Christian Smith might have been a Hampton & Richmond Borough player last summer, so it’s now a case of happy belated arrival for Gary McCann’s September signing. The former Chester and Wrexham man hails from the North West but has long since made a ‘home from home’ down south. Having spent last season at fellow National League South side Dulwich Hamlet, the midfielder now finds himself amongst familiar faces from the Maidenhead United side he won this very division with three-and-a-half years ago.

Smith has joined a club currently offering a member of the public the chance to bag the Beveree Stadium naming rights for a season, and if he can combine enjoyment with challenging for another promotion in 2020/21, that’ll be just the ticket…

 

You’ve had your first few weeks with Hampton & Richmond, what have the early impressions been overall?

Yeah, I spoke to Gary last summer, and when I spoke to him again this summer, the plan was to try and get something sorted. It’s a good club, the lads are great, and you can see they’re a close-knit bunch and that they’ve been together for a while. Lower leagues, sometimes you come back pre-season and you get clubs with a totally new squad, and it takes a while to get used to each other and how each other plays. So far here since I’ve come in, it’s been very easy in that sense, because it’s only one or two of us that are new to the group.

Coming from the North West (Crewe) originally, were the options this summer all down south, or some further afield?

The season ended, I had quite a few calls from down south, to be fair. One team up north did ask me, but I said ‘I’ve been down here for eight years and I won’t be moving back any time soon.’ So in my mind, when the season finished, I would have been down here again. It was then just deciding which was the best one for me. There was one National (League), a few in the South, and there were a few in the league below. When I’d spoken to Gary, though, because I know quite a few of the boys here as well, I was pretty much set on coming to Hampton. It’s a bit of a journey for me, and there were ones that are a lot closer to my house, but Hampton was something that really appealed to me.

You mentioned not intending to move closer to home for a while yet, are you a fully adopted southerner now?!

Yeah, I’d say I’m settled. Would I go back? Probably eventually, but as I say, I’ve been down here eight years now, I live down here with my partner. She was down here before I came; even though she’s from up north herself, she was down here for uni. So far, it’s good for both of us.

You’re back as well with some teammates from that promotion-winning side at Maidenhead, what made that team successful? A collection of factors or anything specifically?

We had some good players, yes, but did we have the best team in the league? No. What made us successful was team spirit. Our team spirit at Maidenhead, it was different, put it that way! It was enjoyable to go into training every time. It didn’t matter who played in the games, everyone wanted to win, and at some clubs, you don’t get that. We had our fun in training, with the lads, the gaffer, the coaching staff, but as soon as that whistle went on a Saturday, everybody knew ‘it’s work time’. So far, it’s been the same here. If anyone slacks off, it’s not just the management on to them, it’s the players as well, and that’s what you need.

Where do you think that unity came from? Was there team bonding, nights out etc. that got you feeling together?

It started with the gaffer (Alan Devonshire) really. He came from Braintree to Maidenhead, and he’d had a lot of the boys at Braintree. The four years that I was there, we pretty much had the same squad throughout, so the continuity was a big thing. There was always one or two additions each season, but there wasn’t many. So the gaffer started it off, and after that, there was nights out, days out, there was everything. It wasn’t a case of a night out and only a few turn up, everybody would be there. We didn’t have to force anyone to come, everyone would be there, no problem. It was just a really, really good time.

Having been at Port Vale, you joined Clyde when you were still (just about) a teenager. Not necessarily on the pitch, but as a life experience, what did you find and how did you take to it all?

One of my teammates at Port Vale (Joe Cardle), (former Clyde boss) Colin Hendry was a friend of Joe’s family, and he’d seen me play. So come the end of the season, he rang me and said ‘do you fancy coming up to Scotland?’ I was like ‘okay, why not?’ It was something new, and I wasn’t too sure how it would all pan out, but it was great. Living arrangements, the club sorted it and I stayed with one of the boys. I lived in Glasgow. It was a good time. I learned a lot about myself, about life in general, but I was happy to come back down the road after the season, because it was a fair way away.

In a dressing room where there’s typically a real mix of personalities, where would you place yourself on that spectrum?

I wouldn’t say I lead the dressing room, but I’m always active, I’m always up to nonsense! So far at Hampton, I’d say Charlie (Wassmer) is one of the leaders in there, the captain. There’s obviously Jules (Alan Julian) now as well, Deano (Dean Inman). Obviously, I’m there to win, but the most important is just enjoying the football while we’re there. The older I’ve got, my main focus has been to play in a team that does well, but mostly, enjoy it, because if you don’t, then you won’t wanna be there.

Maidenhead obviously stands out, but when you think about the most complete time you’ve felt in football so far – the best connection with teammates, feeling at your best on the pitch, life outside football is good – which would it be?

There was a period when I was at Wrexham, to be fair. I think it was my second or third season, and I had a good season. I was happy because it was close to my house, I was playing well. Alternatively, you could say at Maidenhead. My six months at Wealdstone was a good one, too.

What about the most challenging, most difficult? Has the enjoyment ever been lost?

I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had a really difficult time. Last year, it was difficult for different reasons. I played a lot of games last year, but was it enjoyable? Not really. Personally, I thought the season would turn out a lot different to how it did. So last year probably would have been my least enjoyable season.

We’ve mentioned some already but who are examples of those that instantly come to mind for standout characters you’ve been around in the game?

One of the funniest ones, who I still speak to, I spoke to him only yesterday, is Harold Odametey. He was with me at Maidenhead, we used to sit next to each other in the changing room. If you see him play, he’s just an energy bunny, non-stop, he’s a hundred mile an hour. We just used to batter each other, all the time. There was him, there was Deano as well, Dean Inman. James Comley at Maidenhead, I still speak to him and we go away on holiday every year, bar this year. So there’s a few over the years who I’ve got on great with.

Has there ever been a teammate(s) you’ve felt a particularly strong connection with on the pitch? That two-way understanding during matches.

It’s more so down to – for me anyway – just the way the team’s set up. As long as everybody knows their job, you get that understanding with not just an individual but with everybody. Like I said, at Maidenhead, it was a case of no matter who played, everybody knew what they would do. I couldn’t put my finger on one who knew exactly what I was gonna do, or vice versa, but I had a very good idea.

If the answer is no then you’ve been very fortunate up to now! But have you ever had to sing when joining a new team, and if so, which song(s)?

I did it on Monday actually. I can’t sing, but I have no problem getting up and singing in front of everyone, that’s alright with me. Some people will shy away from it and refuse, but I’m like ‘it’s not that deep’! We all sing in the car, we all sing in the shower, what’s the difference singing in front of a few of your teammates? I’ve done Ben E. King ‘Stand By Me’, I’ve done Oasis ‘Wonderwall’, I’ve done Mario ‘Let Me Love You’.

Extreme circumstances at the moment, but in general, is there anything you think can be changed about non-league, to help make it better for those involved?

I would say less Tuesday games, but obviously that would mean extending the season. Most of us do work, so some of us are up from 4/5 in the morning, and we don’t get home until close to midnight. Sometimes later than midnight and then you’re back up again at 4 or 5 the next day. There’s hundreds of people in non-league that will do that. To the normal fan, they’ll just think ‘they’ve had an okay day, they come in the evening, and they should perform.’ Some people will be shattered from work, get to the game, and they can’t perform because their body’s not really recovered in time.

What takes up your time work-wise away from playing?

I’m a fitness manager in a gym. I’ve been doing that now for eight years, since I’ve been in London. In lockdown as well, I’ve been learning web development, and it’s been good. I’m quite handy on computers anyway, so learning that skill set wasn’t really too challenging for me. It’s just a case now of continuing it and learning as the weeks and months go on. It’s a bit difficult finding the time at the minute, with work and football, because when I’m not at work or football, I’m usually sleeping!

What about other interests away from work and football? What else brings you enjoyment?

Just seeing my friends and family happy really. I’m not one who needs x, y, z things for me to be happy. I’m quite straightforward that each day for me is a blessing, and I take each day as it comes. What brings me enjoyment? Obviously spending time with my friends, family. I do play a large amount of computer games with the boys as well. Not so much at Hampton at the minute, but over the years, I’ve got a long list of teammates where we jump on PS4, play a bit of Call of Duty, a bit of FIFA together. So if I’m not at work, football or sleeping, you’ll probably catch us online, or we’ll be out together.

Finally, what have you learned most from your time in the game up to now, and what else do you want from your football in these years still to come?

Football has made me appreciate what I do. It’s also made me learn to take the rough with the smooth. Obviously everything can’t go your way all the time, and that’s not just in football, that’s in life itself. When things happen, I just take it in my stride and think ‘right, it’s happened for a reason, how can I now move on from this?’ I don’t really dwell on things too much. With football, I’m maybe a little bit calmer than I was when I was younger. It’s now a case of ‘just do as well as possible’. I would like another promotion, but mainly, just enjoy it. As long as you enjoy it then good things can happen. Yes, you need a good base, in terms of teammates, standards, rules. After that, you need a bit of luck really, and if you’ve got a goalscorer in your team then you’ve always got a chance.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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