The Michael Smith Interview: Shopping trolleys, rat-catching, loving Rotherham United and being mates with Jon Taylor

This is what happens when you're born in Newcastle, live near Manchester and play for Rotherham United.
Michael Smith with the Adveriser's Millers man, Paul Davis. Pictures: David PoucherMichael Smith with the Adveriser's Millers man, Paul Davis. Pictures: David Poucher
Michael Smith with the Adveriser's Millers man, Paul Davis. Pictures: David Poucher

You don't get out much.

"I don't really live the most exciting life," Michael Smith says. "It's just me and my girlfriend. We haven't really got anybody around us where we are. We get on each other's toes a bit!

"We do quite a lot together. I seem to spend most of my time in Tesco, to be honest. Warrington Tesco ... I can tell you exactly where everything is."

Smith is the much-travelled centre-forward who joined Paul Warne's League One promotion campaign last January from Bury and is now leading the Millers' push to establish themselves in the Championship.

Eleven clubs feature on his CV but he's just agreed a three-and-a-half-year deal and, driving into training every day with teammates Jon Taylor and Jamie Proctor, has never felt happier.

"This is the best time of my career," the genial 27-year-old says. "It's crazy, the contrast from the changing room at Bury to the one here. The big difference for me is that the lads here do a lot of stuff off the pitch together whereas at Bury everyone did their own thing."

Smith is a Wallsend boy. Mum and dad Derek and Sue and older brother and sister Joe and Rebecca still live in Newcastle and they all make the two-hour journey to watch Rotherham's home games.

"Rebecca is a teaching assistant at a primary school," he says. "Joe works for Rentokil. Yeah, yeah, he catches rats and all that. 

"He's got some stories. He catches all sorts. When he asks me where I've been for my dinner, he shakes his head and says: 'I wouldn't go there.'"

We meet up at Rotherham's Roundwood complex where I watch through the window as I wait for the Millers senior pros to finish working out.

"I'll just get a bottle of water," he says in a lovely, soft Geordie burr, still wearing his red training gear with the number 24 when he greets me. "Is that all right?"

A five-a-side game has been taking place. 6ft 4in Smith has cleared a couple of balls from his own penalty area and has played really well generally but I don't see him score. 

There have been too many first-team games like that for the liking of a player who needs only to add more goals to his game to be the complete targetman.

Taylor, meanwhile, has a glint in his eye. Despite his own thick Scouse tones, he's worried about his pal's North East accent and takes it on himself to be interpreter: "He says he'll just get a bottle of water. Is that all right?"

The pair won't be car buddies for much longer. Smith and partner Hannah are buying a house north of Barnsley and moving to South Yorkshire. 

"It's close to the club for me and close to the M1 for her work in Sunderland," he says. "There's a bit of rivalry between us. I'm black and white and she's red and white. She's from Sunderland. We met back in Newcastle when I was on a night out with my mates."

He'll still be doing the supermarket sweep. "I don't mind a Tesco shop, to be fair," he smiles. "Especially if I've got control of the trolley."

Darlington gave Smith his break after no other North East club had taken notice and three years later came the culture shock of a move to London and Charlton Athletic.

"I always wanted to be a footballer but never thought I would be," he says. "I didn't get picked up until I was 16. 

"I'll never forget going to Charlton. I went down on the train to Kings Cross and had to pay 30 pence to go to the toilet. I couldn't believe it. Even the price of the packets of chewing gum in the station were ridiculous. I've been away from Newcastle ever since.

"I went out on loan four times and did well but the manager at Charlton, Chris Powell, pulled me into his office and told me he couldn't promise me game-time. I've learned since then that a manager being honest with you is all that you want. He didn't give me waffle."

Smith headed to Swindon Town and Portsmouth and eventually pitched up at Gigg Lane where, much like his brother might, he soon smelled a rat.

"It was all a bit up in the air at Bury," he says. "There was a lot going on behind the scenes. I was in and out of the side. Lee Clark had got the sack and Ryan Lowe had taken over. I'd had four managers - Kenny Jackett at Portsmouth, then Lee Clark, Chris Lucketti and Ryan Lowe at Bury - in the space of four or five months. I just wanted to be settled and to get on with my manager.”

The player has been a revelation since he joined the Millers last January and it's hard to believe he cost nothing. Rotherham got hard-working physical presence and fleet-footed mobility. Two for the price of none.

"I met the gaffer in the Trafford Centre. It was over my way," Smith reveals. Him and Hammy (coach Matt Hamshaw) were in Manchester to watch Manchester City Under-21s. We met in Starbucks and I spoke to them for 45 minutes to an hour over a green tea.

"I'd come on a sub at New York Stadium for Bury and played well. We lost 3-2 when Richie Towell scored near the end. The Rotherham move came about off the back of that 30 minutes really.

"It didn't seem like I was having a chat with a potential manager. It seemed like ... well, you know what the gaffer is like, he's just down to earth. He make you feel at ease. Hammy was cracking the jokes. It was a good mix. I knew at the end of that conversation that I wanted to sign."

It's a busy afternoon at Roundwood. A reserve game against Peterborough United is due to kick off and players, staff and officials are flitting everywhere. Thankfully, Taylor has bounced off to annoy someone else so it's just Smith and I who take refuge in boss Paul Warne's office and talk about his new contract.

"That was massive," he says. "I've floated round League One and Two going from two-year to one-year deals. To get security for me and my partner was very important. I've never signed a deal for that long before. 

"To know in my head I can ... not relax, not take my foot off the gas, but know I can focus on being here and that financially things are sorted is huge.

"Coming here every day, I shouldn't say this, but it doesn't feel like work. When you go out on the grass, the serious stuff starts. Richie (assistant manager Barker) and the gaffer wouldn't let it be any other way. But everything else is relaxed and spot on. 

"The gaffer's always asking about my dad and my mum, asking if they're coming to games, which I've never really had before. Little things like that make this place different and a bit more special.

"Hannah comes to the games. She loves it. We've been together for nearly two years. No kids yet. She says I'm a big kid anyway. Is she the one? Yeah, she is. I'm going to have to say that, aren't I? She's a good girl."

No fall-outs up and down the aisles either: "Aye, it works well. She's got the card and I've got the trolley."

Warne pops his head round the door looking for his laptop. The gaffer calls him 'Smudge', but to the players he's 'Smudger'.

"It's Smudge or Smudger down here but back up in Newcastle it's 'Smudga'," he says emphasising the 'a'. "I got the name when I came into football. I was Smithy growing up. I'm still Smithy to all my Newcastle mates. 

"My girlfriend is the only one who calls me Michael. I forget my name is Michael sometimes. What does my mum call me? It depends if I'm getting something wrong. I'm 27 and in her eyes I'm still getting things wrong.

"I'm close to my family and friends, everyone back home. Wallsend is one of those areas. It's that out of the way that everyone looks out for each other. Rotherham seems similar. People here seem close to their families. I get back to Newcastle as much as I can."

On this day, he has to get back to Warrington but his lift has now decided to watch the reserves game and is busy heckling Peterborough players he knows. Smith admits Taylor makes him laugh the most, but the bond between all the players is strong. 

At Rotherham, unlike Bury, no-one does their own thing.

"Some of the lads play golf together," he says. "They've been playing for a while and I've started to join in. We played at Hillsborough. That's Joe Mattock's local course. I'm getting there. My handicap has been cut. The lads put me off 26 but it's down to 20 now. 

"There are some really good golfers. Will (Vaulks) is really good, Fordey (Anthony Forde) is really good, so is Joe. Will is probably the best. Jon likes to think he is, but he's not.

"I read a bit as well. I like reading about how the mind works - any book that's going to improve me as a footballer really. I'm quite into psychology. That might be something I pursue after football."

For now, though, it's all about proving himself in the Championship for one of the bargains of 2018.

Michael. Smithy. Smudge. Smudger. Smudga. Part of Tesco's Finest range.

 

REPLACING KING KIEFFER

Michael Smith literally had big boots to fill when he joined Rotherham United last January.

Centre-forward Kieffer Moore had scored 13 goals in a headline-making loan spell and, even though he had returned to parent club Ipswich Town, was still casting a 6ft 5in shadow over AESSEAL New York Stadium.

Yet Smith had no problems stepping into the gap left by Moore and his size 15s.

"I never felt any pressure," he says. "People still like to remind me of him. I had the same number, the same build, the same position, but it never bothered me. 

"Kieffer is obviously his own player and so am I. There was no getting away from the fact he'd done great things here, and he's gone on to do well at Barnsley. I just concentrated on myself."

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Best goal: It was for Swindon Town probably. It was against Bristol City so it was a West Country derby (November 14 2014). They'd be on some mad unbeaten run but we won 1-0. They went up to the Championship that season.  I jinked in between a few players in the box and managed to stick it in the bottom corner. My best Rotherham goal ... there's no better feeling for a striker than scoring the winner, so probably the one against Ipswich Town earlier this season. 90th minute. 1-0. I enjoyed that one.

Toughest opponent: I've had some good scraps down the years. I've had that many clubs in that many leagues, it's hard to single out one player. Jason Pearce at Charlton Athletic, I've had some battles with him.

Best trainer: Probably Bally (David Ball).

Best player played with: Probably Kyle Bennett at Portsmouth. He could twist you inside out. I used to get nervous in training going to close him down. He always stuck the ball through my legs. Some of the stuff he could do, you just hand to stand and clap.

Best player faced in any position: Probably Massimo Luongo when he was at Swindon. He was great with both feet. You just couldn't get the ball off him. It seemed like he could wriggle out of anything.

Best moment: Being promoted at Wembley in May. You can't beat that, can you? They always say the best way to go up is through the play-offs.

Worst moment: Losing at Wembley with Swindon (League One Play-off Final, May 24 2015). We didn't just lose, we were humiliated. We were beaten 4-0 by Preston North End. Jermaine Beckford got a hat-trick. He reminded us of that when he was at Bury and I signed for them.

Funniest teammate: I'll pick Jon (Taylor). He does make us laugh, to be fair. Bally was a close friend. Jon and Procs (Jamie Proctor) are now. We share the driving. Jon is just Jon. 6.30 in the morning, he's the same as he is 6.30 in the evening. He's a Duracel bunny. He just doesn't know when to shut up. He's a good laugh, good to be around. Procs is at the opposite end of the scale to Jon. He's more calm and chilled. Depending on what kind of conversation you want to have, you can pick and choose between the two.

Roommate: It used to be Bally, but for the last few away games it's been Procs.

These articles first appeared in last Friday's Advertiser

 

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