An old haunt proves a happy return

For those of you who read the Cray Wanderers vs Horsham blog posted a day or so ago you’ll know I spent the evening with the former Bromley boss Neil Smith.

Smudger as he’s most commonly known, was someone I interviewed not long before we went into that first lockdown two years ago on the back of watching him in the BT Sport production on five clubs it followed, Ben Strevens I had made contact with after watching it and he provided a few numbers for me.

Apart from a couple of Zoom chats since with Strevs and Darren Currie, this was the first opportunity for us to meet up after 2 and a half years and take in a game together. Smith lives a short walk from Hayes Lane but this game was going to be his first return to the club, where he spent ten years and some very memorable times, since his sacking last March, probably best it was a Cray game rather than the landlords.

Many of you will know he’s great company, loves to chat and knows so many people, so of course he sorted out the tickets for us but also introduced me to the leading lights of Cray Wanderers FC, Gary Hillman and Sam Wright.

For me as someone who would love to get on the football writing ladder and although this blog does wonders I want to take it further so any contacts I get inside the non-league game I cling onto and over the past couple of years my contact book has grown immensely and is still building.

We could quite easily have gotten into the stadium and sat down to watch but instead Neil made sure I met everyone around, a nice touch. Steve King the manager of National League South side Dartford was there to check on his opponents in the FA Trophy in a week’s time, so there was a conversation to be had and you pick up bits and pieces.

Being the tenants to Bromley meant Smudger knew plenty of people in and around the stadium and it was nice to see him catching up, sharing a laugh with people all the way through the evening.

When we got to half time he came across Jerry Dolke, a former owner of the Ravens, another handshake and conversation being had, all the time plenty to listen to and take on board.

Of course we chatted during the game, two years and more is a long time and a lot to happen. Neil’s had offers, not a handful but a couple, not yet the right one has landed in his lap. He told me he’s never spoken to so many owners in his life but before last March he’d not been looking to go anywhere and I think having the time out of a club has opened his eyes a little to what else is out there and how differently other clubs do things, you never stop learning.

After the game I made sure we stopped off for a beer in the bar and to see the reaction he got from the bar staff and two of the elder stewards was fantastic, a man very much revered around Hayes Lane and definitely not forgotten.

That wasn’t the end of the conversations once Cray boss Danny Kedwell arrived in the bar, another handshake and conversation and maybe someone I’ll tap into for a blog piece, interesting angle for him for his 1st managerial job whilst working for Ebbsfleet Utd’s academy.

When you’re in the company of guys like these and others with so many stories and things to tell you it’s a shame when the evening has to end but I think getting Smudge out the house and back down to the ground for the first time in over 18 months cleared out a few cobwebs and there is a possibility he was going back for more at the weekend as Cray faced Bishops Stortford!

Great guy to know, fantastic company and I hope we get to repeat it later on this season, who knows maybe I’ll get him up to The Hive for more than one or two beers……

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