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Hendon Green & Gold 33 - Erskine Smart

Greensnet Editor
Mon 13 Jul 2015, 20:19

The subject of this feature is defender Erskine Smart, one of the players who came through the ranks at Claremont Road in the 1980s

Erskine Smart made a couple of appearances for Hendon at Under-18s level, before becoming a regular in the reserve team. In October 1985, manager Gary Hand gave 21-year-old Erskine his first-team debut in the Isthmian League Cup away at Feltham. It was a banana-skin tie against a mid-table Isthmian League Division Two South team at Feltham Arena, a windswept athletics stadium with an Astroturf pitch. Erskine played on the right side of midfield with future Fulham regular Richard Langley behind him. The Greens were struggling near the foot of the table and eventually saw off their hosts 3-1 after extra-time, with Erskine scoring Hendon's first goal thanks to a spectacular long range strike. His League debut followed week later, but there was little to celebrate as Farnborough Town recorded a 5-1 win at Claremont Road.

Langley soon moved on - to Corinthian-Casuals from where he made the step up to the pros - and Erskine, became the regular right-back, and he finished the season making 30 appearances, including in the Middlesex Senior Cup Final victory over Southall at Enfield's Southbury Road ground. He was also at right-back the night Hendon achieved Premier Division safety with a 4-1 last game victory at Slough Town, a night indelibly etched in the memory of every Hendon fan who was at Wexham Park.

Erskine's second goal came in September 1986, in the FA Cup, in very strange circumstances. Banstead Athletic were first-qualifying round visitors to Claremont Road when, midway through the first half, Athletic's centre-half was escorted from the pitch, and - in full kit - taken to a waiting car. He wasn't being arrested, but had just been informed that his house was on fire! With no time to prepare a substitute for action, Banstead were down to 10 men as Hendon took a corner, from which Erskine netted. This was Hendon's longest season (comprising 76 matches), and Erskine made 59 appearances, all but one as a starter. He also collected runners-up medals in both the AC Delco (Isthmian League) and GMAC (Premier Inter-League) Cups, after defeats against Bognor Regis Town and Kettering Town, respectively.

The late 1980s were nothing if not eventful for Hendon FC. In 1987-88, Erskine started all 42 Isthmian League matches. He also played in a number of memorable cup ties that year, including the 4-2 reverse at Elm Park, when Reading won in the FA Cup first round proper. Six and a half months later, Hendon were at Wembley Stadium, playing in the Russell Grant Middlesex Charity Cup Final, against Wembley. Erskine collected his second - and final - winner's medal at Hendon, as the Greens won 2-0 in their last appearance beneath the famous Twin Towers.

Erskine was an old-fashioned full-back in that he was a defender first and foremost, though he was more than able to provide width on the overlap. He had great speed, which meant few wingers were able to get past him, and his time and tackling techniques made him one of the best full-backs in the Isthmian League. Erskine missed only four League matches in 1988-89, a season which started brightly and ended with the club in disarray, especially off the field. The following season saw the Greens slide backwards as key players were allowed to leave, mainly to balance the books. Erskine, being one of the most valuable assets was one of the first to go, leaving at the start of December. He went on to play for Enfield and St Albans, amongst others - and as recently as spring 2014 - was named by many Saints fans in their all-time team.

After more than six years away from Claremont Road Erskine was one of the first of the myriad signings by Neil Price as he desperately tried to keep Hendon in the Premier Division. Erskine's second debut was in a 3–0 home defeat at the hands of Kingstonian, and this second spell, like so many of Price's signings, was brief. Playing now at left-back, instant results were demanded and two draws in five matches was not considered good enough. It says more about Price's panic than anything else that after five games, 31-year-old Erskine was replaced in the No.3 shirt by Michael Gonzague.

After leaving Hendon for a second time, Erskine moved into coaching and worked at Yeading. In 2010, he ran in the London marathon and two of those who sponsored him were long-time Hendon team-mates Dave Root and Colin Tate, the latter posting a message on his Just Giving messageboard "Good luck Skinhead. Pace yourself son, and then crash it up the channel!"

Joined Hendon: 1982 (youth team – signed first-team forms 1985–86); December 1995
Left Hendon: December 1990; January 1996
Appearances: 231 (228 starts, 3 as a substitute). Goals: 3
Medals won: Middlesex Senior Cup: 1985-86, Middlesex Charity Cup 1987-88