Is Billy Jones the new Shaun Smith?
Since Shaun Smith`s departure from Gresty Road at the end of the 2001/2002 season, which had culminated in our relegation to League One, nobody has made the position of left-back their own.
After the departure of Anthony Tonkin and a mixture of loanees and right-footed full backs playing out of position, manager Dario Gradi has finally decided to invest in what he describes as a proper left-back.
Step up 24 year old Billy Jones, captured from Exeter City for a fee of £65,000. Jones, also formally of Leyton Orient and Kidderminster, featured in no less than 50 games for Exeter last term and scored a commendable 10 goals, the club record for the season. Considering the fact that Jones is a full-back and that Exeter reached the Conference play-off final, Billy must have much more than just defensive attributes to offer. Described in that final as having a 'sledgehammer` left foot by the commentator and taking most of the defensive and attacking free-kicks, after a switch to the Alex it surely wouldn`t be long before comparisons with Crewe`s former hero Shaun Smith would be drawn?
Dario Gradi was the first to hail Billy as a potential new Shaun Smith early in pre-season, surely high praise for the incoming Jones, but many Crewe fans scoffed at this remark, suggesting this wasn`t much to live up to.
What Crewe fans have quickly forgotten is what a professional Smith was at Crewe, giving ten years of his career to the Alex and over 440 appearances wearing the Alex badge on his chest with pride.
Smith is one of the best dead-ball specialists the people of Crewe have seen at Gresty Road in recent memory and has many great memories for Alex fans to reminisce over. His winning goal at Wembley to seal promotion in 1997, his goal at Luton to get us there, his thunderbolt free-kick at Stoke to set us our way to victory in our first game at the Britannia Stadium, and his unbelievable free-kick from behind the half way line at Brentford are just a few of many highlights.
Although never to progress further in the game, Shaun Smith is one of few at Crewe who can surely be put into the true legends category. With one of the best left foots I personally have seen on a football pitch, the fact that Smith stayed at Crewe for so long was a testament to his character and his belief in the ability of Crewe Alexandra Football Club.
A man who is second on Crewe`s all time appearance list, and boasts 442 appearance and 51 goals from full back and a former captain, Billy Jones has more than enough to live up to in filling Shaun Smith`s boots. But if Dario Gradi says he has great potential then who are we to argue, a man famous for unearthing talent from where others couldn`t see it throughout his whole managerial career.
Like Smith, Billy Jones has been plucked from non-league, and we hope he can add the sort of stability and professionalism to the team Shaun Smith did in years gone by.
As Billy Jones embarks on his Crewe career we at Crewe Vital all wish him well, and if he lives up to anything like Gradi`s billing then this will be another excellent acquisition in Crewe`s latest conquest for glory. Lets hope he can finally fill the void left by Shaun Smith and help to put his own stamp on Crewe Alexandra`s history in his time with the club. We wish him the best of luck as we welcome him to Gresty Road.