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Q&A with former Arsenal, Yeovil Town & Crawley Town midfielder Ben Smith

Ashley Calver recently got the chance to have a Q&A with ex pro and now author Ben Smith.  

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Ben for answering our questions and wish him the greatest success in the future. 

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We start at your first club, Arsenal at youth level, how did you first get involved and signed there?

I was under 12s at arsenal but I was at Colchester, west ham and Ipswich which I really liked it there but then arsenal came in and when a club like that comes in for you don’t turn it down and at that time they had just won the league in 89 and 91 so when the old division one champions come in for you it’s not really much of a decision to make

During your time there was a few managerial changes, were you also still there at the start of Arsene Wengers reign?

I was just hanging on there, obviously when I first went it was George graham that had just been caught out in that bung scandal and then Bruce Rioch took over as manager and then of course Wenger took over at the end of my time at the club

When your involved in the youth team set-up do these managerial changes affect you so much or is it just the first team?

Well while I was there Pat rice was my youth team manager and then he moved on at the end of my first year to join Arsene as assistant.  Then a guy called Tom Wally came in took over who is a highly respected coach who has worked at Watford and Millwall, but we didn’t really get on which had an effect on me, so I was a little unfortunate that Pat Rice my manager left the youth set-up but he proved what a good coach he is by going on the be Arsenal assistant manager for nearly 20 years.

When you left the club it was Reading you went to, was it the Arsenals decision to let you go or your own?

Well it was a bit mutual but I’ve always been quite proactive in these situations, and the problem was that I was in my 2nd year as apprentice and the group I was coming through with were very good and in particular in my position in midfield.  As much as I am a fan of my own abilities, there was some really good players there and was struggling to get a game at youth level and as anyone will tell you if that is happening then you struggle to get offered a pro deal.  It got to the stage where I said look I want to go at other clubs on trial and they didn’t stop me so that decision pretty much answer what I was thinking.  Looking back maybe it was a bit rash and maybe I could have secured a pro contract but I don’t really regret that decision because it did not look as there was a long term future for me at Arsenal.  I felt it was best to move on somewhere I thought I could compete for a first team spot and I thought that would be Reading.

From what I have read you didn’t actually get that many first team games, was down to management or something else?

I went there straight away and made my debut against man City. It was strange set-up because Jimmy Quinn and Mick Gooding were joint managers, well joint player-managers in fact which was even more strange and at that time the finished 18th place which for the size of the club at the time seemed a decent season but the chairmen wasn’t happy and sacked them to bring in a guy called Terry Bullivant which created the problem of the managers who knew me and signed me had left but when terry came in of course he didn’t know me so it was like starting all over again which made things harder.  A combination of the manager changing and him not knowing me as well me being a bit immature and enjoying life outside football a bit too much and not concentrating on my football meant I didn’t have the success at reading that I should have.  Which was more down to my unprofessionalism at the time I think and I struggled I think because I had no-one in my family or close to me that had experienced this so no-one to really advise me who knew pro football, it’s a learning curve and you learn as you go and I made some costly mistakes which you learn in the future and looking back I think I really could have had a decent career there.

Your first experience of regular first team football was when you moved to Yeovil then, over 100 games, how was that?

Yeah it was good move for me really, you don’t realise sometimes but I moved from the championship to the conference and being brought up in Essex I had no clue really about Yeovil but I went and had a chat with them and liked what they said and the vibe around the club.  I had a decent 3 and half years there but again I was a bit immature and still not probably as focus as I should have been.  I did ok but I think I wasn’t really looking after myself which seemed a common thing looking back at my younger days.  But yeah Yeovil, good club, nice people, lovely part of the world as well to live and still have few friends there, and seeing the club where it’s gone in terms of championship recently I think at the time it was little bit of a sleeping giant at the time.

A spell at Southend then followed by Hereford what happened there?

Well David Webb who was manager at Yeovil decided to go to Southend and I decided to go with him but I got a lot of injuries and most of that season, during that time David had a bit of a heart scare and resigned, I was left with another manager who didn’t really know me plus I was injured most of the time so it turned into a situation that I couldn’t do much about it, probably a bit unlucky and to be honest was pretty forgettable stage in my career.

Onto Weymouth you went then, helping them get promotion into the conference, how did you enjoy your time there?

Loved it down in Weymouth, again a beautiful part of the world, Gary Hills who was manager at the time tried to sign me a couple of times  when he was at Dagenham and it didn’t come off for whatever reason.  Weymouth were a very ambitious club at that time, spending a lot of money and I would be lying if I said I didn’t get paid well for going there, that was one of the reasons for going there but as I said I loved it down there, good club and happily would have stayed there for a few years but unfortunately like a lot of these ambitious clubs there was a reason for the ambition which was the chairmen trying to get the ground redeveloped and sell it to a supermarket which didn’t come off, and when it was clear that wasn’t going to happen the powers that be decided they didn’t want to keep subsidising the club and it was made clear to us that if we could then it was time to move on.  I had just signed a new two and half year deal about two weeks before all this happened and they said well the money has gone so you got to leave.  Luckily I was having a really good season so it didn’t affect me too much, but it was disappointed because I did love it there.

And it was Hereford who came back in for you?

Yeah I went back there, couple of reasons; I had a couple good years there before where I left on my terms, probably at the wrong time when I went to Shrewsbury which didn’t really work out.  But as I said I was quite fortunate leaving Weymouth that I had a few others  but I really enjoyed working for Hereford before and felt I had a little bit of unfinished business.  Graham Turner was the manager/chairmen/everything there so that was nice to know there would a lot of stability cause the only person who could sack Graham turner was going to be Graham Turner.  Knowing the consistency was going to be there and working with someone who knew my strengths and weaknesses and I knew liked me as a player so that was a big factor in my signing.  I was around 27 at the time as well and felt it was really important for me the play every week too.

Your last sort of big move then was onto Crawley, how did that materialise?

That’s right I left Hereford after two and half years and I was in a situation where I didn’t really have a club along with 600 other players, and as the months move into July and towards the start of the season the power shifts from your own hands and into the clubs.  I spoke with Crawley just as I left Hereford and at the time I thought I could maybe get a slightly better club no disrespect to Crawley.  But I did end up joining them and it’s not something I regret because we did have two promotions while I was there so happy to be part of that.

One story from your book from your time at Crawley was the manager Steve Evans doing a crossbar challenge and giving out £50 to anyone who done it, did he do a lot of stuff like that?

Yeah that’s right he used to do a lot of different things, he was a very colourful character so to speak, and was quite notorious, probably even more so the more success he is having with Rotherham now of course.  Some of the stuff he did was funny, some was strange but it was really interesting time working for him, some days were great fun and some were a nightmare but that’s the challenges of working for someone like that and while I didn’t always agree with all his methods he did a lot of success first with Crawley now as I said with Rotherham keeping them in the championship.  The season we got promoted from the conference we had a great team spirit and obviously games like that used to help foster that spirit as well as good player because we did have some very good players at that time.

Mentioned the book there ‘Journeyman’, when did you start writing it? Was it during your playing days or more recently?

I did actually think about writing it towards the end of playing and I always thought I could write a decent book but after I stopped playing I became a teacher and I have to admit I found it hard going from football to another job.  It was then when I just started writing about my experiences, and it brought back a lot of memories, good and bad, it was a cathartic process I must admit.  You forget about a lot of the stuff you have done.  So the first part of the year when I started writing it just kind of snowballed, and to be honest when I was writing I wasn’t writing for it to be published it was more as memories for myself and kids and grandkids eventually.  When I did finish it a few people had a read and were really positive about it and that pushed me to send it to a couple of publishers and one came and said they wanted to run with, which surprised me cause I thought it was really hard to get something published but the liked it at Bite Back publishing and I think I was a little lucky the right person at the right time read it and liked it.

It’s been out a couple of weeks now and had pretty good reviews and responses, you must happy with that?

It’s always nice to get good feedback; honestly I wouldn’t have put it out if I thought it was a load of rubbish but just because I like it don’t mean anyone else will.  The real test for me is the people who don’t really follow the clubs I played for and such, if they find it interesting then that would be the real barometer for success.  I think anyone who supports any of the clubs I played at they would find it interested but it’s the ones who don’t follow the clubs and one of the main reasons for writing it was giving people an insight into what it’s like to be lower league player.  But I’m hoping whoever you support I hope it’s all relative in understanding what it’s like to be a player in the lower leagues.  There is always a king of misconception about players either not being paid or being paid loads of money when in actual fact its middle ground in reality and I just try to give people an honest account and idea of what it is like.

It’s not been out long as we said, and I’m sure you been asked this already but is there another book planned?

I don’t think I have another book in me to be honest, it’s almost like when a band come out with the first album and everyone is waiting for that difficult second album.  I enjoyed the process and one reason I did this and agreed to have it published was I wanted to see what doors it could open, whether its writing more I’m not sure or something else I’m not sure where it could lead me but it’s just something that I wanted to put out there and if people like it great and if they don’t well that’s not a problem either, I’m pretty thick skinned but I think it could be a slow burner and in football it quite a close community for a such a big game and hopefully word will soon spread among people who have read it and hopefully it grows.  But as I said the motivation was not making money but giving people a real insight into being a lower league player


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