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Jamie Smith: Five happy years in Denver and never a crossword . . .

WHEN Jamie Smith lived in Scotland there was part of The Herald he wanted to see every day.

Smith made 72 appearances for Celtic. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Smith made 72 appearances for Celtic. Picture: Stewart Attwood

Sorry to relay, it wasn't the football coverage. "I?¯loved the Herald crossword," he says, over a transatlantic phone line covering the 4400 miles between Glasgow and Denver. "The cryptic crossword." With those eight words Smith shimmied away from the vast majority of his former football colleagues, who would not tend to use the blanks on a crossword unless they were trying to scribble a faulty pen back into life.

They are his former football colleagues because Smith - always a neat, intelligent, skilled midfielder with Celtic and Aberdeen - retired at the end of last year. He had only just turned 33. His career wound down in a hugely rewarding spell with Colorado Rapids and it is there that the next stage of his football life begins this weekend. Smith is now in charge of the club's under-18s Academy and his first game is against Colorado Rush tomorrow.

Most players would think 33 no age to retire. Smith suffered cruciate ligament damage in 2011 and in truth he never fully recovered. In the second half of last year he felt his playing days were coming to an end, but just as he was beginning to contemplate what might happen next Rapids delighted him by offering a coaching job. Suddenly he still had future in the city which has become home.

"I?¯feel really settled here now. Me and my family have been here for nearly five years. Colorado is such a nice place, we live just outside Denver right at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. We are pretty central to most places in the States.

"We all have green cards and the kids are at school. Mind you the weather isn't too good right now, it's about minus 10 and snowing."

As he effectively starts as a manager tomorrow there is a chorus line of coaching voices in his head, all the names he worked with in a career which earned him a full set of domestic honours with Celtic, plus a Uefa Cup runners-up medal as an unused substitute in Seville. There were a couple of Scotland caps, too.

Tommy Burns coached him in the Parkhead system and then Martin O'Neill played him around 70 times. Celtic's strength at the time persuaded him to leave for regular football in Holland and a campaign with Den Haag in 2004. Jimmy Calderwood brought him back to Scotland for Aberdeen and four seasons at Pittodrie yielded the most consistent football of his career.

He scored 18 times in 102 games. On a heady night in December, 2007, he scored twice in a 4-0 rout of FC Copenhagen to take Aberdeen into the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

In 2009 he moved to Major League Soccer with Colorado and scored when they beat FC Dallas to win the 2010 MLS Cup in front of nearly 22,000 fans in Toledo. On the Rapids' website he described that MLS Cup triumph as the highlight of his career. Was it really? "It's a tough question when someone puts that to you. Some of the times I?¯had at Celtic and Aberdeen were equally as good. It depends who's asking the question, I?¯have to be sympathetic to the audience!

"That Aberdeen game against Copenhagen, from a personal playing standpoint, was one of the best I've played in, one of my best experiences as a player. Being at Celtic was the same. I?¯had a few great experiences there. At Celtic we had such a strong group of players it was really difficult to break into that team. Going to Holland was a great stepping stone for me because that was the first time I?¯really experienced consistent, week in, week out, competitive first team football. That gave me a better grounding for going to Aberdeen.

"I?¯loved playing up there, really loved it. When I?¯had to leave Aberdeen at the time it was really sad. The lack of a trophy hung over the club and it hung over the city. You could definitely tell that the fans were wanting something. They were deserving of something so I'm delighted that they're in the League Cup final and they have an opportunity to take the trophy back to the north-east."

Did he feel fulfilled? "I don't want to look back and say 'I?¯wish I?¯could have done more' but as a player you always wish you could have done better. I?¯look back on the game against Copenhagen and I?¯think I?¯could have scored a hat trick. Maybe that answers the question . . ."

Every weekend Smith goes online to check how Celtic, Den Haag and Aberdeen have got on. He knows all about Celtic's unbeaten run and clean-sheet record, and all about Aberdeen's renaissance under Derek McInnes. "Players like Ryan Jack and Peter Pawlett were just 16-year-old kids when I?¯was there. Very, very talented young players. They are doing the right things at Aberdeen, that's for certain."

Smith thought it a huge vote of confidence when Rapids offered him their Academy job, but his experience and intelligence had impressed them ever since he arrived in 2009. "It came a little bit sooner than I?¯expected but at the same time I?¯had to be sensible about it and think 'okay, in a year from now this option might not be available'."

In coaching, as in playing, Smith knows how to take any chance which comes his way.

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