Alan Smith, One-on-One: "The greatest club manager ever wanted me... how could I turn Man Utd down?"
The Smiths play on a loop in the kitchen of Alan Smith’s new house, overlooking the rolling hills at the southern fringes of Derbyshire’s beautiful Peak District. “The Smiths are class,” says Smith, a charming man, as he puts a brew on while singing along.
The Notts County player-coach shows us around the home that he will share with his wife-to-be. BMX, Motocross and Moto GP memorabilia adorn one room. “She’s told me to put it all in here,” he laughs. One hero is champion Spanish motorcyclist Jorge Lorenzo, “who risks his life and rides like it’s an art”, and Smith has a flag that affirms his loyalty to a man he’d love to meet.
“I’m not really one for interviews,” he says in a distinctive Leeds accent. Ninety minutes and another cup of tea later, he’s still talking, recounting a career which has taken in Leeds, Manchester United, Newcastle, MK Dons and now the world’s oldest club (oh, and 19 caps for England as well). But first...
- Date of birth: 28/10/1980
- Place of birth: Rothwell, Yorkshire
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Position: Midfielder
Do you still BMX? I’m sure I read that you won trophies as a kid. How close did you come to dropping football because of it? Can you still do it? Just like riding a bike, right?
Joe H Harman, via Twitter
It was the other way around – I started off riding BMX as a young kid, a long time before I played football. I was into BMX because my dad used to race motocross; my family was into bikes.
I watched motocross videos every day and watched Junior Kick Start religiously. I remember films like BMX Bandits. As for trophies, I won the British championship at eight. I had a few different bikes – my dad bought them, to my mum’s dismay.
I’d race from Inverness to Slough. Dad was a heavy goods driver who would come home on a Friday, pack up the camper van and we’d be off for the weekend, driving through the night. My parents put a huge effort into my brother and me racing. Most mates wanted to be a footballer – I wanted to race bikes. I think I’d struggle to get on one today.
You attended the now defunct FA School of Excellence at Lilleshall when you were 14, featuring in an ITV documentary. Is it true you were so unhappy that you walked out after a few months?
Kieran Kennedy, Winchester
It is true. I was a very young 14-year-old coming from a close-knit family. I was at Leeds by that stage, but Lilleshall was a completely different environment. I was homesick in the boarding-school environment and wanted to get back with my mum, dad and brother.
It was a very hard decision to leave the national school, but I think my style of football suited Leeds better than how I was being coached to play at the national school.
How did you feel when you scored with your very first touch in the professional game, a rasping drive past David James at Anfield?
Robert Barry, Wokingham
It felt important, but every goal meant the same to me, from the youth team to the first team. The difference was that scoring in the first team meant so much more to everyone else. That goal changed my life.
I was meant to be in Israel with England’s U18s but it was cancelled because of the political situation. I went back to Leeds, someone was injured and I was asked to train with the first team. I was picked in the squad and thought I was going as an extra body.
We were getting beat, but I got brought on and bang – I scored. I wanted more of that. We played Charlton a week later and I came on and scored again.
We had such a good environment at Leeds, and Eddie Gray was a massive influence on me. He’d been managing the youth team with Paul Hart and I never wanted to let them down because they’d shown so much belief in me.
Smith scores against Liverpool