Around six months ago Tommy Smith was planning a quiet holiday during June 2010, perhaps interspersed with watching the action from South Africa 2010 on television, prior to returning to pre-season training with Ipswich Town. Now the young defender is just days away from featuring for New Zealand in front of a global audience on the world’s greatest football stage.
Having just turned 20, Smith is one of the youngest players at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. However, All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has stated previously he would have no hesitation in naming the mobile defender to face Paraguay, Slovakia or even world champions Italy. Herbert is as well qualified to make that judgement as anyone given that he played in the backline for the All Whites as a 21-year-old in their one and only appearance at the FIFA World Cup™ at Spain 1982.
Indeed, after becoming eligible to represent New Zealand earlier this year following appearances for England youth teams, Smith has featured in all four matches played by the All Whites, including last week’s impressive win against Serbia. The small Austrian city of Klagenfurt was the somewhat unlikely venue as the Kiwis scored a 1-0 win, securing arguably the biggest scalp in the nation's football history.
Smith is a left-sided defender who is likely to be utilised at fullback or centre-half depending on which formation Herbert opts for. The England-born Smith came to New Zealand with his family in 1998 and went through the national youth development system, before returning to the United Kingdom in his mid teens.
“I feel as if I am an All White through and through now really, because most of my football (development) was in New Zealand from a young age,” Smith told FIFA.com. “We have a good chance of doing well, as our opponents won’t expect much from us but with the attitude we’ve got in the squad we are capable of anything. I don’t think anything is impossible.”
Despite his relatively tender years, Smith is not the youngest member of the squad, with that honour falling to giant West Bromwich Albion striker Chris Wood at just 18. The pair form part of a small band of English Championship representatives in the Kiwi side, which also includes Plymouth Argyle’s Rory Fallon and Chris Killen of Middlesbrough.
“The squad has mixed really well, there are a few new faces, so it was going to take a while to gel, but it has worked out nicely,” said Smith. “Nothing else can make your more proud than that (representing your country).”
The international stage on which Smith was first initiated can be matched by few for its sheer magnitude. A friendly match against Mexico at the Rose Bowl in California attracting over 90,000 spectators as the north Americans triumphed 2-0 over the All Whites. Unsurprisingly, Smith has found he had to adapt quickly to the vastly different arena that is international football.
“It is a completely different style of football as the Championship is all a hundred miles-an-hour hustle and bustle. International football is a lot more reserved and teams take their chance to attack on the counter-attack more often.
“I’m looking forward to being involved in the World Cup. Every kid growing up playing football wants to represent their country, and I am lucky enough to be able to do that.”
Smith spends some of his spare time helping with community centre programmes at Ipswich Town supporting disadvantaged young people.
As a youngster Smith was a Liverpool fan idolising Robbie Fowler. Now he names the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Fabio Cannavaro and Gerard Pique as his influences.
Spent some of his childhood growing up in the small New Zealand town of Tauranga, as did fellow left-sided All Whites defender Tony Lochhead.
Smith represented England at the 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic.