Darren Smith revealed he couldn’t turn down the offer of a return to the Super League and a reunion with former Musselburgh Athletic manager Stevie McLeish when the opportunity arose this week.
Veteran midfielder Smith signed on at Newtongrange Star on Tuesday night, just days after quitting his management role with Premier League Tranent Juniors – a sudden and shock exit last week with he and co-manager Kenny Rafferty having led the club to a sensational cup double last season.
The 37-year-old sighted non-footballing reasons for their departure, and hasn’t ruled out a return to management with Rafferty in the future, but can’t wait to get started with Newtongrange, expressing his surprise at the amount of interest shown in his services considering the stage of his career.
“It was quite sudden and it wasn’t something that we wanted to do, but non-footballing reasons made us feel like we had to make the decision as certain things couldn’t go on any longer,” said Smith.
“The club is in a good position from last year in terms of winning the two trophies. Don’t get me wrong, we never done great this year in the league, we understand that, but we were still sitting in eighth when we left and there was no panic.
“Expectations rose this year because of what we achieved last year, that’s football. There’s a good group of boys at the club and they have a lot of hard working people, so hopefully they can get someone in pretty quickly to steady the ship. Hopefully they can get someone in and progress forward.
“Me and Kenny felt like it wasn’t working, but it wasn’t anything to do with the players. Everyone thought we jumped ship because we got beat in the Scottish but it was nothing to do with that, it was just behind the scenes politics and things like that. Myself and Kenny thought for the benefit of ourselves and for the club, that it was best to part ways on good terms rather than things turning nasty.
“Let’s be honest, it’s never going to happen for a Premier League team to win the double. The stock rose and expectation rose because of what we done and everyone put us in as title favourites. That was all pie in the sky; myself and Kenny never once thought we were title favourites – we thought we had a good squad.
“The club is in the good place; the committee have worked hard in terms of the park and the surrounding areas – the place looks really good, so I think it will be an attractive job for somebody to go and take and continue the progress forward.”
Newtongrange hope to take to the field at the third time of asking for their scheduled Scottish Junior Cup third-round tie at home to Cumbernauld United tomorrow, with their New Victoria Park pitch having been deemed unplayable the previous two weeks.
Smith won’t be involved as he’s cup tied, but he’s delighted to have made the move and link up with McLeish who he reached the Junior Cup final under in 2015.
Smith added: “Since last week when it was announced that I was leaving Tranent, I had a few offers but I had to wait for my release to go through. Looking at it, having worked with Stevie before it was a decent fit and to be fair it was a chance to go into, no disrespect, a better league in the Super League.
“I’d be lucky if I have 18 months of playing time left in me, so I thought I’d try and challenge myself for the final time.
“I got a few calls from teams in our league and the Super League as well, which was quite surprising at my age. I spoke to a few people and all the teams I spoke to were upfront with me and I was upfront with them. After thinking about it, Nitten was the best move for me.
“We did well at Musselburgh and got to the final of the Scottish. There’s a few experienced boys up there: the captain Brian Murray and big Keiron Renton as well, but there’s also a lot of quality, young good players as well. I’m under no illusions I won’t be playing every week, but I can go in there and try and help the young boys. Hopefully I can go in and make a wee difference to them.”