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An interview with Derek Smethurst (February 2009)

Derek Smethurst, born 27/10/1947, had a memorable spell in English football between 1968 and 1975. He arrived at Chelsea in 1968 aged 21, and made his League debut on Tuesday, September 1, 1970 playing in the number 10 shirt at Turf Moor in a 0-0 draw against Burnley. In this season with Chelsea Smethurst made 12 League appearances, scoring 3 goals. At the end of his first season he was part of the Chelsea team which beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners' Cup. In his next season he played the first two games of the season before being transferred to Second Division Millwall where he made 27 appearances in that season, though with only 2 goals. In his next three seasons with Millwall he made 12, 18 and 13 League appearances respectively before moving to the U.S. where he became a super goalscorer with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. He remains in the U.S. where he is an author, trainer and consultant (see below). He kindly agreed to answer some questions posed by Nigel's Webspace. He appeared in only a single football card during his time in England, card 56 from the Top Sellers, Football 72 series.

Questions and answers

Q:    Were you aware during your playing career that you were being featured on football cards and photographed for magazines?

A.    Yes on the cards - It started in South Africa in my first season - after scoring 6 goals in my first three games and then going on to score many more in my first season a headline article appeared in Johannesburg (I was in Durban) about a kid who had asked a famous South African footballer to sign 3 cards with him on it. The player asked if they were for his friends and swiftly came back the reply 'Oh no sir, I can get one of Derek Smethurst for 3 of yours.' That's when I remembered cards being on the scene. That was 1966; I was 18 then. Photographs in articles have been around for ever and yes I did know but did not collect too many - I think I was doing too much. Today players collect everything!

Q.    You moved from South Africa to Chelsea – what do you remember of the circumstances of being picked by Chelsea?

A.    After 4 seasons and Footballer of the Year in 1968 I left for Chelsea (I signed pro forms in 71). I wanted to go when I was 16 but the SA Armed Forces wouldn't let me go as I had to serve my time in the Army first. So I left when I was 21 which gave me 4 yrs pro under my belt and that was a good thing. I left SA on my own in 1968 and was met at the airport by Ron Suart (ex Blackpool Manager who had my brother there) and then I became the first SA player to win a European Championship and the first foreign-born player to win one in England.

Q.    You won a European Cup Winners’ Cup medal with Chelsea in May 1971, coming on as a 73rd minute substitute in the replay against Real Madrid. Was this the highlight of your playing career?

A.    Winning that trophy was the highest for sure in it's merit of importance but the two semi final games against Man City were my best games, scoring the winner that took us through to the final.

Q.    You stayed with Chelsea until your transfer to Millwall, although you seem to have won a large fan base amongst the Chelsea supporters. What were the circumstances of your transfer?

A.    I was with Chelsea from 68 - 71 (4 seasons). I had to serve a 2 year residential qualification to sign any pro form - so I was an amateur for 2 of those seasons. Dave Sexton had come to John Phillips and myself (younger players) and we were both instrumental in playing our part in the semi finals and said we were on half a bonus and the rest were on a full bonus to win the (European Cup Winners' Cup) Final. I remember giving him a royal mouthful at that time, telling him it was the most disgraceful thing I had encountered and right then I decided that at the beginning of the next season I would leave. I started the first 3 games for Chelsea and asked for a transfer but not before letting him know the reason and not wanting to leave London (Nottingham Forest were very interested - but where the heck was Nottingham? HA!) I went to Millwall (they were at the top of the old 2nd Div).

Q.    Why did you leave the Lions? Do you have fond memories of playing in England?

A.    I was at Millwall for 4˝ seasons (71 - 75) 1˝ of which I was injured with torn quad muscles that took forever to heal (last two seasons). After healing I decided to go to the USA and play a season and head back to England fit. I think after the initial excitement of the Lions nearly going up to Div One, this had carried me through, then the culture shock of the East End of London hit me as opposed to the West End and Chelsea. Two different worlds for an ex surfer from Durban and I did not like Millwall one bit or the manager at that time Benny Fenton. I left when Gordon Jago came to Millwall, that was my exit card so I asked for a transfer and he said I could go for free if I went to the USA (you do the math) or hit me with a huge transfer fee if I stayed in England so I chose USA (that way I could return to England on a free as well if I wanted) and have never regretted it. Playing in England gave me the foundation to play in the USA and become one of the all time leading goal scorers in USA football history in only 4 playing seasons. With Chelsea I learned the game and how to play and with Millwall how to tough it out - good training.

Q.    South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup. What hopes do you have for this tournament in the country of your birth? Do you expect to have a role?

A.    As of yet I am not sure that I will be going back. I would like to but only if I can work a deal with TV or radio. SAFA are so messed up I am not sure they can handle all of this and the Government better have all their ducks in a row to pull this off. If they fail Africa will not see another World Cup for another 100 yrs.

Q.    What are you doing now that you are most proud of?

A.    I have written 3 books and am now in the throngs of finishing off another 3 and looking for a new publisher. I have been instructing youth footballers in the States just outside Tampa Bay Florida for quite a few years (Pro Training Consultant - Soccer for Winning). is the web site for the club I have been with for about 8 years - we started with 14 players and now have about 600. I had been around the USA sharing the Gospel for many years before taking on the Valrico Club building thing.

Derek was very good to provide such detailed and honest answers to my questions, and I really appreciate his views. Send your memories of Derek Smethurst to this email link.

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