WHEN it comes to transfer deadline day, new Barnsley signing Michael Smith has quickly learned to expect the unexpected.
But even accounting for some hectic beat-the-deadline moves previously in his career, Tuesday’s developments topped the lot on a slightly surreal day.
All is well that ends well, with the lanky Swindon Town frontman, a Reds target for some time, signing on at Oakwell on loan until January 4, with a view to a permanent deal.
But as days go, Tuesday will be one that the 6ft 4in Geordie will remember – and recount – for a good while.
By the afternoon, Smith had no inclination that a move north was in the offing and boarded the team coach at Swindon for the short trip over the Severn Bridge to Newport where the Robins were in Johnstone’s Paint Trophy action that night – expecting to play for the visitors.
Just before the coach reached a hotel on the outskirts of Newport ahead of the game, Smith got wind that Swindon had given the green light for him to move to Barnsley, but with no time or transport for him to head to Yorkshire before the 6pm deadline.
Instead, the relevant forms were faxed between clubs to the hotel which Smith was at before the move was sanctioned – with the 23-year-old spending the evening watching Swindon’s game at Newport – amid much confusion from the Town fans present at Rodney Parade.
Smith could not even share the news with his family either.
Recounting the story, Smith said: “I was on the team coach and ready to play for Swindon when I got a phone call off my agent at about 20 past four saying: ‘You are going on loan to Barnsley.’
“I was just about to go and eat my pre-match meal. But I got a phone call off him and then spoke to him in the hotel. I was chuffed (with the move).
“But it was bizarre as I couldn’t get back from Newport, so I had to go to the game in my Swindon tracksuit and the coach couldn’t get down to the changing rooms and had to park quite a bit away.
“So I had to walk past all of the Swindon fans after it had just been announced. It was quite a surreal experience, but I am glad to be here.
“There were more looks of confusion from Swindon supporters than anything else and I can understand where they were coming from as I was in the same position as them.
“I couldn’t get hold of my family, who were away in Turkey on holiday, either. I didn’t have anyone to speak to.
“But I eventually got hold of my dad and just told him I am playing at Barnsley now.”
On one of the strangest days of his career, he added: “It was definitely up there. My move to Swindon was on the last day of the January transfer window and my move to Charlton was on the last day about four years ago. I am used to moving late now!
“If I had got the call another hour earlier, I wouldn’t have even been on the team coach.”
After a start to the season which has been far from easy, Smith is seeking to pen a new chapter at Barnsley, in the hope of securing a permanent move to Oakwell.
The Wallsend-born striker, an integral part of the Robins’ side who wowed many with their exhilarating brand of football en route to the League One play-off final last season, had made no secret of his desire to move back closer to his north-east roots all summer.
Persistence paid off, with Smith, lined up by former Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough ahead of his sacking in late May, now back in the north and keen to put a testing first month of the campaign behind him.
The former Darlington target man, who has also been suffering from severe blisters sustained in pre-season, added: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Swindon. It’s been a great club for me. But in the back of my mind, I always wanted to come a bit further back up north.
“It wasn’t the be-all and end-all, but something I did want to do.
“I am quite pleased the move has come off.
“The league was quite a northern league last season, so the family got to a few away games. But they will definitely be able to get to a few more this year.”
Smith may resemble a big old-fashioned target man, but appearances can sometimes be deceptive.
Alongside his physical attributes, the strapping forward also showed his technical proficiency in a side who espoused pure footballing traits in Swindon – and they should serve him well at Barnsley, with Lee Johnson a proponent of high-energy, quick-passing football.
Smith and his new manager have already hit it off on the right note and the forward feels he is with the right manager to get even more out of his game.
Smith – eyeing his Reds debut in this afternoon’s home game with Shrewsbury Town – added: “I met with the manager a few weeks ago and he was straight with me. He did not paint miracles or anything about how I can improve my game.
“He went straight in on us, which I quite like and we were sitting down watching clips and he was telling me how I need to improve and not what I was good at, which I liked.
“He thinks he can take me to the next level, which is what you want to hear. I’m only 23 and want to get better and, hopefully, can do that with the gaffer.
“I am going to grab the opportunity with both hands and have got four months to show what I can do. If anything comes of it, I will be over the moon.”
Smith, ineligible for the Reds’ meeting with parent club Swindon next week, has been clearly impressed by what he has seen and heard about his new side this season.
The Reds’ recent televised cup showing against Everton represented the perfect glowing endorsement, with Smith looking forward particularly to linking up with Sam Winnall – with the new signing revealing a preference for playing with a striking partner rather than up front on his own.
He said: “I watched the Everton game on TV and was really impressed with Sam and all the other lads when they played against the big boys in the Premier League. I am looking forward to playing up front with him (Winnall).”