Eastbourne Borough fans will honour one of the club’s all-time greats tonight.
Matt Smart was a key figure in Borough’s remarkable rise to the elite division of non-league football.
He was one of a number of stalwarts who were constant figures in the club’s path from County League to Conference premier before staying there for three seasons.
Smart played 461 games for the club after joining from Horsham in 2001.
He was released by manager Tommy Widdrington in May 2012 and now, aged 38, has decided to retire after helping Leatherhead to promotion from Ryman south last season.
Tonight Leatherhead will host Eastbourne Borough in a testimonial for the all-action midfielder and Widdrington has urged the club’s fans to make the journey from Sussex for the game.
Smart insists he has nothing but good memories from his time at Priory Lane.
Among them are scoring the non-league goal of the season at Fleetwood in February 2011 and going in goal for an hour as nine-man Borough held Darlington to a draw in front of 1,464 at Priory Lane in September 2010, not to mention the promotion campaigns, the FA Cup runs and the achievement of a part-time club mixing it with the best in Conference premier for three seasons.
But the player says the friendships he made with team-mates, management and fans are just as special.
Smart told The Argus: “Every season was special whether it was fighting for promotion or maybe the odd relegation battle. There was always something to play for.
“There were some great guys there and some great mates I will stay in touch with forever.
“The club is a massive part of my life and I will never forget what happened there.
“I remember Garry (Wilson) and Nick (Greenwood) sitting me down when I joined and saying the club had a ten-year plan to get into the Conference – and we did it in seven years. There was a proper plan, everyone was ambitious and it rubbed off. I was hungry for success, the players with me were hungry for success, we all gelled and worked really well. It was a good formula.
“I wouldn’t say I was certain we would achieve what we did but I had a good feeling when I went there which was proved right.”
One of two moments stand out particularly for Smart.
He recalls: “Scoring the non-league goal of the season away to Fleetwood when we won 1-0 was a special moment for me personally. Also scoring against Wrexham at home when we won 1-0.
“Then there was the Darlington game when we went down to nine men, I went in goal and got man-of-the-match. There were 1,400 people there but it felt like you were playing in front of 15,000 because the crowd were so pumped up. We were pumped up because we had a few refereeing decisions go against us early on in the game and it became one of those backs-to-the-wall games where everyone was incredible.
“That epitomised the never-say-die attitude we all had.”
Smart, who runs his own business as a personal trainer, believes the time is right to stop playing – although he admits it will be strange not to be playing on a Saturday afternoon.
He said: “I have had a few teams try to talk me out of it but I need to try to give retirement a go. If I’m kicking walls on a Saturday I know I will have maintained my fitness and I would probably be able to get back and play again.
“My work commitments came into it and I wanted to call it a day when I was on a high, getting Leatherhead promotion last season. I felt it was the right time.”
Smart will enjoy his moment in the spotlight tonight and is grateful to both Leatherhead and Eastbourne Borough for putting on the game.
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