BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Paul Smyth is hoping to make it back-to-back League One promotions – with the Charlton Athletic attacker revealing how an asthma attack saw him miss out on the chance to play at Wembley.
The 23-year-old QPR man spent last season on loan with Wycombe Wanderers.
Smyth, who signed for the Addicks in mid-October on a temporary deal, played 19 times for the Chairboys before the campaign was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. When it resumed he was on the bench for their play-off semi-final matches against Fleetwood Town and did not make the squad for the 2-1 victory over Oxford United at England’s national stadium.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“I had an asthma attack on the day of the game and I had to be given steroids to help me breathe again,” explained Smyth. “You need a TUE (therapeutic use exemptions) from the anti-doping team to clarify why you have taken it to be cleared to play.
“Unfortunately it meant I missed out. My asthma is not always great some days and it just happened to be the case on the day of the final.
“When I was a kid it was terrible – I was always on the nebuliser machine and having attacks. As I’ve got older it flares up a lot less. It had been a good year before the play-offs that I last had a problem.
“I was still there and celebrating with the boys. I wasn’t going to miss doing that for the world. It had been everything as players that we’d worked together for.
“It was a madness. We were eighth in the table but got moved up [as the final standings were decided by points per game]. It is the craziest thing I’ve ever been involved in. The pandemic was killing sports and people were losing their jobs – it has affected the whole world. So for us to be able to go and play again has been brilliant.
“It’s great for the mental health of footballers to wake up and know we’re still going to be able to go and do something we love doing every day.”
When Smyth became a Charlton player it was third time lucky for manager Lee Bowyer. He had tried to bring in the Northern Ireland international in the previous two seasons.
“I was waiting to get a fair shot at QPR but it was getting to the stage where I wasn’t given it,” said Smyth. “The best thing to do was go on loan.
“Once you put yourself in the market then clubs do come in and you contemplate them all. Lee rang me and told me I would get good game time and so did Steve Gallen [director of football].
“I didn’t speak to Lee Bowyer those other times that he was trying to get me. Don’t ask me why, it just didn’t fall that way.
“This time I did and I thought: ‘Why not? They are one of the favourites to go up’. It all fell into place.”
“Since I’ve been here we are unbeaten. The international break does stop your rhythm because we are on a good run – seven unbeaten and six clean sheets.
“I’ve had a longer unbeaten run when I was in Northern Ireland at Linfield. In the last 20-odd games of a season we went 18 or 19 unbeaten and ended up winning the league and doing the treble.
“Hopefully here we can get in the play-offs or even get promoted automatically.”
Bowyer has tended to rotate his attacking players to prevent overload. Smyth has featured in five out of six league matches – starting three of those.
“With Chuks [Aneke] being injured it gave Boges [Omar Bogle] and Conor [Washington] a good run of four or five games,” said Smyth. “The manager said he would be rotating for fresh legs and he’s been true to his word. I’ve started one, then come off the bench, started one, then come off the bench – I’m getting the game time I need.
“Some players don’t like not starting but I just look at it as another opportunity to play against defenders who have been run for 60 minutes – they are tired and I’m fresh. It gives me a better opportunity to do well.”
Smyth will be a free agent next summer if QPR do not take up an option in his contract.
“I’d love to play for QPR for the rest of my career – just as long as I’m playing football,” he said.
“But if they don’t want to [extend his terms] then so be it. They also have an option to call me back in January. It all depends how I’m playing and how I’m feeling.
“Contracts are crazy in football, everyone knows it. You’re never safe in a job or a contract, so we’ll see what happens at the end of the season, if not January.
“There’s no point me getting all dwelled up on the contract situation until it comes to the day that I need to sort it out. I’ll take it as far as I can with Charlton.”
Smyth joined Linfield at the age of 16. He credits former Manchester United, Preston and Leeds striker David Healy as playing a huge role in him landing a move to England.
The 41-year-old has been in charge of Linfield since 2015.
“I was one of those who was head down, kick the ball and run – no-one could catch me because I was quick. Sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t.
“When I went to Linfield I became more technical and progressed from there.
“I was playing for the reserves and David told me I was too good for that level. He helped me a lot and got me across water. If it wasn’t for him giving me my chance at Linfield I don’t think I’d be here today.
“He scored so many international goals. He is a massive inspiration to the kids coming through.
“I worked with a lot of good managers over here as well, but he was very influential – brilliant.”
Smyth has plenty of good memories such as playing against boyhood club Celtic in a Champions League qualifier, being called up as an extra man for Ireland for the Euro 2016 finals and netted on his senior international bow against South Korea.
“I also scored on my debuts for QPR and Wycombe,” he said. “To have a chance to play the professional game over here is something I’ve grabbed with both hands and learned as much as I can.
“I’ve asked every manager to guide me in the right direction to become a better footballer.
“They’ve all helped me, in so many different ways. I can only thank them. Hopefully I can keep learning under Lee Bowyer.”
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