The 2018/19 season was one of huge frustration for Harrogate Town’s new left-back George Smith.
Not much went right for the 22-year-old as a series of managerial comings and goings conspired to dash his quite reasonable hopes of playing regular football.
At his lowest point, he even found himself, for a time, unwelcome at the training ground of his then-employer Chesterfield, and was forced to train alone.
Yet, with all that now firmly behind him, Smith is determined to embrace a new beginning at Wetherby Road and insists that the coming campaign is “a big one” for him personally.
“Last season was really frustrating and so it was massively important that I made the right move this summer,” Smith said.
“I was adamant that I wanted to stay in this league. I know how good I am and I know my own worth.
“I need to make up for last year and coming to Harrogate Town is perfect for me. It’s been a breath of fresh air.
“It’s gone really well so far. I feel like I’m one of the lads already and the fans seem to have taken a liking to me.
“I’m looking forward to the start of the season, it’s going to be a big one for me.”
Smith began his career with hometown club Barnsley, progressing through the Tykes’ academy before making his Football League debut as an 18-year-old on Boxing Day 2014.
He went on to make 36 more appearances in England’s third tier prior to a switch to Gateshead, then of the National League, where an impressive year at the International Stadium earned him a return to League One with Northampton Town in the summer of 2017.
The ill-fated transfer to Chesterfield was completed on January 31, 2018, Jack Lester paying an undisclosed fee to secure Smith’s services as he overhauled his squad in a bid to preserve the Spireites’ League status.
Lester was unable to save the club from dropping out of League Two, however, and his departure from the managerial hot-seat led to the arrival of Martin Allen and the beginning of the end for Smith.
“The manager who brought me to Chesterfield left so Martin Allen came in and I thought that he’d taken a decent liking to me," Smith added.
“I played a few games at the start of 2018/19 and thought I did okay. Then, after we lost 3-2 at Barrow in August having been 2-1 up he turned around and told the majority of the squad who were left from the previous season that we could leave if we wanted to.
“From there I went out on loan to Dover where I felt I was playing well, though the team weren’t getting results. The manager got sacked and Andy Hessenthaler got the job.
“I’d played every game prior to his arrival but straight away he said he wanted to bring in his own players and told me he’d be sending all the loan players back to their clubs.
“It was frustrating because he just turned around and said that I won’t even get the chance to show him what I can do.”
His departure from Dover saw Smith return to Chesterfield, where things were about to get even worse.
“Between myself and my agent we contacted Martin Allen, his goalkeeping coach and the chief executive about me coming back to train with the club," Smith said.
“Eventually the chief executive told my agent that they didn’t want me to come in because they had a harmonious group.
“I couldn’t have played because my loan with Dover hadn’t been cancelled, but I wanted to go and train because I thought it was the right thing to do.
“Instead I was told to stay away so I stopped at home, went to the gym on my own and did some running to keep myself as fit as I could.
“I felt a bit isolated, but at the same time I was still in touch with all the lads at the club, so it wasn’t too bad, but not a nice situation to be in.
“That was in early November and then in mid-December Martin Allen rang me and asked what I’d been doing.
“I said I’d been training on my own because he wouldn’t have me at the club.
“He denied ever having said that I couldn’t train and so I went back, but he then got sacked and Shez [Jon Sheridan] took over.
“I tried my best in training to impress him, but he told me that there were two left-backs in front of me.
“It was tough because I was just never given the opportunity to change anyone’s perception of me. If I’d had that chance I think things would have worked out differently.
“I don’t hold any grudges though. That’s just football. Each manager is entitled to pick whoever they want.”
Smith ended last term on loan with Boston United in National League North and admits he was just happy to be playing football once again.
“I didn’t mind going out on loan. I just wanted to play. It’s my job, I’d go to the other end of the country to play – as was the case when I went to Dover earlier in the season,” he continued.
“Obviously, Harrogate is much closer to home, however, and that’s a big plus.
“I think that I’m now in the right place to try and kick on and get back to enjoying my football."
Smith made a positive start to life in a yellow and black shirt, producing a man-of-the-match performance on his debut against Knaresborough Town and says that Town fans can expect plenty more of the same.
"I thought that there might have been a few cobwebs that I needed to blow away against Knaresborough, but I actually feel my debut went pretty well," he continued.
"It was good to hit the ground running after how last year went. I'm an attacking full-back and I'll always look to get forwards and provide some width.
"With a player like Joe Leesley on the left wing, it's easy to do that. I'll always make the run on the outside where I can and give him an option.
"We managed to link up nicely down the left to create a goal in the first half and hopefully there is plenty more of that to come."