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Neil Smith nearly joined Southend United before signing for Gillingham from Tottenham


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Neil Smith has described how a car crash led to him signing for Gillingham.

The Bromley manager, who spent six years at Gillingham, playing over 200 games between 1991 and 1997, was the guest on this week’s KM Football Podcast.

Known by most as 'Smudge', he was signed by Terry Venables as a youngster and started his career cleaning Gary Lineker's boots at Tottenham.

Gillingham chairman Paul Scally with Neil Smith celebrating promotion
Gillingham chairman Paul Scally with Neil Smith celebrating promotion

When he couldn’t break into the first team at White Hart Lane, he looked lower down the leagues for football and was heading to Southend to play in a game for them when he was involved in a crash.

“I went into the central reservation (and a car landed on top of mine),” he recalled.

Listen to the KM Football Podcast with Neil Smith

“I was going to Southend to sign (on loan) for them but then I ended up having a few weeks out. I was really shaken up, it was a really bad crash.

“I ended up going down to Gillingham (instead) to just enjoy my football and I loved every minute of it.

“I went down there for a couple of months and had an FA Cup game against Brentford that Tottenham wouldn’t let me play in unless I was going to sign for Gillingham.

“I took the decision. I wanted to play in the FA Cup, I was a 19-year-old kid, it was on Sky, so I said I wanted to sign, I scored in that game as well and it was a decision I made. Ray Clemence (a coach at Spurs) wanted me to stay at Tottenham but I wanted to play football. All I ever wanted to do was to play football and to play in the FA Cup was the draw for me.”

He helped keep Gillingham in the Football League, and describes in the podcast how Paul Scally and Tony Pulis turned the club around.

Neil Smith playing for the Gills in 1994
Neil Smith playing for the Gills in 1994

Smith talks about pre-season, what it was like at the Gills. “There was a hill in Medway, it was a nightmare to get to, it was a never ending hill, there was no top of the hill. Back then you if you weren't being sick you hadn’t worked hard enough.”

Smith, who manages in the National League, appreciates it’s more scientific than that these days but feels there is a benefit to pushing players hard.

Wearing his manager’s hat, he said: “It's not all about fitness. Sometimes it is to see who is up for it and who gives up. I need to know who has the fight and the will to drive on. Some of these sessions you see who your leaders are.”

Smith was at Fulham when Mohamed Al-Fayed bought the club and brought in Kevin Keegan as manager, with the likes of Michael Jackson and Hugh Grant coming to games.

The crash of ITV Digital scuppered a return to Gills later in his career and forced Smith to drop into non-league with Woking.

Read more: The latest sports news from Kent

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