by Dave Usher
He was a key member of Dave Shannon's under 17 side which went through an entire season unbeaten. His versatility gave Shannon plenty ofoptions, as the pacy youngster was equally at home on either wing as well as up front and he plundered numerous goals and forced his wayinto the England youth set up.
Smyth continued his good form through to under 19 level and soon forced his way into the reserve set up. The competition for places up front was fierce however, and Gerard Houllier's strained relationship with the Academy didn't make things easy for local youngsters to break through. It was difficult enough just to get into the reserve team, let alone the senior squad.
Smyth was told by Houllier at the end of the 2003/04 season that he was not part of his future plans and that he should look for another club. This despite Mark still having a year left on a three year professional contract he signed when he was 17.
It was a devastating blow for a lad who had always dreamed of one day playing for the first team of the club he had supported all of hislife. Indeed, such was Smyth's love for the club, that whilst the other youngsters who had not been kept on opted to miss the final under 19 game of the season to try and get fixed up with new clubs, Mark insisted on turning out for John Owens' side as he just wanted to wear the red shirt one last time.
It was a remarkable show of loyalty, as he was due at Sheffield Wednesday for a trial the next day. Cruelly, Mark picked up an injuryin that last academy game which was aggravated further during trials with Wednesday and Ipswich, and he faced a summer of recuperation and an uncertain future.
Then Houllier left the club, and after speaking to Steve Heighway and Rick Parry, Mark turned down the club's offer to pay up the remainder of his contract and he requested that he be allowed to see out the final 12 months of his deal.
New boss Rafa Benitez had no objection and Smyth got to wear the red shirt he cherishes for another year. Whatsmore, his lifelong dream of playing for the first team came true when he appeared as a substitute in the Carling Cup win over Spurs at White Hart Lane. It was to be the only time he would appear for the first team and he was released at the end of the season when his contract ran out, but that night at White Hart Lane is something Mark will savour for the rest of his life.