Tommy came through the Youth ranks at Watford, making his first team debut late in 1997 and making just short of 150 appearances before signing for Sunderland in 2003. He rejoined the club in 2006 from Derby, making a further 124 appearances and twice winning the Player of the Season award.
He spoke to Watford Legends shortly after joining Portsmouth in 2009.
Hi Tommy. You are from the area and came through as a youth team player. Tell us about how you came through the ranks.
As a kid it was all about being scouted by the local clubs. I trained for a while at Millwall and also Sheffield United, who had a base in Amersham. I trained with Watford until I was about 12 and then fell away from it; just playing local football for Hemel Comets. Then when I was 14 I was scouted at a county trial and I started with Watford again.
My dad had played for Watford at youth team level and he was asked to sign for the club, but chose to take his education instead.
It states in a few places that your dad was involved with the academy at Watford.
I know but it’s a myth! I’ve read it myself in lots of match programmes that my dad was involved in the academy but it’s not true. He has always been there for my brother and I and helped out with a bit of coaching, but just to lend a hand more than anything, particularly as he would just be there watching us anyway. I think people get me and Jack mixed up with Gary and Lee Johnson.
GT gave you your debut on a Tuesday night. Do you remember much of it?
Yeah of course! I think I came on for Ronny Rosenthal – I’m pretty sure it was him. I also remember getting a really bad ball played to me. It came over my shoulder and I managed to get a good first touch. I got a bit of a clap and I thought oh wow! I was over the moon with that.
We were training at Stanmore at the time and Kenny Jackett came up to me and said “What are you doing tonight?” I told him that I was going to go to the ground and watch. He said “Bring your boots – you’re on the bench”. I was so nervous but excited at the same time. I was just delighted to be on the bench but to get on as well was great.
You got your fist goal – and threw yourself in to the crowd – against QPR.
Yes and it’s still one of my best memories to this day. I remember Nick Wright did a good job to get around the defender and put a good ball in the box, and I was there to score in front of the Watford fans who had both tiers of the away end.
After the game I had a few people asking who I was as I was an unknown. And that goal I think was a big help in getting me better known amongst the Watford fans.
You were on the edge of a really good squad that eventually got promoted. Did you enjoy being part of that squad?
Absolutely. Especially as I wasn’t a part of the squad that got promoted a year earlier as it was a bit too early for me. But in the 99 season and the eventual win at Wembley, I got involved in enough games to get a medal which was great. I’d only had a small part to play but it was great to be involved.
Everything just clicked that season, and if you remember we had our psychologist Kieran (with the pink shirt) and he helped everyone to gel. He would sit us down and ask us things like “What is the most dangerous animal in the jungle?” He was a great bloke, I saw him about a year ago at Sheffield United. He helped give us a great team spirit. Small squad but great spirit.
And what is the most dangerous animal in the jungle?
The wounded animal!
You were part of the squad at Wembley but didn’t make the bench. Were you disappointed or did you expect that to happen?
I can’t really remember. I remember not really expecting to be on the bench as it was still early days. But I recall being really excited to be a part of it – being around the changing rooms and around the bench was great. It was also really good to get a club suit. Something which I still have hanging up in my wardrobe. I can’t throw it out!
To be involved at that age was great. I had loads of family there and it was a wonderful day.
We heard that the party at Sopwell House was something to remember!
Yes it was. It was a good opportunity to socialise with the players as I’d only really spent time with the players in my youth team. It was a nice occasion with my family there for a while. And it was good to see the manager drunk!
The next season saw you start to implement yourself in the first team, as well as gain some experience of Premiership football.
I was involved pretty much all season. I think I was on the bench but coming on a lot. I got a couple of goals, one against Manchester United and one that was on the telly against Middlesbrough. That was a special goal for me.
And to be playing against players that I would watch on TV was great.
Were there any players that made you realise the difference of standard between the Championship and the top flight?
I just think everyone really. You are in awe of so many players.
I remember playing at Manchester United and Jaap Stam went off injured. Roy Keane went to fill in at centre half and I thought oh God! But then, Roy Keane or Jaap Stam – I don’t know which one I’d prefer to play against!
You were young and playing in the Premiership. Did you ever get star struck by the players you were up against?
To be honest no, not really. I just remember really enjoying it. Ok, we went down but I thought we gave a good account of ourselves, and it was a great experience.
We were relegated and after GT’s final year the contentious Vialli era started. You are a Watford lad and know how things should be at the club. How did you feel about what was happening?
A lot went on that year. A lot of players came in and there was always going to be a big divide between those that were coming in on the big money and those who were existing members of the squad.
Was there a lot of resentment?
Yeah I suppose there was looking back now. There were a lot of big changes that were all part of the Vialli revolution and it was quite unsettling for a lot of people. It was an interesting year!
So how did you feel when the Vialli era ended?
It was a difficult time whilst he was there. I would be playing up front and would make run after run, only to see the ball being passed about from left back to right back to left back. And I’d just end up knackered without seeing anything of the ball.
Vialli was good with me to start with and gave me a lot of confidence. Towards the end we fell out a little as we had a bit of a clash. I was maybe being a little influenced by people outside of the club, and he was trying to make his stamp on the club. So in the end it was a little sour when we parted ways, which was a shame.
I thought we had a really disappointing season that year. We made the mistake of not getting in championship players for the championship game. And when that happens you get players that aren’t prepared to get their hands dirty, and you don’t get the success.
I also felt as a squad we lost the fans pretty early on. The connection that Watford fans have with the players wasn’t there. The affinity just went but you could see why. Players in the ‘Watford mould’ who are prepared to roll their sleeves up just weren’t there.
It was at about that time you got an England Under 21 cap. Were you pleased with that?
Delighted to get it. Got a goal as well. I went on about five different trips and was with great players – Joe Cole, Ashley Cole and Michael Owen and so on.
The next year you scored the retaken penalty against Sunderland to get us in to the FA Cup Quarter-Final. That was a big goal as eventually we got to the semi final.
Yes I remember. Ray Lewington gave me a rocket at half time for not being involved enough, so I was pleased to put in a good second half performance and score the goal at the second attempt. I remember the keeper went the right way but almost dived passed it. So I was chuffed when it clipped his hand and still went in.
You played in the majority of the games and scored your fair share of goals, but ended up on the bench for the FA Cup Semi Final against Southampton, replaced by Michael Chopra.
At the time I was absolutely fuming. We had just beaten Burnley 7-4 and Michael had scored four. Heidar was doing well as well so it was between the three of us. I thought that I deserved my place, especially as I’d played a good part in the cup run.
I’d had a car crash in Berkhamsted 10 days before and I managed to get fit and be ready for it. I wasn’t hurt but I was quite stiff from it.
So I felt I’d done well to get where I was and warranted a place. And then to see a guy who is only on loan for a month take my place was gutting. It wasn’t Michael’s fault – he was just doing his job. I just wasn’t happy with that decision. My contract was running out and that decision was part of me feeling a little undervalued when it came to assessing my future with the club.
So you went to Sunderland.
Yes. That was a strange time in my career. My contract ran out but I was under 24, so couldn’t leave on a Bosman. The club therefore had to ‘employ’ me on a monthly contract until I found another employer.
I didn’t have a lot of offers, but I had a trial for two weeks at Charlton, but they needed to clear players before I could sign. I then went on trial at West Ham and was set to sign but then Glenn Roeder got sacked, and Alan Pardew came in and didn’t want me there.
I then went on a weeks trial at Perugia in Italy.
That must have been appealing!
You would have thought so wouldn’t you? But I hated it. Nobody spoke English and I was stuck in a B’n’B for a week in the middle of nowhere. I thought it would be the charmed life of taking in the sites in little Italian towns and having nice coffee and so on, but it wasn’t anything like that. I hated it!
I came back and went on a 10 day trial at Sunderland and got a deal there. By this point it was mid-September so I had some catching up to do.
Sunderland is a long way from home.
It is, but I had a great time up there and I really enjoyed playing for Mick [McCarthy]. He was a good manager and always explained his decisions.
So why only one year?
I bought a house in the April and was happy to stay. We were even talking about a contract for the next two years. We had a couple of bad results and the four or so of us who were due for contract talks were told that talks would be on hold until the summer. But in my mind I was happy to stay.
We lived in the house for 10 days and came back to the south for the summer. And during the summer break it was all very slow in progressing. During that time I got a call from Derby who asked me to go and have a look round. The training ground was lovely as is the stadium.
George Burley told me that he’d give me a good contract and I was really excited about the whole idea.
Did you enjoy your time at Derby?
I loved it. I feel that it was at Derby where I started to make big strides in my career. I had a lot of friends in the team and my wife was really happy there. It was a great couple of years.
Do you remember playing against us when Watford won 2-1, and Clarke Carlisle’s winning header that was given as a goal kick due to a sun-dazzled linesman?!
Yes I was gutted as I was desperate to beat Watford!
At that time I was always looking out for the Watford result but felt like I wanted to show them how much I’d improved and so on. Plus I was always getting a bit of stick from some of the Watford fans so wanted to prove the point!
You were still very popular with Derby when Aidy came in and signed you in 2006. Was that a difficult decision to make?
Not really. Billy Davies had come in to Derby and I think he wanted to bring in his own players. I was very close to signing for Neil Warnock at Sheffield United.
Out of the blue Watford came in and I spoke to Aidy on the phone, and it was a very easy decision.
Was it the lure of the Premiership or the fact that you were coming back to your home area?
Both really. I felt Watford was a club where I had a point to prove and wanted to show them that I was coming back a better player. I felt really confident coming back. I wanted to come back and show what I felt I could do.
It’s almost as hard being local as it is easy. On one hand your family and friends are around, but on the other hand you can’t get away, especially if you’ve had a bad result. You could go out for a drink or a meal and there’s always the risk that someone would remind you that you or the team had had a bad game.
Do you feel it took long to get the fans onside with you?
I don’t know really. I suppose that’s for you two guys to say. But I didn’t feel uneasy put it that way. I think I worried about it more than it was necessary. But I felt that the Watford fans were great straight away.
Do you think we gave a good enough account of ourselves in the Premiership season?
Well the league table doesn’t lie and you get what you deserve. But I felt we were a little unlucky with a few decisions, and certainly Marlon getting injured was a big blow. He was still good to have around the dressing room though. And if you lose a player like him when you already have a small squad it’s quite a hurdle.
We held our own a lot though, and we didn’t get done badly. And I think in another year we might have got more points than we did.
Were you disappointed to hear about Marlon’s jail sentence?
Yes, I was gutted to hear about it. He’s got a family and I hope he can get through his punishment and get everything back on track.
You’ve played under all the recent managers – GT, Vialli, Ray and Aidy. What was your take on Aidy?
He’s a great guy to work for but a hard guy to work for at the same time. He is a perfectionist. I learned so much from him and I feel he brought me on as much off the pitch as on it. He encouraged me to talk with younger lads and get involved in team meetings where we would analyse our own performances. It sounds strange but I’d never done that before.
It was certainly an eye opener working for him.
Would you play under Aidy again?
Definitely. It’s hard work but really good working for him.
Watford came back to arguably their natural level the year after, returning to the Championship.
It was a tough season. We were getting a fair bit of stick because of the style of play.
Did the style of play bother you in your own game?
Not really. I was still really enjoying my football. For some reason our away performances were better than our home ones. I think other teams figured us out.
West Brom would be a good marker of that.
That was the turning point wasn’t it. I think confidence went a bit and other teams cottoned on to that. We were getting hit on the break with no answer, and were struggling to score goals. It was very frustrating.
However your goal at Blackpool was enough to get us in the play offs
I was personally delighted to score. I remember Darius had just been sent off and I was thinking to myself that our whole season was going down the pan there and then. So to get the goal was great.
Were you disappointed with how Watford performed in the play off games against Hull?
No not really I though we were playing well and were unlucky to be losing. Up at Hull we were a goal up, the crowd was quiet and the players were getting on each others backs, and we were rattling them. But then they got the soft goal just before half time and it deflated us. The damage had been done with that goal.
In to the next season and Aidy left after a 4-3 defeat to Blackpool. Watford had made quite a poor start. Were you surprised by the turn of events?
The Championship is a strange league and anything can happen. I started getting the texts and calls from the other players to tell me he’s gone. It’s very hard to know what’s best and what should happen. And who knows what would have happened if he’s stayed.
I didn’t see it coming though.
Did you think the club needed a change then?
You tend to think more about who might be coming in as the new manager when you hear about a manager leaving. I’m very good friends with Malky so I was hoping it would be him, but also I was hearing good things about Brendan Rodgers.
Brendan Rodgers proved to be the board’s choice. What did you make of him?
I was impressed. It took a while to reflect in the results. I remember thinking in the first game against Doncaster that it was going to be a long season! But then it was as much about Brendan adapting to us as it was Watford adapting to Brendan.
I think it took a while but we started to find the middle ground between his beliefs and what is needed in the Championship.
Were you surprised when he left for Reading?
I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed. I thought we had a great team and if that season had carried on for a couple of months I’m sure we would have climbed the table.
I got a call from Julian Winter to tell me he’d gone, but it wasn’t a surprise.
You were put up for sale as the club needed to raise funds. What was the series of events?
It was a strange time as neither I nor anyone at Watford wanted me to leave the club. But I needed to for finance reasons. But in a way it was nice because I knew I could leave on really good terms. On the other hand I was enjoying myself at the club. It was a shame.
I think Newcastle were keen but they were organising their finances. Sheffield United put in a bid that was accepted and I spoke to Kevin Blackwell and Darius; but I felt that maybe it wasn’t quite the right move for me. Eventually I became very close to signing for Reading, which I was surprised about because of all the under current that went with it.
Were you aware of the feelings of the Watford fans to Brendan Rodgers at the time?
Yes of course, but taking that side out of it, which is hard being a Watford guy, I enjoyed playing for Brendan. Unfortunately maybe the way things were done by Brendan maybe weren’t the right way. I think he’d admit that as well. I still think Brendan is a great manager and I’m convinced that he and Reading will do well.
My relationship with the Watford fans became a factor to consider as I didn’t want to end on bad terms. At the same time though I knew I had to leave and Reading seemed to be the best option.
I was heading down to Reading when my agent called and told me that a bid had been accepted by Portsmouth. I told Brendan and went home for a couple of days. He wasn’t happy, but I had to do what was right for me.
Why did you pick Portsmouth?
It gives me another chance to play in the Premiership, financially it was good for me and it’s reasonably easy for my home life. So it was quite an easy decision.
You’ve signed a four year deal, but the risk is you could be back in the Championship next year.
Well even as a player I think the Championship is great. Of course the premier league is the biggest league to be in but I don’t mind as long as I can play football.
Are you enjoying Portsmouth?
Yes really enjoying it. It’s early days but so far it’s great. The fans are good and noisy and I’m looking forward to working with Avram Grant.
Would you go for the hat trick and play for Watford again?
Definitely. I’m always hesitant when I get asked this question as you never know how you’d do if you returned. But then look at Heidar, he’s flying isn’t he!
You have to pick your favourite Watford strike partner. Who is it?!
I’d say Hendo. We’re good mates off the pitch as well, and it’s always good fun playing alongside him. He’s like my bodyguard!
Finally, the main question. You’ve known him a long time – will Lloyd Doyley ever score?!
TEXT MESSAGE: From: Tommy Smith
Date: 7th December 2009
Message: Shows what I know! Get in there Lloyd!!!
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