Jonathan Smith reflects on three 'whirlwind' years at Chesterfield as midfielder leaves Spireites
Departing midfielder Jonathan Smith says he ‘loved’ his three ‘whirlwind’ years at Chesterfield and hopes to see the club return to the Football League soon.
The 34-year-old is one of 13 players who have been released at the end of the season.
The experienced Smith did not play for the Spireites from January onwards so he knew the writing was on the wall but there are no hard feelings from his side.
He told the DT: “It is probably the right time for me to move on, to be honest. It has been a whirlwind three years and I wish the club well because although I know it was a real rollercoaster of a three years I really enjoyed playing for Chesterfield I will look back on it with good memories for sure.
“The manager (James Rowe) was good with me, to be fair. I signed at the start of the season under Pembo (John Pemberton) and I took probably a 150 per cent pay cut to carry on but for me I wanted to play for Chesterfield. I see it as a big club and at that point in my career money wasn’t a thing, I wanted to play for a big club, I wanted to get the buzz. Unfortunately Pembo left and then a new manager came in with new ideas so for me it was probably the right time to move on. The manager wanted to do it his way which is fair enough. It was time for me to move away from it. “
He added: “The gaffer (Rowe) gave me the option. He said I wasn’t going to be featuring as much and that I was travelling huge distances on very low wages, it was probably costing me in fuel. He knew I had a family and he gave me the option to spend some time at home towards the end of the season and reflect on where to go from here. He was fine with me, there wasn’t any sort of bad blood or anything. I have spoken to him since and it is all good.
“In three years I don’t think I missed a training session. I think I have had one injury in 17 years. For me coming in training every day would not have been good for me probably mentally if I wasn’t going to be playing or involved. At 34 it was better for me to move away and look at my future and stuff.”
The Spireites’ last pre-season with massively hampered by Covid, they played just three friendlies and Pemberton tested positive for the virus himself.
Just two wins from the first eight games left Chesterfield third bottom of the league and Pemberton offered his resignation.
"I think we all knew we were light on players,” Smith said. “I just thought the club didn’t have any money. I just thought that there must not be any funds to bring in anyone else in. I knew the deal I signed was really low and I could have gone two or three leagues lower and got more money. It just surprised me when the new manager came in and 20 lads come through the door. I was just thinking ‘we needed that at the start’ but I don’t know the ins and outs of the financial situation at the club.
“At the start it felt we could not even get a player, we could not compete with anyone to bring anyone in, there were a lot of players that got recommended, even by myself and by other people but they weren’t affordable so we had what we had.
"The changes that have gone are crazy looking from the outside. To see it change so much is only good for Chesterfield to have such a strong squad like that now.”
When asked if it was a surprise that Pemberton left, Smith, who signed for the club in 2018, added: “A bit yes because in football now you very rarely see a manager resign, it is unheard of. To resign is obviously not just a few results gone wrong. I think it meant so much to him and he was taking it home. I think it was just getting to him and I think it was just better for him and his family to move away from it. But as long as he is happy that is the main thing.
“I enjoyed playing for Pembo and I think the first thing he did was put me in my position because I think under John Sheridan I played right wing-back, right-back, centre-back, left-back, I played all over. Pembo said he wanted to play me central midfield, he said you are going to play box-to-box and you are going to score goals and he just gave me confidence. He is a good guy and a good coach."
Despite finishes of 15th and 20th in Smith’s first two seasons at Chesterfield, the former Luton Town and Swindon Town man will still look back on his time at the club with fondness.
“Chesterfield was a great three years,” he said. “I am disappointed that I won’t be there when they get promoted because I think in the next year or two, hopefully, I think they will do it and I would have liked to have been there. Results-wise it has not been amazing but I have loved playing for Chesterfield. I loved running out in front of the fans at the stadium and I was lucky enough to captain the club on a few occasions which I thoroughly enjoyed.
“I just want to say thank you to the supporters for the last three years. I am just sorry I could not have done more to help the club get promoted but I would love to see Chesterfield back in the Football League soon. I can hand on heart say I have given it absolutely everything.”