It was Tony Mowbray who coined the phrase ‘soldiers and artists’ and no-one has summed up the former better than Richie Smallwood, which made his nickname of the ‘The King’ that bit more ironic.

‘Every game he goes to war’ Mowbray said of the midfielder whose chant became synonymous with the League One promotion campaign.

With just 10 appearances since a red card at Sheffield United in December 2018, and not making a single Championship matchday squad this season, Smallwood could have easily become a forgotten man.

But given his contribution and his value to the club he served with such commitment over his two-and-a-half year stay that was never going to be the case.

Indeed, take Bradley Dack out of the equation, and for value for money and doing the job he was brought in to do, Smallwood would be right up there when it came to Mowbray’s best Rovers signing of that summer.

He was part of a group of players who helped transcend the atmosphere around Ewood Park when it was most needed. They weren’t the most talented or skilful to ever grace the blue-and-white halves but for effort, desire and commitment, they were a brilliant team to follow.

There are no airs and graces to Smallwood, and he encompassed everything Mowbray stands for from his players, conscientious, a hard-worker and a will to win that knows no bounds.

‘He would tackle his granny’ was another Mowbray favourite when discussing Smallwood, a player he clearly had a lot of time for, while the midfielder returned the compliment, believing he owed so much of his Rovers success to the manager.

Smallwood is one who loves to prove people wrong. As a person he came across as he plays, no nonsense and to the point.

He went 13 games without a yellow card to avoid a two-match ban in the promotion campaign and in doing so kept up his ever-present record at a time when Mowbray had discussed the possibility of bringing in a new central midfielder. His run of consecutive starts eventually ended at 57.

It was rather ironic therefore that in the end, it was a suspension, following a red card at Sheffield United in December 2018 that proved to be the start of Smallwood drifting out of the first-team picture. It opened the door for Lewis Travis, one he stormed through and hasn’t looked back since.

But still Smallwood resisted the temptation to leave last summer in a bid to fight for his place, and while that didn’t materialise, it goes to show his battling qualities, never giving in.

There was never a chance that his lack of game-time would see him become a negative influence around the place, or indeed by ostracised by the manager for doing so.

Football moves on, and quickly, and Smallwood’s departure, along with that of Danny Graham which has undertandably been the headline news of Rovers' retained list, symbolises how Mowbray is trying to move away from a style and personnel that served them so well in League One, but on to a new approach to kick them up the Championship.

Smallwood’s inclusion last season became a bone of contention at times, some fans wanting to see Travis included sooner than he was, and/or Harrison Reed given more of a go in the central areas. But Mowbray had a level of trust and faith in Smallwood that wouldn’t be easily tossed aside.

This was the right decision for all parties, and the feeling of a long time in the making, and both player and club can part ways knowing they have done right by each other.

Smallwood wouldn’t be one for a big send-off, but it would be nice should the opportunity arise for his contribution, as well as that of Graham, be remembered. 

For now, we’ll stick to a simple good luck, and thank you, and remember the memories of that winning goal at Fleetwood in January 2018 that sent Rovers in to the top two for the first time that season, his all-action display a week earlier in a crucial win over Shrewsbury at Ewood and then donning the gloves in Rovers’ hour of need at West Brom in October 2018.

‘Leave it to me’ he convinced his team-mates, despite having no previous goalkeeping experience.

But that summed up Smallwood, a player who would get the job done, and that’s exactly what he did, helping Rovers achieve exactly what they needed him at the time they needed it most.