This week John Nicholson finds himself watching everyone’s nice older brother, Alan Smith…
Sensible. Plain. Absolutely no concession to quirky fashion and yet very much suits what he chooses to wear. Was recently on TV in nice quality, not overly formal, unflashy, slim-fit, three-piece navy suit and that sums the man up perfectly.
Doesn’t seem to have an ounce more body fat on him than when he played the game, and looks in tremendous nick for a 53-year-old. One of those lucky men who somehow suits being grey and middle-aged far more than they did being a rangy young lion.
Has a lugubrious, velvety, slightly melancholic, minor key voice which seems perfectly suited to commiserating with people at a funeral, or sympathising with an upset child who has got a pan stuck on their head. Often assumed to have a Brummie accent but is in fact in possession of one of the softer variants from Worcestershire. Critics hear a low monotonous drone, like someone snoring under a 13 tog duvet, somewhere in the distance. But his fans like his calm, measured, undemonstrative style, especially in an era of hysterical over-hyping. No-one with Alan’s accent could hysterically over-hype anything. Indeed, some have said he has an ideal tone to read a bedtime story.
Likes to finish a sentence with a rhetorical question, doesn’t he? Loves a “the little Spaniard” or “the big German”.
More than any other co-comm he remains even-tempered, almost as though to be otherwise would be unprofessional.
When asked into the studio, often wears the slightly dazed expression of a man who has only recently woken from a rather intense dream. On occasions, it’s almost as if he’s thinking before he answers questions. How do you do that, Jeff?
Hits and misses
It’s 21 years since Alan retired. 21! Where did those years go, brothers and sisters? So he’s had a media career now substantially longer than his playing career. This simply has to mean that he’s very well-regarded in the trade and a reliable, good quality performer, as well as being sufficiently clubbable as to rub along with everyone, whilst avoiding getting the sack for off-colour language or doing something to someone what he shouldn’t, Martin.
Has been a co-comm go-to man for Sky for years and years. He’s had all of the big European gigs, all of the big league gigs, all of the big cup gigs and everything in between. He is top of the co-comm call-up sheet. Got a final to cover? Get in Smudger. Yet, in a way, he goes under the radar, perhaps because he ruffles so few feathers. Others win broadcasting awards for being noisy and silly, but that’s not his way at all. Very much the nice, quiet, studious boy that your daughter should marry, rather than the more glamorous, tight-trousered noisy ones with lying eyes that she keeps falling for.
Being reasonable to the point of being phlegmatic is a real achievement in the plastic fantastic world of football telly, where small is made big and dull claimed to be super.
Every job need its steady plodders, people who are never going to be shooting stars, people whose greatest achievement is to just keep turning up. They are the scaffolding upon which life is woven by the more creative, the more expansive and original. But without the warp and weft provided by the likes of Smithy, none of it could happen.
As someone on Twitter said, ‘I’d trust him to rewire my house’ and you wouldn’t say that of many co-comms, would you?
Big club bias
Some see him as pro-Arsenal, for obvious reasons, but I sense he moderates that very heavily. Would have to be hard-hearted not to be cheering on Leicester this year, given it was his first professional club. Remains a patron of non-league Alvechurch, for whom he once played, which suggests an appreciation of the less fingered, dusty end of the lower league fretboard.
Loved or loathed
My social media research reveals a lot of quiet love for the big man. My sense is that he is many people’s favourite co-comm and studio pundit because he is undemonstrative, calm and thoughtful, but at no time is a medals-on-the-table elitist, despite having a pretty top-notch career. In short, in an all too often childish world, he behaves like a grown-up. Clearly, he doesn’t have an ounce of rock ‘n’ roll in his body and what criticism there is of him seems to centre around him not being exciting, though that is precisely why so many like him, of course.
Even those who don’t favour his low-key, phlegmatic approach, still recognise him as a nice, thoroughly decent bloke who you could take home without fear that he would abuse the cat with a finger, or do a vulgar trick with a tangerine. Many say that he always has his homework done and has good timing – an important co-comm talent. We all see him as the very embodiment of the expression, a safe pair of hands.
Someone commented that he was the Ernie Wise to former strike partner Gary Lineker’s Eric Morecambe. Those two have had a strange parallel career, first playing together at Leicester, where Alan did well but never as well as Gary. They both played for England with Smithy being the man who came on as sub for Gary, in Gary’s last international game. Gary was never booked, Alan got booked once. Alan scored 199 goals for his clubs, Gary 238. Gary was always the big star, Smudger the supporting man, somehow. Always appreciated but never quite as big. And now, even in the world of TV football, as Lineker fronts up huge shows and is a household name, that power balance seems to have continued. It’s quite sweet really.
Proper Football Man
Oh no. Not a hint of PFM in the Smithy make-up. He ain’t one of us, is he, Keysie?
Keysie, stop taking photos of yourself, you look like a badger in a sauna.
One imagines while the PFMs in the Arsenal dressing room were cutting the crotch out of expensive pairs of trousers while laughing loudly, a manic, cruel glint in their eyes, Alan was quietly getting dressed, trying to avoid looking at anyone, then perhaps leaving to go to a local library to read a broadsheet newspaper on one of those wooden sticks, while really enjoying a small bag of mint imperials.
Played in a side full of dissolute alpha males, so must have had a lot of coping strategies in place to avoid getting into a fight for not wanting to have a pi*s-drinking contest with Merse, or whatever. This will not have been forgotten by the PFMs. He wouldn’t even tie Perry Groves to a lamp-post with cling film, Mark. What’s ‘e like, ‘im?
To any PFM worth his non-brewed condiment, Alan is one of them wotisnames, err…you know…err…professors, Jeff.
Writes for the Telegraph – wasn’t that what came before the fax, Jeff? The PFM likes its politics but hates them public school Fontleroys what write it. He likes a paper column because all he has to do is shout random words down the phone to someone who will then use some of them words in a piece what they had pre-written and will pretend its clever stuff you’ve said.
But Alan doesn’t even seem to have a ghostwriter. No PFM would consider writing his own column, partly due to a chronic inability to spell, use verbs and tenses correctly, or actually cohere a sentence, but much more importantly, because it would involve working for your money and no PFM wants to do that. Dressing up the acquisition of easy money for doing almost no work as being the sort of hard graft only an ex-pro could understand being one of their quintessential lifestyle choices.
Absolutely no chance of him going out with the boys, despite Smudger being a good old school nickname. When you’ve played alongside Tony Adams before he became a more highly-evolved lifeform, must surely have exposed Alan to the full technicolour yawn extremes of PFM behaviour from an early age. Consequently, he has no interest at all in public vomiting, fighting with the biggest man in the nightclub, mistaking aggressively shouting adjectives at women for flirting, nor in literally losing your shirt in a casino, then trying to drive home by sitting in a discarded cardboard box, holding an umbrella as a steering wheel.
Has shown disappointingly little form in blaming foreigns for everything bad and praising Brits for everything good. And yet still get loads of TV work, that’s not right, is it, Andy? And he doesn’t even have to rely on Middle East oil money to prop up his career. He doesn’t know what he’s missing out here, you can eat your body weight in caviar and still have room for a big spoonful of self-pity, washed down with a foaming pint of self-regard. Isn’t that right, Deano? Deano! Ha ha, he’s passed out, again. Quick Dion, get the tar and feathers.
Seems likely to turn down a snifter from Reidy’s new flask of Puffa fish, Propofol and pineapple-flavoured polish. Give us a go at that Reidy, by God that’d keep the cold out during a midweek game at Boundary Park; both fruity, numbing and poisonous, much like my first wife. No offence, luv.
Alan will not be papped coming out of north London premier nightspot and vomitorium Twataholic at 4.27am with the radiant Miss Spent Nuclear Fuel Rod body of 1979 and would rather do almost anything other than grab someone in a headlock in a pub car park and half choke them in a fit of drunken aggression which will later be passed off as comedy male bonding banter. Not even an invitation to see who can dropkick TC the furthest would tempt him into a night out with the boys.
PFM membership impossible.
Beyond the lighted stage
I spent ages trying to find out anything about Alan with little success. He may have played a few charity golf days but as far as I can tell, has no roister, nor any doister with The Bantersaurus Collective. It’s almost as though he just goes to work, does a good job, and then goes home without so much as putting a potato in someone’s exhaust pipe, either literally or figuratively. Seems likely to have an interesting hinterland but rightly, has never shared this with us. Either that, or simply sits quietly in an armchair, staring into the blackness, a grandfather clock ticking away the hours that make up a dull day, until it’s time to go and co-comm again.