Matt Smith owes career path to his dad the doctor
MATT SMITH has already gone a long way towards making his own name with his FA Cup heroics.
Yet, if the man who shares his name with the star of Dr Who brings heartache to Everton tonight, it will be all be down to one particular “good doctor” from Edinburgh.
Dr Ian Smith was the proud father who watched 11 nights ago at Boundary Park, as his son Matt came off the bench to head Oldham’s dramatic 94th-minute equaliser in the original fifth round tie and certainly eclipsed his own scoring feats for Hearts 35 years ago.
Matt’s two goals against Liverpool in the previous round created a 3-2 success which raised the profile of himself and the struggling League One club, even if it could not save the job of Paul Dickov, the former Scotland striker, who was sacked before facing Everton.
It was Dickov who spotted the potential of the 23-year-old striker, who spent four years at Manchester University pursuing a degree, on the orders of his Scottish father.
Ian Smith juggled a medical career with football during the 1970s, moving down south where he was in the Birmingham City squad when the club reached the 1975 FA Cup semi-final, before a brief spell in his native Edinburgh at Tynecastle, convinced Ian that his real future lay with health matters, not Hearts.
“We wanted Matt to have a go at football but we told him to get a degree behind him first,” said Ian, who also played for Queen‘s Park and Queen of the South. “I then told him ‘follow your dreams, son’ and we were indebted to Paul Dickov for giving him a chance when he finished his studies.”
Dickov was on the ITV commentary team in the first match and the former Scotland striker was spotted jumping about after Matt’s late leveller. “I spent ages working with Matt, telling him to start his runs deeper because no-one can get close to him if the delivery is right,” he said.
Dickov gave Matt a two-year deal when he signed in 2011 from non-league Solihull Moors, back in Matt’s home town of Birmingham, where Ian settled to focus on being a doctor.
His father, who was also a striker, had been a prolific scorer for Birmingam City’s reserve side in 1975 and made two first-team appearances that season in the league, but his work at the local Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre got in the way of football.
Smith senior then moved to Hearts in August 1977, signed by Willie Ormond as the club tried to recover after relegation from the top-flight. Ian made nine appearances, scoring in the opening day 2-2 draw at Dumbarton in the First Division, one of two goals in a maroon shirt, the other coming against St Johnstone.
However, Ormond freed Smith at Christmas time and while Hearts went on to win promotion, Ian went back to the Midlands and played for Kidderminster Harriers and Bromsgrove Rovers, before a brief stint with Queen of the South in 1982-83.
Yet, Ian was his son’s greatest inspiration. “When I lived at home, I was up at 5am to do training with him at 5.30, crossing and finishing for an hour before dad went to work at seven,” says Matt. “Then we’d do the same at night after he came back at seven. We’d go out at 7.30 for another hour. Crossing and finishing, crossing and finishing. Constantly.
“My grandad and my dad both played professionally. My grandad played with St Mirren and my dad had a spell at Birmingham City in the Trevor Francis days in the mid-70s. He was in the FA Cup semi-final squad and he has got a bit of memorabilia from that time. He is pretty modest about it all and does not talk about it.”
Matt’s FA Cup heroics have given his Oldham career the kiss of life. He’d had such a barren spell in front of goal, that he was sent out on loan to Macclesfield Town but the 6ft 6in striker has bounced back from setbacks. He was released by Cheltenham Town at 18, which prompted his father to insist that Matt go to Manchester University to do International Management with American Business Studies.
““My story shows that there is a route back into the game,” says Matt. “All too often now people think that if you’ve not made it by the age of 12 then you never will. But I never gave up hope that it would happen. I’ve tasted reality.
“A lot of young footballers come into the game very naive and think everyone finishes work at one in the afternoon and everyone gets paid thousands of pounds a week. I’ve worked in bars, restaurants and hotels on minimum wage. I know exactly what’s waiting for me if I don’t push myself.”
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