In our next instalment of ‘The Interview’, Alex Exadactylos sat down with Neil Smith to discuss his career to date.
Q. Neil, thank you for speaking to us today. Having played at youth level for Tottenham Hotspur to then signing for Gillingham, please describe to us how vital those experiences were in your career?
A. They were very important times. At Tottenham, the likes of Gary Mabbutt, Paul Allen and Mitchell Thomas gave you good guidance and knowledge on what it takes to become a professional footballer. Then Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker were added to the senior team when I turned from a youth player into a first year professional. You had great people at the club such as; Terry Venables, Doug Livermore, Ray Clemence and all my youth team coaches. I remember all of the coaches dearly because they all gave me a fantastic education into the world of football.
Q. You then signed for Fulham and were part of a promotion winning team under Kevin Keegan. What was it like to be part of a winning team and playing with the likes of Peter Beardsley and Steve Finnan?
A. It was an unbelievable experience, I was signed by Micky Adams at Fulham. When Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins took over we had a team of lower league players and a squad that contained Chris Coleman and Philip Albert. The more experienced players worked hard to get to where they were at, playing with them gave me a good grounding. The team had a fantastic winning mentality, we went into every game knowing every opposition wanted to beat us, it was every teams FA Cup final to play against Kevin Keegan’s Fulham side!
Q. You achieved promotion again during your time at Reading, before having spells at Stevenage and Woking. What was your fondest memory towards the latter stages of your playing career?
A. The fondest memory was just playing for the love of the game. Obviously when you are at your peak at 28 and you are at Fulham and Reading, you just want to achieve a lot. When you reach 30 and you enter the non-league circuit, where it was not as serious as it is now, you are playing just because you love football. I went to Woking and I had 5 great years there, I enjoyed playing for Woking just as much as I have done with all of the clubs in my career, there was a family feeling at the club and everybody knew each other. I am trying to generate that same cohesive mentality at Bromley.
Q. Moving on to your managerial career now. Having been appointed as an interim manager of Woking, how hard was the transition from being a player to a manager?
A. It’s hard. At Woking, I went from player to manager where I needed to win the majority of our remaining games to stay up. Players may face a decision that they might not like. When I make a decision for the team, the player or players affected may take it personally, but the decision is for the benefit of the team. When I arrived I was the assistant manager under Mark Goldberg – you have a different rapport with the players as a manager compared to an assistant manager. Now, I am that manager who decides how I help the players and I make the decisions, you need to keep a happy balance and I have good people around me at the club.
Q. What advice would you give to students who are looking to become managers in the future?
A. To learn as much as you can. I am still learning now, especially during this unprecedented situation, we are all learning. You need to do as much coaching as you can, as then you can build more confidence and gain more knowledge. I have certain tactical visions which I want to implement, that may be different at another club, it does not make them wrong and It does not make me right, you need to stand by the ideas you believe in.
Q. Your passion for Bromley is second to none, having been at the club for almost ten years. How happy are you with the team’s progress?
A. Wow! As a team, you are always wanting to improve on the year before. I hope to be in the play-offs and create a bit of history for the club. We went to Wembley two years ago and although we did not win, we achieved a dream. I want to take this club into the Football League and while I have these dreams, I will do anything that I possibly can to try and recruit the right players to be able to achieve that dream.
Q. You have an experienced and supportive coaching team with you. How brilliant have they been?
A. All the team have been amazing! I rely on them every day and will always listen to their opinions. Alan Dunne is doing the crossover from player to coach and it is very difficult. He is doing a remarkable job in coaching the defenders, he is always learning and always want to be better. If something is not right, Alan will try and correct it. Mark Hammond is very experienced and has completed his UEFA A Licence. Mark deals with the teams forwards and handles the set plays, he is phenomenal. I have Andy Little who is my goalkeeping coach and is very experienced, he just wants to get the best out of his goalkeepers. Richard Sterling is a very good young physiotherapist and we have ex-Premier League player, Roger Johnson, as our Under 23 manager. The Club’s academy coaches are also second to none, we are getting players that are coming through the academy that can reach my first team. Players such as Liam Vincent have already made the matchday squad and the amount of talent coming through our club will only increase.
Q. What would it mean for yourself if Bromley were to reach the Football League?
A. It will be the biggest achievement of my footballing career. I have won promotions and championships but they were at clubs that were expected to succeed at the time. My dream is to take my home town club into the league for the first time in its history. This will be a great achievement because nobody is expecting us to do so – apart from everyone associated with the club. We know how hard it will be as there are some great teams in the league, but it will be a massive achievement and a big dream of mine.