Soccer: I'm Kiwi as, says mystery All White

By Chris Rattue

Young defender Tommy Smith made an impressive debut against Mexico in Los Angeles in March. Photo / Alan Gibson
Young defender Tommy Smith made an impressive debut against Mexico in Los Angeles in March. Photo / Alan Gibson

World Cup-bound Tommy Smith is one of the great new All White hopes but admits he is still a mystery man to the New Zealand sporting public.

The 20-year-old, who was born in Macclesfield near Manchester, came here with his family aged 8. He returned to England in his mid-teens to join English championship club Ipswich.

Smith was good enough to play in a youth world tournament for England before using his Kiwi passport and the Fifa residency rules to switch allegiances to New Zealand in time for next month's World Cup in South Africa.

The late addition of Smith, who made an impressively composed debut in Los Angeles against Mexico in early March, and the Denmark-based Winston Reid, gives the All Whites a potentially outstanding group of defenders that includes star turn Ryan Nelsen and classy veteran Ivan Vicelich.

Smith has spent the past couple of days in the Bay of Plenty, his initial New Zealand home.

He heads to Auckland today for a question and answer session with students at his old school, Westlake Boys High, before going into the All Whites camp for Monday's clash against Australia in Melbourne.

He was ecstatic when Ricki Herbert rang to say he was in the 23-man World Cup squad.

"I suppose I am still a mystery to a lot of people here," he said. "I'm so proud to represent New Zealand and as I have said before, my football education was in this country and I feel a loyalty that I could never feel to England.

"My first match for the All Whites was a bit difficult, not knowing anyone, but the games coming up will help sort that out.

"I didn't expect to be in the World Cup squad before the Mexico game but I felt quite confident during the match and got on quite well with them all.

"When I heard I'd been selected it felt absolutely amazing - it is every lad's dream to play in the World Cup.

"My teammates at Ipswich were a bit jealous obviously, but they have wished me all the best.

"I am determined to do New Zealand, myself and Ipswich proud."

Two of Smith's siblings remain in New Zealand although his parents, John and Gail, returned to England to support him.

Brother Tony "Savvy" Smith, a 28-year-old painter and decorator, is also a central defender and has been a key to the rise of the Te Puke club. But the World Cup was a world away when Te Puke were belted 9-0 at Auckland Grammar in the Chatham Cup last Saturday.

Smith's soccer commitments meant he missed his brother's marriage to Anita early this year.

He spent yesterday at the Tauranga home of his sister Georgina Fowler and her husband Mark. Tony and Georgina will be at the MCG to watch their younger brother on Monday.

Smith said:"It's been four years since I was in New Zealand - I've been for a drive to see our old house in Papamoa which brought back lovely memories. I've got a lot of memories of New Zealand and they are all good.

"These have been a very enjoyable few days and I hope to catch up with some friends in Auckland if they haven't moved on. Then it's all about hard work preparing for the World Cup."

- NZ Herald

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