Sheffield Wednesday v Newcastle: Michael Smith aims to upset his hero and a big Magpies mate

ALMOST exactly 12 months to the day, a north-east born forward who grew up idolising Alan Shearer scored the fateful goal which enabled a League One side to stun Newcastle United in one of the shocks of the third-round weekend.

Should Michael Smith emulate that feat on Saturday evening, the story will be even more beguiling.

On January 8 last year. Middlesbrough lad Joe Ironside scored the only goal of the game at St James' Park as Cambridge United briefly became the talk of football.

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Sheffield Wednesday striker Smith's twang is pure Tyneside as opposed to Teesside. He hails from Wallsend, where the once towering cranes of the Swan Hunter shipyards used to dominate the skyline alongside the Tyne Bridge and, of course, St James's.

Michael Smith.Michael Smith.
Michael Smith.

If you are born by the Tyne, then the blood coursing through your veins is black and white.

For Smith, who turned 31 in October, Newcastle will always be his team. But they won't be this evening, regardless of the fact that a group of 20-odd mates will be among the 4,500 contingent in the West Stand.

It has certainly not been a bad first week of 2023 on the sporting front if your name is Michael Smith.

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St Helens darts player Smith, aka ‘Bully Boy’, lifted the WDC title after a memorable final. Now a quietly-spoken Geordie is eyeing an encore.

Just don't expect a Shearer-type celebration if he scores the winner.

Smith, who famously raced away with one arm aloft when he once scored in front of Sunderland fans for old club Rotherham United, said: "I don't think I'd be allowed back in the city if I did a Shearer celebration. But I will definitely go mad, more than if a deflected one came off me like in the last game."

The Cup is all the better for individual stories like Smith's.

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His mates might not be outwardly rooting for him, but his wife's family certainly will be. They are Sunderland supporters. Smith will never be one of those.

"He continued: "Inside, I am still the lad inside who used to go to the Newcastle training ground and stand on my bike and watch the players train.

“I still have that in me about Newcastle United. I think I will always have that, it’s just the way I have been brought up. My dad and brother are Newcastle daft. They will always be a part of my life.

"I had all the shirts and things like that. It is just a fishbowl up there, a one-club city. If you follow football, you follow Newcastle. The city is besotted with the club so you are black and white or don't follow football.

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"My favourite memory is probably the 4-4 game with Arsenal. I remember watching the FA Cup final in 99, but managed to get a ticket for that Arsenal game when (Cheick) Tiote scored that equaliser. Because I rarely got to games, I stayed and my mates were all scrambling to get back in when it got to 4-3.”

His hero is likely to be present on media duty tonight, although he’ll probably not be wishing to see much ‘magic of the cup’ on show.

Smith has a signed Shearer shirt on show at his home, with Rotherham fans clubbing together last year to raise the cash to buy one in a gesture of his Millers contribution, with a £2,200 surplus donated to charity.

Smith added: "I remember watching videos of the 'Great Entertainers' team and when Shearer signed, it was a massive moment for the club and kick-started my love of football. He was always who everyone in the street was shouting for when they scored.

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“The city loves the ‘number nines’, the people who score the goals are the cult heroes and Shearer being from the area was also massive."

In Smith's shoes, you might expect a draw to be his dream result as opposed to a victory. It would enable him to potentially step out at St James for a replay later this month.

With his Wednesday head firmly on, his answer on that count is eminently sensible. Even if it's not the one his heart would chose.

He said: "You'd like to think it would be. I'd be lying if it hadn't crossed my mind.

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"But we've got a massive second half of the league campaign coming up now and we have to concentrate on that.

"We want to try and win the game and hopefully not get another game added to the hectic schedule we've got coming up as we have got massive games in the league."

For Smith, his links with Newcastle extend beyond boyhood affiliation and birthplace tonight.

Someone he knows well in Dan Burn, who used to stack trolleys at ASDA before starting his professional journey at Darlington, like Smith, could well be marking him.

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Smith added: "I think that would just top it off, he's a humble lad and still the same lad who came into the Darlington youth team with me.

"He was pushing trollies in Asda car park before he got a trial at Darlington.

“Just to see his rise, it couldn't have happened to a nicer lad. He's worked his socks off for it.

"He's someone I have a lot of time for. We managed to get on holiday together when we were in the youth team.

"The troubles at Darlington meant that me and Dan had our opportunities quicker than we would have expected.”

Smith and Burn have come a long way since.