Barry Smith lived the dream; not just his dream but the dream of all the members of his family.

It was the dream of pulling on the famous green and white hooped jersey of Celtic.

Smith may have only turned out for the club 22 times between 1991 and 1995 but it's 22 times more than some mere mortals. As such, nobody can take it away from him.

"I always feel fortunate,” Smith told The Celtic Way. β€œI grew up and all my family members supported Celtic, I was living their dream.

β€œBeing able to play with the team that so many fans would love to play for is an amazing feeling. I've done that and you do feel fortunate, especially when you've got a lot of people that are fans and you know how much it means to them. I always felt like that when given the opportunity to play for Celtic. It's hard to explain what it feels like when you pull on the hoops.

"Running out in front of all those supporters is an unbelievable experience. I'm probably not as well-known as a Celtic player because I didn't play that much for the club but occasionally when you do bump into guys that know their football they appreciate that and they know you've played for them and they're interested in you and where your career has gone.

"I think there's always an allegiance there with players who have played with Celtic as fans are always interested in where you have been and what you are up to now kind of thing.

"That is a key strength of the Celtic fans. The majority of the supporters always want the players who have left the club to succeed and do well, especially the younger ones that maybe don't make it and they've done really well elsewhere."


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If there is an affection for Smith among Celtic aficionados it is probably because he was the definition of homegrown talent: anΒ academy boy who climbed up the ranks to graduate into the first team.

Although for Smith there was quite literally a gravitational pull towards the hallowed ground which saw him having to make a straight choice between academia and football.

"I played for Celtic Boys Club but only the under-16s,” said Smith, who hails from Paisley. β€œI played with Barrhead Boys Club from under 12s and then I went to Celtic for that under-16 season. We won both the league and the Scottish Cup.

"But I also stayed on at school so I didn't do a football apprenticeship, the YTS-type thing. I got four Highers and, strangely enough, I had been accepted to do physics at Strathclyde University. I was seriously contemplating doing that when I got offered full-time terms at Celtic.

β€œIt wasn't really a choice – when you get offered full-time forms at Celtic I think the only choice is to go full-time with Celtic. It was a busy time as I was playing with the school team on a Saturday morning, playing with Giffnock North on a Saturday afternoon and then playing with Celtic in the West Reserve League on a Monday.

β€œIf I'm being honest, that's where I learned to play football through having games all the time. I think you learn the most from playing; you can get coached but it’s when you are actually in that matchday environment that you take in the most.

"Reserve league football was brilliant. You geared your week up for the Saturday game. If a first-team player had to drop out through injury then you had done the exact same matchday preparation as the first team.

"We also played the same corresponding reserve league fixtures so if Celtic were playing Dundee United away then the Celtic reserves were playing Dundee United at home, that's how the league worked and that was important as well.

β€œIt was great and, during that era, there were only two substitutes allowed so the first team squad players that weren't involved came and played with the reserves. That was an experience in itself."

While Smith played at a time in the 1990s when Rangers emerged as the dominant force in Scotland, he still got to play reserve team football with some stellar names from Hoops teams of the past.

He became tight with the likes of Charlie Nicholas, Tommy Coyne, Gary Gillespie and Tony Mowbray. The latter became a mentor to Smith when he later cut his teeth in management at Dundee and Alloa Athletic.

The now 49-year-old said: "These guys were top professionals, they were just great with me. They taught me so much about the game and how to conduct my lifestyle off the park.

"I was fortunate with Tony Mowbray, he was brilliant for me. Absolutely brilliant. I learned so much about football by just playing next to him but he was also a wonderful human being. Gary Gillespie was the same. Everybody sees a big, aggressive centre-back when it comes to Tony but he was nothing like that off the park. He was just a genuinely nice guy who, even in my coaching career, couldn't have been more helpful.

"He's a top guy. These guys would talk you through a game, they helped you and that was a big benefit from playing in the reserve league – you were playing against senior pros but you were also playing with senior pros and that helped you in your career.

Celtic Way:

"A guy like Charlie Nicholas looked out for me and a few of the others like Brian McLaughlin and Simon Donnelly. Charlie could quite easily have been in the reserves and not tried but that just wasn't him. When he wasn't playing with the first team he genuinely wanted to help the younger ones.

β€œCharlie took on that father figure and role model mantle for me at Celtic. I'm sure Simon, Chris Hay, Dugald McCarrison and Gerry Britton all benefitted from senior pros like him when they were at the club too. He didn't mess about in the reserves.

β€œDon't get me wrong, it's tough when you're a senior pro and you're having to play with the reserves. Some embrace it, others don't. But guys like Tony and Charlie did and it's a credit to those guys that they did that for us."

It was Liam Brady who handed Smith his debut in a 4-3 defeat against Falkirk at Brockville in 1991. Smith still remembers that he harboured serious imposter syndrome issues after being thrust into a Celtic first senior team that sported seasoned campaigners such as Paul McStay, John Collins and Peter Grant.

β€œI wasn't the most confident player as a kid,” the former defender said. β€œI was looking at these guys and I was thinking β€˜why am I here?’ That's the truth.

β€œThere's Paul McStay a Scotland international who, for me, was the best midfielder in the country at the time. There's Peter Grant, who is an absolute gem of a guy, and there is John Collins in that midfield with them.

β€œJohn was the definition of a true professional. I'm not saying others weren't but everybody knows how John looked after his body. We also had players like Dariusz Dziekanowski, who had unbelievable talent and was just an incredible footballer.


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"So I wasn't the most confident player at Celtic and, looking at these guys, I did think that I didn't fit in. These guys were top-level players and maybe that hindered me a little bit – but that's football and that's life.”

Going slightly off-piste, Smith recalls a brilliant dressing room tale involving Polish striker Dziekanowski and wily old kitman Neilly Mochan.

"Dziekanowski was a one-off talent,” Smith said. β€œHe was a real character but I don't know if he could handle being at Celtic.

"Neilly Mochan used to do a trick with all the kids and that was that he used to throw a table tennis ball in the air and catch it on his forehead. What the YTS kids didn't know was that Neilly had put vaseline on his forehead so the table tennis ball would stick to his head. Neilly would line up the YTS boys and tell them to try it for themselves.

"So the ball was inevitably bouncing off every player's head and going all over the place. Dziekanowski has been watching this all unfold. He said to Neilly β€˜give me the ball’ and I am not joking he nearly did it. The ball balanced on his head for a milli-second, stopped and rolled off.

β€œBut that was typical of the maverick that was Dziekanowski. He just had so much talent it was frightening. Neilly was taking the piss out of all the YTS boys with the table tennis ball stunt but even he couldn't believe that Dziekanowski could pretty much do the trick without the need for any vaseline and he saw the funny side of it all. He was a special player for us.”

Despite his short senior game-time, Smith still played in some memorable games for the Hoops. He was part of the Celtic side that managed a 1-1 draw against Rangers at Ibrox when the green and white legions were banned from the stadium in 1994.

He also played in the 1-0 victory over Aberdeen in the Coca-Cola League Cup semi-final – again at Ibrox – but the less said about the final the better.

In 1995 it was time to call it quits after a heart-to-heart with then-manager Tommy Burns convinced Smith his time in Paradise was coming to an end. Sadly, he parted company with the club without a Β medal to show for his efforts.

"If I could sum up my four years at Celtic I would say that I am mightily proud of the fact that I lived my family's dream – I think that is the best way to put it,” added Smith, who now coaches in Canada with Premier League side York United.

β€œI lived the dream of playing for Celtic and, while it wasn't a great time to be at the club, I tend to think that everybody has their turn and that was just mine and that's the way it goes. I don't look back and think what if. You move on.

β€œI had a great upbringing at Celtic and that's the main thing. I got to experience a lot of things that other players haven't experienced in their careers. I played in two Old Firm games and a League Cup semi-final yet just actually playing for Celtic was the thrill and experience of a lifetime for me. That's what it was all about,Β just pulling that Hoops shirt over my head and running out there.

β€œI did that and it stood me in good stead for the playing career that I had. That career would not have happened if I did not have that Celtic upbringing as well as the career advice of a very wise man."

Barry Smith got to live the dream as well as spend quality time with several club greats. He knows he was blessed but, above all else, he feels contented and fulfilled with his own Celtic story.