Th' />

Tommy Smith is the bright new hope in the All Whites' World Cup campaign, a quality defender to help keep Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay at bay.

This will be quite a task should he line up alongside Ryan Nelsen and co, and one that has come out of the blue.

Even as New Zealand were beating Bahrain to qualify for the finals in South Africa, Smith had no inkling he was eligible for New Zealand, let alone in coach Ricki Herbert's sights.

"I didn't expect a call and I didn't even know I could change allegiance once I'd played for England (juniors)," Smith told the Herald from Ipswich this week.

"I knew Rory Fallon had changed back somehow but I had no idea how he had qualified to do that.

"Playing for England seniors was a long shot and anyone in their right mind would jump at the chance to play in the World Cup.

"I owe a lot of my football education to New Zealand, and I have a loyalty to them. I only have good memories and affection for the country.

"If I didn't feel anything towards New Zealand I wouldn't have done this, as simple as that. I want to do as well as I can for New Zealand now and in future."

The 19-year-old, contracted to English championship side Ipswich but on loan to Brentford in the division below, will make his All Whites debut against Mexico in Los Angeles early next month.

Herbert has publicly guaranteed Smith a place in the 23-man World Cup squad although Smith is not taking anything for granted.

Born and raised in Macclesfield in the northwest of England, in the shadow of Manchester, he was eight, the youngest of four children, when his parents John, an electrician, and Gail, a nurse, moved to Tauranga looking for a new lifestyle.

Smith's brother and sister still live in the Bay of Plenty. John and Gail have returned to Ipswich, for now, to support Tommy.

"Arriving in New Zealand was a big shock at first ... the difference in the schooling system," recalls Smith.

"In England it was all uniforms and knee-high socks. I went to Papamoa Primary where you wore your own clothes and sandals in the warm weather. Once I got used to it I loved the more relaxed lifestyle."

Smith's talent had found him a place in the Crewe Alexandra under-9s just before his family emigrated, and he quickly got into his soccer stride on the other side of the world.

Smith's best soccer interests saw the family move to Browns Bay so he could attend Westlake Boys, where coach Gary Moore was always willing to satisfy the youngster's desire to do extra skills work.

The school's headmaster at the time, Jim Dale, had been in the Celtic academy as a kid and shared his experiences with Smith.

"He made me realise I wanted to be a footballer," Smith says.

A driving force is Smith's father. "Mum and dad have supported me every step of the way.

"Dad was a Leyton Orient youngster although he didn't quite make it to apprentice level. He has been pushing me and maybe he wanted to live his dream through me a bit.

"We used to do stuff in the back garden, heading and other skills, and even with fitness we'd buy things like bungy ropes to work on speed and agility."

Smith excelled at Westlake, making the first XI in the fourth form, the year they beat Auckland Grammar in the national final. He captained Westlake to the Auckland schools knockout cup the following year, and a Chatham Cup second round victory over Metro in 2006.

Fate had already intervened by then, steering him back to England.

A Westlake player Cameron McCarthy had trialled at Ipswich. McCarthy's father knew a coach linked to the club who decided on a New Zealand holiday in 2004. He saw Smith in action for Westlake and that led to a five-week trial at Ipswich over the Christmas period, and a scholarship offer was quickly made.

Smith moved to Ipswich full-time in mid-2006 and he even got to reject an approach from Arsenal, feeling loyal to Ipswich and realising his first team chances would be tough at the glamorous Gunners.

International soccer called. He had been in the New Zealand youth system yet without the opportunity to play for a national side but England was a different story.

In 2007 he was picked for the under-17 World Cup in South Korea, thus becoming an England-aligned player. He had a poor first game against North Korea and found himself benched, and injuries helped curtail his hopes of returning to the England set-up.

In late 2008, he fractured and dislocated his right ankle and tore ligaments on the Ipswich training ground, had a metal plate inserted, and was sidelined for seven months. Early this season, another training accident dislocated two fingers, thus breaking a run of appearances in the first team.

When fit again, Ipswich's fortunes had risen and Smith was loaned out by manager Roy Keane to Brentford.

He still trains with Ipswich early in the week before making the two-hour drive to the London suburb of Brentford where he lives in a hotel.

And Smith - who already had a New Zealand passport - has also found himself on the road to South Africa.

"I'm not jumping on the World Cup bandwagon - I want to stay in the All Whites for as long as I can. Ricki was very positive about where New Zealand football was going and that swayed me. We played Plymouth early in the season and Rory Fallon was very positive about his experiences so I remembered that when I found I could make the switch.

"I also talked to a few players at Ipswich and every one of them said go for it - you might never get the [World Cup] chance again."

The family's Kiwi link should only get stronger - his parents "love the country" and intend returning to live in their retirement years.