Alan Smith

Alan Smith played for Redcar Albion and was England's physio
Alan Smith with Redcar Albion

Watching on

By the 1960s, Redcar had been generating talent that had reached the top of the game for almost 100 years; England internationals, Football League champions and unparalleled administrators. But when Alan Smith was signed to Middlesbrough’s youth team he could not have imagined where his journey would take him. Smith had impressed in several school tournaments including winning the Redcar Schools Cup, where scouts from Raich Carter’s Middlesbrough had been watching.  “My dad knew and my mum knew but I didn’t know they were watching me play for my school team,” Smith recalled in 2021. He had done enough to earn an invitation to a trial, which was successful, and he was asked to sign schoolboy forms with them not long afterwards. “We used to train two nights a week at Ayresome Park, running round the track with one floodlight on,” said Smith. 

He played for Middlesbrough Juniors at their old training ground Hutton Road, which was briefly home to Redcar Albion after the club found themselves without a ground. “If we weren’t selected for the junior team we’d play for the nursery team, in my case the nearest one was Redcar Albion,” he said. “Clubs like Redcar Albion always had a connection with Middlesbrough”. Smith was never allowed to realise his full potential, though, after a horrific  injury in training ended his playing days for good. “I had a double fracture – fractured tibia and fibula at 17 which is a big injury, certainly in 1966”. An ankle injury during recovery then set him back even further. “I fractured my right leg, dislocated my ankle on my right side, then I had my knee replacement at 65 years of age on the right knee. The left side isn’t a problem!”

In the face of adversity

Whilst injured, Smith instead focused on obtaining his coaching badges, which brought him back to Redcar Albion. “I was able to get my coaching badge and coach the Redcar Albion junior team, that was enjoyable for me,” Smith recalled of a successful, albeit brief, coaching career in which he won the North Riding Minor Cup with Albion. 

Coaching aside, his recovery instead brought him a new passion: physiotherapy. “It was Jimmy Headrige, the physio at Middlesbrough FC, that helped me recover from my injury and helped me towards a career in physiotherapy,” Smith recalled. Headridge himself was forced to retire early due to a knee injury which prompted an interest in physiotherapy, and he encouraged Smith to take the same path after suffering a similar setback. 

After completing his training, his first foray into physiotherapy was with Darlington, then being hired by Rotherham United in 1972, followed by six years at Blackpool. He then caught the eye of top flight Sheffield Wednesday in 1983 where he was involved in four cup finals. He may have thought he had made it to the very top, but there was more to come. 1984 saw him join up with Dave Sexton’s England Under-21 side that were crowned winners of the UEFA European Under-21 Championship. 

New heights

Two years later, Sir Bobby Robson gave Smith the highest honour of all. He was selected to join the England squad, against Russia in Tbilisi. “Unbeknown to me I think they were looking at me,” he pondered. “I think I was on trial.” Much like his schoolboy trials with Middlesbrough, they were successful. After four more games with England in 1988, he was given the job full-time in 1994 by Terry Venables.

After representing his country at Euro ‘96 with Venables, World Cup ‘98 with Glenn Hoddle and Euro 2,000 with Kevin Keegan, Smith retired from football after the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan with Sven Goran Eriksson. “My last game was England Brazil in the quarter-final of the World Cup,” he recounted. “Not a bad way to finish is it?”

After working in football for over three decades, including eight years working full time with the national team, Smith retired from the game to set up his own private practice, safe in the knowledge that his achievements, which started out with the North Riding Minor Cup with Redcar Albion, had brought him to the top of the footballing world. “If you love the job, it’s half the battle. You find a job you love, you’ll never work again,” he concluded. “I was like that for 32 years with football.”

See also

Redcar Albion