team-mates, who grouped round him, well aware of the significance of the moment.
“There was a lot of emotion when I scored it, I’m not going to lie, because he obviously wasn’t there to see it,” he said.
“It was a proud moment as well as emotional and I’m sure he would’ve been proud as well. He was by far my biggest fan.”
His biggest fan, but also his biggest critic. Francis had told his son from a young age that he needed to score more headers – even more special then given that this was the method of his goal last Saturday.
“It was extra special for me because my dad used to always moan at me saying I needed to score more headers,” said Smith. “I had a laugh with my mum when we got home at night. I said to her ‘Mum, I can’t believe it was a header’, because one thing my dad used to say was that I needed to score more of them. He always said I’m good in the air, but just seemed to lack the goals.”
Francis used to travel all over Scotland to watch his son play. A youth player at Dunfermline from the age of 12, Calum then joined Brechin City and latterly Forfar before moving to Linlithgow four seasons ago.
“He never missed a game home or away since I was 12. Even with Dunfermline and when I was at Brechin and Forfar, it didn’t matter what club I was at, he was there,” said Smith.
It was Linlithgow though, where his dad enjoyed going to watch him play the most.
A club, and whose manager, Danny Smith, which Calum is indebted too, thanks to the support they have shown him through an exceptionally harrowing period in his life.
“He loved Linlithgow and he loved going over there – probably to do with how friendly the club is,” said Smith.
“The club have been unbelievable for me through such a tough time. I can’t even describe how good the manager has been to me. Obviously he’s been a manager for me, but he’s been a friend through it all.
“Sometimes with football club’s that doesn’t happen, but he’s been absolutely brilliant and he even made it to my dad’s funeral which was absolutely fantastic – especially for a part-time club because he has to work as well, so that meant a lot. When managers are like that you want to go out and give them everything on the pitch.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Danny for doing that and the four members of the committee that made it as well. It speaks volumes for the club. The amount of texts I got as well from fans – I don’t even know how people got my number. The whole club have really looked after me.”