Russ Penn gets the lowdown from his for­mer Gateshead and Wrex­ham team-mate Manny Smith

But there’s so much tal­ent in Na­tional League

The Non-League Football Paper - - NEWS - TALKS TO WREX­HAM DE­FENDER MANNY SMITH

It’s been just over 10 years since Manny Smith made his pro­fes­sional de­but in the foot­ball league for Wal­sall. Since then, the big de­fender has played over 150 games in League One and the same amount in the Na­tional League. I caught up with my for­mer Gateshead and Wrex­ham team-mate...

TOUGH­EST BAT­TLE YOU'VE EVER HAD AS A PLAYER ON THE PITCH?

When I was at Wal­sall we played As­ton Villa in a pre-sea­son game, and I was up against Dar­ren Bent. He dragged me ev­ery­where, down the chan­nels, pushed me off the ball, won his head­ers and also scored. I came off the pitch won­der­ing if foot­ball was re­ally for me.

BEST PLAYER YOU HAVE PLAYED WITH?

At Notts County, Keith Curle signed a young lad called Jack Gre­al­ish on loan from As­ton Villa. I thought, “Oh here we go, another typ­i­cal Pre­mier League youth player”. But my opin­ion quickly changed. He proved to be the dif­fer­ence for us for the time he was there, and I al­ways knew he would go to the top.

BEST MAN­AGER YOU HAVE PLAYED UN­DER?

My old youth team man­ager Mike Hal­sall was the main rea­son I am where I am now. He pushed me re­ally hard when I was a youth team player. He was hon­est and bru­tal, but that was some­thing I needed as a 17-year-old.”

ANY RE­GRETS IN YOUR FOOT­BALL CA­REER?

I have no re­grets; ev­ery de­ci­sion I made was for a rea­son. My tough­est de­ci­sion came re­cently when I left Gateshead. I had another year left on my deal, but be­ing a four-hour drive from home it was get­ting tough. It was also tough on my wife and chil­dren as I was only home a cou­ple of times a week. So I had to think of them as well as my­self for my fu­ture.”

WHAT SUR­PRISES YOU MOST IN FOOT­BALL NOWA­DAYS?

Two things come to mind. The first is the price tags of play­ers these days. Foot­ball has gone crazy in terms of money; I just wish it fil­tered down to this level. The sec­ond is the stan­dard of play­ers at Na­tional League level; I’ve been re­ally im­pressed with cer­tain play­ers and it won’t be long un­til they are in the league.”

THE BIG­GEST THING YOU HAVE BOUGHT WITH A NEW CON­TRACT?

I bought a house when I signed for Notts County. They dou­bled my money, with a sign­ing-on fee and the club bonuses were great. So that helped me put it into bricks and mor­tar.”

BEST MATE IN FOOT­BALL?

Troy Deeney. We both joined Wal­sall at youth team level and we both lived near each other in Birm­ing­ham. We see each other when we can around our fix­tures. Troy is a down-to-earth guy and I’m proud of what he’s achieved in the game”

ANY PLANS FOR LIFE AF­TER FOOT­BALL?

“I’ve got my fin­gers in a few pies at the mo­ment. I ob­vi­ously want to stay in foot­ball for as long as pos­si­ble, whether it’s as a player, a coach or in any other ca­pac­ity. I’ve just com­pleted my mas­sage course, which I’ve en­joyed, and I’ve got a stake in a beard groom­ing busi­ness with Ja­mal Fy­field (Gateshead). Also, I’m just get­ting into a bit of prop­erty with my wife at the mo­ment.”

FAVOURITE FOOT­BALL TALE?

I was a first-year pro at Wal­sall, Richard Money was my first team man­ager. Ev­ery time I played or trained well he would al­ways find a fault and was on my case 24/7. I thought it was bor­der­line bul­ly­ing. In front of me were Scott Dann, Ant Ger­rard, Ian Roper and Chris West­wood, so it looked like I would never play a first team game.

Out of nowhere I found my­self in the squad. I was buzzing and as a first year pro it was a big deal. We were away that Satur­day, so I turned up at the Bescot Sta­dium to get on the coach, and Richard pulled me aside and said I’m not on the bench but I’m trav­el­ing to make the tea and cof­fee, and I wasn’t al­lowed to sit down un­til I got to the game. With mixed emo­tions I just got on with it and was a ‘yes’ man.

We had a game away on New Year’s Day and in­stead of hav­ing a few days off I found my­self in the squad again, so all my plans were ru­ined be­cause I was 100 per cent go­ing just to be a ‘yes’ man. I de­cided to go out and ‘not’ drink.

Early hours New Year’s Day I was a bit tipsy and thought I’m only mak­ing teas and cof­fee, no one will no­tice I’ve even been out. I got home at around 4am and had to be at the sta­dium for 9am. But I woke up to a dead phone bat­tery and panic kicked in. I missed the coach as I got to the sta­dium at half past nine. What hap­pened in the gaffer’s of­fice the fol­low­ing Mon­day can­not be re­peated...

PIC­TURE: Matt Bris­tow

MAN­NING THE FORT: Manny Smith in ac­tion for Gateshead, best mate Troy Deeney, inset left, and his beard-groom­ing busi­ness, right

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