On Wednesday morning, I took a trip to Bromley FC to meet Neil Smith for my latest blog interview. Neil kindly shared many stories before the microphone went on and hopefully I’ll be able to remember some after the blog interview goes up! Neil’s been on my list since August to speak to and just like Darren Currie and Ben Strevens have been this season Neil was more than accommodating.
Me being a tad excited by all the stories and hearing about all the plans forgot to grab a pic with Neil so instead their fantastic new stand is in view above! As always this is the first of a two part blog, so grab a seat, a cuppa and get comfy:
TK: Was a move into coaching always on the cards once the playing days were over?
NS: Yes, definitely. In my world I love football and always wanted to be a footballer and when you make it as a professional player that’s one dream ticked off. And then you think about what you’re going to do when it’s finished, that hit home when I was leaving Reading, we just won promotion and my contract was up, I was still living in Bromley and wanted to move back home, so I trained with Gillingham and they were going to offer me something then the ITV Digital deal collapsed.
That contract then became defunct and the reality set in then, so I went and did all my coaching badges which is something I always wanted to do. I feel that I can do very well at it, still learning all the time, but definitely something I wanted to do.
TK: Starting out at Tottenham, do you think you had a good grounding to set you on the way to where you are now?
NS: Yeah, I think so. At the time there were a few clubs more local who were interested in me but when Tottenham offered me the schoolboy and apprenticeship forms it was a no brainer, especially at the time I was there Terry Venables was the head coach, Ray Clemence ended up being my manager there and obviously the playing staff was full of Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker, Vinny Samways, John Moncur, Gary Mabbutt, a very good side there, why wouldn’t you want to be involved in that kind of environment day in day out?
I was very, very lucky, I wasn’t a Tottenham kind of player in respect of very tippy-tappy as they call it today, I was more of a hard hitting midfield player.
TK: More of a Stefan Freund or Edgar Davids?
NS: Yeah that’s the sort! So I was outside of their normal mould of a player, but it worked at that time I was there.
TK: We talked about it briefly offline, but do you keep in touch with any of your team-mates from around that time?
NS: A lot of them yeah, they’re in the coaching game too. Stuart Nethercott who was with me at Welling, Dave Tuttle who went on to become manager at Millwall, Ian Hendon as well, he’s in and out of the game, I actually text him the other day as he does a bit of agency work too. Every now and then you bump into people you haven’t seen for a little while, its always nice to catch up but the rivalry is there when the game goes on. I am seeing more and more of my ex team-mates or players I played against in that era that are going into it.
TK: I think most people will remember you as a tenacious midfielder with Gillingham and Woking, what sticks out as memories during your playing career?
NS: I had so many! Gillingham was a very good time although a very hard time as well. It was a club on the brink of going out of existence and the Football League and then to go on and win promotion when Tony Pulis came in, I’ve been very lucky with some of the managers I’ve been involved with, as mentioned earlier Terry Venables and Ray Clemence at Spurs, also there with Doug Livermore who went on to be a national coach with Wales.
Then Tony (Pulis) had a fantastic career in the Premier League, not always the style you want to watch but if you want a team to stay in the league, he’s the man to do it. Then at Fulham I was under Micky Adams, Ray Wilkins and of course Kevin Keegan and playing with some fantastic players. Onto Reading and I was under Alan Pardew, Barnet links everywhere for you haha! But, no I was very lucky to have played under these guys, I wouldn’t say I had great ability, but I was hardworking, honest, a team player and I had a fantastic career out of it.
Highlights would definitely be scoring for Gillingham to knock Coventry out of the FA Cup, I think it was Gordon Strachan’s first game in charge there, they were Premier League or Division One then. Also playing against the 1999 Manchester Utd side at Old Trafford and walking off as man of the match! I wasn’t even expecting to start that game so that was a huge bonus. I’ve had a lot of highs within the game and you do get a lot of lows, you have to make sure you appreciate the highs when those times come around.
TK: Coming up to 4 years in charge at Bromley, a stable National League side, and having seen you appear on BT Sport’s ‘The Gaffer’, how far can Bromley go?
NS: A hell of a lot further! The development of the ground is coming along, the development of the academy and youth set-up is growing ever bigger, our ladies team (Bromley Belles) and girls section is growing bigger and stronger every year, we’re growing as a club and every year we assess ourselves, not just as the first team but the whole club, and we’re progressing beyond where probably thought we could be when I walked through the door eight or nine years ago when we were scrapping to stay in the National League South on a bobbly pitch with over a hundred games on it. Now we have the 3G pitch and as we sit here watching our academy take on Oxford Utd, new stand, planning permission to build an extension to the bar we’re in now, hopefully I’ll get an office which would be nice! Currently I have to do all my work in the bar area when supporters and people are constantly coming through, but that’s part of the story!
I think we can go a lot further; can we improve? Yes we can, are we learning? Yes we are, and we’ll keep on growing year on year and hopefully we’ll hit the holy grail of the Football League.
TK: Has there been talk of what happens to the pitch should you reach the Football League?
NS: Yes there has been, I believe we have planning permission for just behind the trees at the back of the ground to move the 3G pitch over to there and put grass back down. Could it be done tomorrow? I wouldn’t imagine so but knowing the chairman like I do he’d make sure there are no excuses for us not being able to go up.
TK: 10 games to go unless you’re Barnet, 1 win in the last 8 games but still right on the edge of the play-offs, would you normally expect to be out of contention with that kind of run of form?
NS: It’s a really weird one, we had such a great start to the season and then lost a couple of players including Mark Cousins our goalkeeper for three months and that was a big hit. We lost a centre half, Mark Antony to a knee injury which has unfortunately caused him to retire from the game, George Porter a massive player for us missing from the beginning of the season, we had loan players recalled who are now performing in the Championship week in, week out, Alfie Doughty now a regular in Charlton’s first team, Rarmani (Edmonds-Green) playing for Swindon, five big losses and we haven’t got the resources to go out and just spend to replace players so we have to use who we’ve got and when we get the loan players in you hope they hit the ground running, they don’t have a lot of time to get going, they might get recalled early, nature of the game.
Ten games to go, we’re on the same number of points as the side in seventh place, its only goal difference keeping us apart at the moment. We know there’s games in hand for clubs but sometimes that can be a hindrance because the points aren’t in the bag.
We’ve got enough points now to stay up and like you said, for a club the size of Bromley to be sustainable in this division with budgets the size of some of them is a massive achievement, but while we’ve got a chance we’ve gotta go for it but it has been a very difficult eight weeks because in those games we’ve been in with a shout and shouldn’t have lost a couple of them and when the lucks going against you it’s hard to change it but we have to change it by keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully it turns itself around, one result might just change the destiny of this season and hopefully it happens this weekend.