This is Part 2 of Lord Hillwood’s exclusive interview with Alan Smith. For Part 1, click here.
Alan Smith commentating on Arsenal v Chelsea at the Emirates
After a glittering career at Arsenal, Leicester and playing for England, Alan Smith at the age of 32, hung up his boots and retired due to a knee injury.
As pragmatic and level headed as ever, Alan Smith told the press “Everyone wants to play on until they are 35, but my knee problem means I am not able to, it is ironic this is my first serious injury. But I can’t complain because I’ve had a really good career over the last 13 years. It could have happened when I was 21, never the less it is still hard to take”.
Alan went on to become a Sky Sports commentator, a panel member on Sky sports champions league and premiership coverage. He has featured on Sky’s Monday Night Football analysis show with Thierry Henry, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. Alan also writes a regular column in ‘The Daily Telegraph” about premiership and international football and discussing the modern game.
Alan Smith along with Martin Tyler became the voices of the commentary team on EA Sports Fifa game 2012 -15.
So how did the Alan Smith who was only booked once in his professional career cope with his change of career, and who is the man behind the Arsenal strip?
From my perspective, Alan Smith is an articulate intelligent man who is a consummate professional in whatever he does. You can tell that from speaking with him and from the way he seamlessly presents on Television and writes in the Telegraph. I have also experienced firsthand his dry wit, and sense of sardonic humour.
Many years ago at Maine Road , where Arsenal played Manchester City, I was sat along, right down near the touchline ¾ of the way towards the goal AFC were playing towards. Alan, was caught offside several times (too many) in that half. As the ball went out for a throw, Alan ran over to take it, as the ground went silent, I shouted out “Oh FFS Smith can you stay onside”. Alan who very was close, glared at me. About a minute later Arsenal got a corner which he promptly headed in the roof of the net to score the winner. As he wheeled away he ran over to us, looking angry, and then leant in to the crowd laughing and said politely “Is that okay for you ?” Both of us laughed, as the fans around me were going mental. Years later we both laughed again as I reminded him of that incident on twitter.
So what is Alan Smith like when not being a media guy and not playing football ?
I asked Ryan Rocastle, the son of David Rocastle, team mate and close friend of Alan’s to help me out here.
Ryan Rocastle – “I’d say he’s been fantastic to everyone in our family, I’ve known him, pretty much since I was born, he was one of my Dad’s best friends, my mum was also great friends with Alan’s wife, Penny. Alan’s family and ours, including his two daughters, who are roughly the same age as my sister and I, meet up at social events together. Alan and his family are still some of the closest people in my family’s life”.
“Alan is just a genuine good guy, with a really big heart, and always willing to help. He’s actually very funny too, which some people might not see. He is witty with sharp and quick comments and comebacks, when we look at his Twitter, we find it hilarious, but maybe some other people may not get it. I can’t comment on him as a player, because I never saw him play, but he scored a lot of important goals for us (Arsenal)”.
“One thing I will add is when I was doing my journalism degree, he was the biggest help I could have asked for, and helped me with advice and finding my work experience”
“ I would describe him as easy to talk to, kind hearted and clever.”
Ryan continued “Certainly Alan was a mentor for me, as well as being godfather to my sister Monique; he really helped me get started. Alan and Penny are genuine people, really great and friends for life, who have always been there for me, my mum and my two sisters, they are like family”
LHW- So now you are qualified as a journalist how would you sum Alan Smith up ?
Ryan Rocastle “Professional, clever, witty, guy who is warm and very close to me, a mentor, yet frank and unbiased, even if its Arsenal he tells it as he sees it. A good person to know, to be close to and be around”
An example of Alan Smith’s sense of humour taking a joke,and riposting with dry wit
I would like to thank Ryan for sharing such personal thoughts about his close friend Alan Smith, You can follow Ryan at @RyRocastle7
When I interviewed Alan we talked about the modern game, his media work , and the pressure of social media on commentators, pundits and of course players.
LHW – Now you commentate on matches, and write in the media as a columnist, how do you feel on the first day of a new season, do you miss the whole thing; and wish you were still out there scoring goals?
AS- “I don’t miss playing football these days. I had my spell and really enjoyed it but I was never the type who missed the roar of the crowd and all the adulation, but it is just great to be involved in football still with Sky and the Telegraph. I go to lots of big matches, World Cups and Euros. I still feel very lucky.
LHW- So as a now retired pro, commentating on the modern game, what do you think about the modern wages and transfer fees with reference to your own playing times ?
AS- “I never get hung up about the wages or fees in today’s game. That’s just how it is. The money is there so the players are bound to get it.”
LHW- How do you recall pressure when you played and how do you equate that with the game you see now, especially as you are part of the media ?
AS- “My approach when it came to pressure, was that it wasn’t a problem if I was playing with confidence. Then of course everything flowed. You didn’t over-analyse anything. It was only when the goals dried up, did I feel some pressure. That’s when you’ve got to dig in and show some character. Keep working hard in training, keep volunteering in matches.”
But I do remember when going to Highbury to be shown around by Steve Burtenshaw, the chief scout. He took me out on to the pitch and said “Alan, many strikers have worn the number nine shirt here but not many have succeeded. It takes something special to cope with the expectation”. I thought, ‘bloody hell! What have I got myself into here?’
LHW – So how do you equate that experience of your first day at Arsenal with the modern day game now ?
AS- “I can’t remember feeling too much pressure. I just got on with it. I have always been very level-headed. I never really got too excited about doing well, and not too down about failing. That level headedness helped in my career I think. But even in my day, match days felt much different than when I was at Leicester- much more pressure, more scrutiny, with so much more about Arsenal in the papers. I recall when I hadn’t scored after three games, the headlines were saying Arsenal were going to sign Kerry Dixon to replace me. That kind of speculation took a bit of getting used to.” (A lot of us fans were particularly horrified by that piece of speculation LHW)
AS- “But I’ve seen plenty of players come and go who couldn’t handle playing for a big club like Arsenal. It was just too much. They were talented but they couldn’t quite deal with the mental side. I suppose it just depends on your make up – the luck of the draw.”
AS- “But it’s even worse now. The scrutiny is tenfold, what with social media and television delving into every angle. The players can’t go out shopping without someone shoving a mobile phone in their face”.
Alan Smith interviews Arsene Wenger
LHW – With social media, and new technology meaning most people can apply as much scrutiny in their front room as Sky or the BBC can, and see more than referees, does that make your job as a commentator/journalist even more difficult ?
AS- “You always get accused of bias when commentating no matter what you say. I just try to be honest.”
LHW- I saw some Arsenal fans recently berating yourself and Lee Dixon for being harsh on Arsenal, one even saying that Lee was “part of the media anti Arsenal’ campaign, and then saying it was done for clicks, needless to say Lee Dixon defended himself as well as he is known for.
AS- “Again you always get accused of bias when commentating no matter what you say. I just try to be honest. I know some Arsenal fans think I’m too hard on my old club but I have a responsibility to the other team as well. Nothing is scripted for me. It is about reacting to what you see, trying to give some sort of insight.”
LHW – When you interviewed Arsene Wenger he raised this mega scrutiny, and you asked if it hurts especially when ex players say harsh things, mentioning yourself and Paul Merson as culprits. Wenger replied, “You can understand it if someone loves the club” . Lee Dixon defending himself said “Take your blinkers off and look at the game. You have some emotion yes because you are a fan. But understand what you see”
AS- “I agree, and as I said earlier, it is about reacting to what you see, giving some insight but being professional and respectful to both sides as well”
Alan Smith and Thierry Henry analyse Hector Bellerin
Thanks to ArsenalSupremoHQ on You tube
LHW – We talked about the pressure of the modern game earlier and how it has increased massively, especially scrutiny of on and off pitch of player’s performances & their private lives. With recent high profile cases of depression within the modern game, do you feel clubs in the past ignored players problems & issues or addictions ?
AS – Issues like depression were never really addressed in my day. Thankfully in the game they are starting to be now, because depression and stress are quite common in a sport that demands so much of you mentally. Projects like Sporting Chance, set up by Tony Adams, are very helpful to a lot of people.”
LHW – I saw you interviewed Olivier Giroud for the Daily Telegraph a year ago. Arsene Wenger was recently quoted as saying of Giroud “he has a lot of “Alan Smith” qualities. To quote Arsene “Giroud reminds me of Alan Smith in the way he holds up the ball, in his distribution and his goal scoring.” It wasn’t the first time Arsene Wenger has made comparisons between you and Giroud, he said two weeks later “There is a lot more to come from Olivier Giroud and I believe he can develop into a similar player to Alan Smith”.
AS- It was nice that Arsene Wenger mentioned me and I guess there are similarities.
LHW- In your interview with Giroud a year ago, you wrote “I asked him (Giroud) if he knew Wenger had made those comparisons” He then shocked you by saying “No I didn’t, but I do know a little about you. You scored 120 goals for Arsenal ? And you won the league in 89”
AS- Yes I remember, I was impressed with that kind of knowledge from a 27 year old Frenchman who was barely a child, when we won the league in 89 in that showdown with Liverpool
LHW – Your ability to hold up the ball, distribute and link up the midfield to the front line was excellent, especially when you consider the difference in what defenders could do then and can’t do now; do you see some of your own play and qualities in Giroud ?
AS- I guess there are similarities.
LHW- In my opinion Giroud also like you playing with his back to the goal, uses lots of one touch flicks and layoffs to assist goals and to bring in to the move midfield players. Also like you he is a good header of the ball. But I feel he isn’t yet a prolific scorer like you were and not as ruthless a finisher how much of that is down to faster pace of the game and better defending in the modern game do you think.
AS- “I really rate Giroud. I think he is getting better all the time and some of his finishes are first class. I can see some similarities in the way he leads the line, holds up play well with his back to goal, but I can’t he agree faces better defending now. The understanding between defenders is sometimes non-existent these days, partly because of language difficulties. The art of defending has also been neglected for too long in my opinion.”
LHW – Thank you Alan for allowing me to take up so much of your time, and on behalf of myself and I suspect a multitude of Arsenal fans, thanks so much for the memories and great times, but thanks for scoring that goal on that night at Anfield that night the most !
AS – “No problem. I hope the interview is ok! I always enjoy talking about football, but as I said earlier Anfield 1989 will always special too all of us, even when we sat in the dressing room afterwards, we all agreed that nothing would top this night. Even then, we knew how unusual and dramatic it was. But as time goes by, the achievement seems to grow in stature. It really feels like an honour to be involved in one of the most famous matches ever. “
Alan Smith was Arsenal’s main striker in a time when defenders defended and did so very well, the rules were also slightly different.
Goals were Alan Smith business – Headers, Volleys, tap ins. Scuffs, and Alan Smith always jumped a bit earlier and a tad higher. He always stole a march on the man trying to mark him, tried to send his man the wrong way and always made keepers work. He scored according to Arsenal, 115 goals in 347 appearances, and of course is a member of the Arsenal centurion club, along with his strike partner Ian Wright. Many of Ian’s goals coming from Alan’s flicked on assists.
Alan is described by the club website accurately as “Standing at over six feet tall, Smith combined his intelligence with an unfailing work ethic to become one of the top-flight’s supreme target men. His ball retention was second-to-none and, despite a clear ‘English centre-forward style’, he also had a penchant for cute, subtle touches. If a team-mate made the right run, he could be sure Smith would find him with a flick-on or well-timed pass.”
A true Arsenal hero, a gentleman, a professional and someone who epitomises “The Arsenal way” I won’t bother to give him anymore plaudits. Let’s just watch his goals
The sound is a bit wonky with the pictures but Alan Smith and his team mates won the league in 91, losing only once, also had 2 points deducted, and captain Tony Adams in jail, yet conceded only 18 goals. You can even hear Alan wondering if anyone would ever match their record of only losing one game. Years later Arsenal went one better.
@Lordhillwood spoke to @9Smudge aka Alan Smith former Arsenal number 9 before the Chelsea game. Follow @GunnersTown for all the latest Arsenal news
Then and now – Always a Gunner Legend – Thanks to Alan Smudger Smith!
Lordhillwood (aka Steve) has been an Arsenal fan for 50 years, and was a season ticket holder at Highbury for 37 years. In the last 5 of those years he flew in and out for home games, and attended many away Champion league fixtures, despite working and living in Warsaw, Poland.
He was a member of the Bergkamp Wonderland podcast and featured in Little Bit Arsenal’s podcast and writes regularly for the Arsenal Identity blog . He still manages to get to London despite work and fatherhood to see games and meet friends.