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  • Alan Smith - the interview

    Augustine Worth

    Meet, greet and stay smiling

    I guess the surprising thing about Alan Smith is the way he seems to care about the people he meets. Is it a practiced thing, born of all the meet and greets that a celebrity has to do? Perhaps, but I suspect not. He is the real deal. He makes you feel at home with yourself and seems unruffled by the tasks of meeting strangers who have come his way because of that celebrity.


    Lily and Krasi Kolev meeting the legend

    He very kindly agreed to meet me in the gleaming Millenium Hotel for an interview for this blog and we chose a quiet spot overlooking the garden. His fabulous wife Penny kept a discreet distance and we were good to go.

    He is tall, slim and could easily make a living as a male model showing off the latest fashions for the little more mature gentlemen. I suspect he has not put on weight since his playing days and maybe I should have asked him his secret.

    Has George gone crazy?

    I did ask him about his famous goal against Liverpool which gave us the chance and he started by telling me that George Graham surprised us all by going for five at the back. “We were all looking at him in the dressing room as if he had gone mad, but he replied we need to keep it tight, once they don’t score we have a chance.”  George got it right but of course when Alan did nick one in, the Liverpool players crowded around the officials and he said “We all thought they were going to disallow it, but the referee pointed to the spot, and that is when the belief started. We knew we had a chance,”


    The Arsenal commemorative booklet which many people slaved over to produce

    And of course, Alan was on hand at the end to steer the ball towards Mickey Thomas although he could only see a yellow shirt coming through, but it was the redoubtable Mr Thomas who got the ball, got a nice rebound and slid the ball past Grobbelaar in goal.  Somehow we had won. Alan was full of praise for the Liverpool supporters who stayed behind and clapped them.  “It was a nice touch and we had a great time with our own supporters afterwards. The atmosphere was incredible and the noise levels, but maybe the Liverpool players were a bit flat, and they didn’t have many chances although the game was played at a hundred miles an hour.”

    Only another 100,000 retellings to go

    One could see that that game was the highlight of his career. His eyes light up involuntarily as he recounts the dramatic events despite, no doubt, this being the same story he has to retell every time he meets up with fans. It will remain possibly the most dramatic finish ever to a league season so he will probably have to churn it out regularly for the rest of his life.


    The huge throng of Arsenal fans at the football tournament

    I put it to him that if Liverpool had to win that by 2-0 they probably would have, but knowing they were 1-0 up inhibited them. He looked thoughtful for a minute and he responded “Yes, you could be right, knowing they could afford to lose 1-0 may have brought some complacency.”

    Henry, Wenger plus Smudger

    I asked him how he would have felt about playing alongside Henry and I posited that being a targetman who could get the ball, he would have suited Henry very well. “Henry could have played alongside anyone but, yes, I would have loved to have the chance. Himself and Dennis Bergkamp were a great combination. But Gary Lineker was like that, I could read his little flicks and movements, and he could get his goals.”


    Alan Smith: "Yes, I would have loved to work with these two"

    I also asked him about Wenger and he was definitely enthusiastic. “I kept in touch with  the old team and Lee Dixon said that it was incredible, in Wenger’s first full season they had just done preseason and it was far less intensive than before, they felt they weren’t going to be fit but as soon the season started they felt as sharp as mustard, it was just the way he did it.” He went on to say that he would have loved that opportunity.

    I feel it was a pity as Alan retired at 32 in 1995 and he could have been there for the double, even if as a bit part player as Bergkamp and Anelka appeared alongside Ian Wright.

    The media beckoned and Alan bloomed

    We moved on to life after football and I felt this was a smoother lifestyle for him than playing football. He liked words, analysis and being fair which is a prerequisite for a co-commentator. He gave the impression that his upward progression from writing in a local Islington paper to writing for the Telegraph, being brought into Sky as an armchair pundit for Arsenal games to being co-commentator all happened without the big drama of being a footballer. He worked hard and always tried to bring something extra to his work, a layer of information and insight that only an ex-player can convey. He quoted Richie Benaud, the famous cricket commentator – “If you have got nothing useful or positive to say, then say nothing, let the pictures tell the story.”

    I asked him if he will continue in broadcasting until they put him out to grass and he laughed “Oh yes, I would love to continue for as long as they want me. Everything is changing in the broadcasting world, they now bring in more diverse people, and women are playing a far greater role than before, but I would hope there will be a place for me. I never thought I could be a media person and now I want to stay doing it forever.”

    Women officials and Colemanballs

    I put it to him that bringing women in, particularly as officials, could have a very positive effect as players screaming abuse at women would not be a good look and we badly need new officials for the modern game as it cannot exist without them. He agreed and opined that referees can get staggering abuse at lower levels. He wondered how anyone could be attracted into that and that women could potentially help to bridge the recruitment gap.


    Women are so much a part of football now

    I then asked him about pundit mistakes and I have to admit I couldn’t find any in a search online. Perhaps he is too shrewd to make such slipups but he told me about a time in Denmark with Martin Tyler at an under 21’s tournament when England scored. 1-0 to England and they were watching the replays when the game restarted. They kept talking about England being one nil up for the next few minutes until the news was passed on to them that the goal was disallowed. They had never noticed. Still, in comparison to the cockups I have made in my life this was minor.

    He is a rare person who appreciates the gifts life has thrown him

    He has had a great life in many ways and I feel he is one of the few of us who know that and accept it.  He had to work hard, yes, to succeed as a professional footballer. It is down to many factors of which football skill is only one. Learning all the time, never giving up, working for the team, being disciplined, and being able to cope with lots of disappointments and defeats are grist to the mill of a professional footballer. Yet he did it all and won it all.


    Penny and Alan Smith plus a certain Mr Worth having a great time

    I feel that his second career really suited a man of learning, of words, of deep reflection, and was easier than the hard slog of dealing with the many personalities, angers, disagreements, jealousies and pressures of life in a top team’s dressing room. The subsequent career was something that he adapted to very well, he succeeded in a different way than the first one, and that suited an academic boy who loved languages. I am very happy he found fulfillment this way, that he wants it to continue for as long as possible and maybe he can come back again to talk about the Arsenal. We would love him back.



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