In a ‘Take that game back’ exclusive, Manager of NPL TAS team Hobart Zebras David Smith has volunteered his time to chat with us about his footballing journey.
I sat down with Dave today at the State Cinema Hobart cafe to talk all things football.
Dave first off thank you for your time for this interview, let’s begin with how you got into football. Was it childhood times in the backyard or maybe playing on a particular pitch?
I was born in England so from the time I was born. After school it was football with your friends. I arrived in Tasmania when I was about 9 and there was no football. More migrants came in so I had more people to have a kick with. I mainly played Aussie Rules (VFL/AFL) throughout school. I headed a goal into the sticks and they disallowed it! I couldn’t believe it!
What was your playing position?
Started off as a striker, was brave as all shit, but became more of a midfielder. Was never the strongest but had to bulk up.
You played for Metro FC (Claremont). What was that like?
I made my senior debut for Metro when I was in Grade 10 with one of my teachers from Claremont High School Tony Hobbs. He said to me before the game “today you can call me Tony, but when you get back to school it’s Mr. Hobbs!” I played for Metro in the U-19s as a 13 year old and that was my club till 1976.
I went back to the UK for fifteen months where I had some trials with a couple clubs. Rotherham United (South Yorkshire,England) but I was only there for 4 days I just wasn’t good enough, and Luton Town F.C. (Bedfordshire,England).
You were then picked up by New Town Eagles (Hobart) in the Tasmanian State League. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
In 1977 I made the choice to go to New Town Eagles with a lot of my mates coming along with me. I was only there for one year but we won the league. Me playing in the first year of the Tasmanian State League was such a huge mark for me. I’m Very lucky to have that as a memory. We defeated Rapid SC (Now Southern FC) on the final day 1-0 to win the title. There was at least 1,500 to 2,000 people at South Hobart Oval (Now known as Darcy St). We won on points difference as there was no finals system I scored the winner off a throw in, took it on my chest, half turned and volleyed it into the back of the net!
Obviously a nice way to end your time with New Town. What was the next step for you?
Kenny (Ken Morton now head South Hobart FC Manager) arrived and he talked me into playing for Brighton ICL Caledonians (Now Kingborough Lions United Football Club), I was there for a year, but 5 weeks into it Kenny walked out on the Callies and signed for Rapid SC.
I had more trials this time in Canberra. Played in the NSW State League for a bit with Canberra before coming back to Tasmania to sign for Rapid SC. We had a very good squad, one of the best teams I played with in my time in Tassie. Peter Willis (Leeds United) was an standout player to play with.
Played a bit there but then Kenny got a job coaching at Wollongong Wolves (NSW) and he asked me to come with him.
How did you find playing in the National League for the Wolves?
I was there for pre season – but recognised wasn’t at the level when Wollongong brought in 2-3 New Zealand international Turner – Campbell knew I would struggle to get game time so I moved to Perth with Inglewood Kiev. I had a choice. Sit on the bench at Wollongong or move to Tasmania to play football. But I ultimately decided to play for Inglewood Kiev (Perth) .
How was Inglewood for you?
A great experience. I scored 9 goals out of 10 games. They brought Bobby Moore (Defender,West Ham United & Captain of the England national team) in who had some guest stints. I unfortunately did my knee in while I was there and that was really the end of my playing career as I never got back from it.
You came back to Tasmania and signed on for Rapid SC for a 2nd stint. How was that for you knowing you had just lost a good opportunity to keep playing at a higher level in Perth?
It was a different group of players we had. We still won the league. That ended up getting me a job with Wrest Point Casino (their major sponsor at the time). I worked as a card dealer for a couple years then moved into senior management. It was a good setup for me.
Metro SC came knocking and asked you to coach their side, you were with Metro for a couple years, how did you find your time back at the club where it all began for you?
It was a great start to my senior coaching road – we had a young vibrant squad With the likes of John and Michael McIntyre – Paul Fone – Steve Pitchford – Sean Green Paul and Geoff Hallam it was a real football nursery in Tas – loved it .
I started up coaching in my first state team with the U16s. First team I took away had players like Tony Clarkson- Tony Basic (Now president of the Glenorchy Knights) they were bloody good players.
My major influence on coaching at start was definitely from Ken Morton – made me realise in the late 70’s how important structures and training sessions were.
Coach education is the key to development of players in Australia need to let players become decision makers who are technically capable of keeping the ball under pressure , identifying runs attacking and defensive to support teammates , lift the number of games and competition standards our kids play
Hobart Juventus (Now Hobart Zebras) was the next club for you, ironically the team you’re a part of now! But we will get to that later. How was your time there?
I spent a year with them. My work/playing commitments was too hard though so I decided to coach juniors. State teams, development squads.
In 1995 you were appointed the CEO of Soccer Tasmania (Now Football TAS) and also Technical director of football. How did you find the transition from playing to being in such a high role in the running of the game?
Very hard. The sport was in disarray. We didn’t have the money to spend, some of the ways we raised were embarrassing. One example is having a juniors game on a Wednesday night and throwing a BBQ at the same time.
I was probably out of my depth but they knew I had the knowledge to make things right. We soon turned it around getting sponsors for each league and raising a lot of money.
That was also the time where we had all those ethnicity rules where we had to change a lot of club names. I remember a time where I walked into a Croatian club and said they need to change their name.
I’ve never understood the NCIP (National Clubs Identifications Policy). I still call Zebras Juve and Glenorchy Knights Croatia.
You became Technical director for Northern New South Wales Football, did you find working in a different state federation challenging at all?
I wanted a challenge. The board members back then with Soccer TAS didn’t understand the way I wanted to grow the sport. After lots of positive discussions I accepted the job and got back to doing what I love.
In 2012 you were a part of of setting up the ‘Emerging Jets Junior Development Program. Can you tell me a bit more about that and what it involved?
NNSW wasn’t producing the same amount of level of players we had. We first had an emerging athletes program for 13-15 year old’s midweek down at Sydney. We got the kids out of school on a Wednesday afternoon and played games, got home midnight. That was really beneficial for the kids.
The Jets recognised that they needed to develop stars of their own and we ended up creating the program off the base of that idea.
In 2014 you resigned your role with NNSW Football to become Technical Director of Football Federation Victoria. Did your decision have anything to do with Gary Van Egmond who was just sacked from being head coach of the Newcastle Jets A-League club, being appointed the ‘Emerging Jets Academy Director?
No. The FFV job was there to apply for and at first I didn’t apply for it. I had 3 months where I wasn’t enjoying my time with NNSW mainly because I received a lack of support(from CEO and Board wanted a change). NNSW appointed Dave Edmondson which didn’t work out. When the job with FFV came up again, I put my hand up. Garry came on board and did very well in that role. It’s very pleasing to see so many kids coming through from the Jets and other type of programs
I even travelled to Japan for a bit and scouted some youth football over there which opened my eyes to how we can go even further.
Can you tell me some of the challenges you faced at Football Federation Victoria or how you found the job?
Very political. Football is a huge culture over there and I loved it. Part of my job was to visit the clubs and even get back into coach education. Clubs demand being listened to. I was very fortunate to have a good support group from a lot of NPL VIC coaches too.
Are you happy with the standard of NPL Victoria and where they are going now?
NPL VIC was the leading nation in my time down there and that was lot due to the crop of coaches we had. Guys like Nick Tolios (Kingston City FC) , Heggs (Nick Hegarty, Hume City FC) who I think is going to step up and become a great coach, Shaun Ontong (Green Gully SC) is another good one.
Then you look at the established coaches like George Katsakis (Heidelberg United), Chris Taylor (Oakleigh Cannons) . Both strong characters. The football may not be what people want to see but they know how to win games.
In Victoria if you lose 4 games on the bounce you would be out the door!
Fast forward to 2017 and your appointed Director of football at NPL VIC club Hume City, can you shed some light on how you found from being in charge of state federations to the running operations of a club?
Bloody hard work! From U6s to seniors you’re in the nitty gritty. Hume is a huge club, the setup is pretty good, it’s doesn’t matter what age level you’re at, you want these sides to win.
I ended up being assistant to Nick Hegarty on the touchline as he was player/coach.
Your now Director of football with the Hobart Zebras and Manager of the NPL side, are you finding it tough juggling both jobs?
No. The experiences i’ve had in my football time help me. What’s hard is it’s a different culture. I came from when U12s trained 3 times a week, but now we are in a scenario where getting them to two nights a week is harder.
The commitment we start in November is with a pre-season for juniors can go all the way through to September/October.
Commitment can and will change though for all levels.
Let’s chat about Zebras star forward Matthew Sanders. He comes in from Victoria for NPLTAS games and travels back home and starts it again. Does that hurt the establishment you want with the Hobart Zebras?
I don’t think it does. Matty has done it for two years. He trains with Avondale (NPL VIC), we know what his key strengths are, he’s still a leader on the park. We miss him at training but that’s the way it is.
I keep in contact with him while he is at Avondale and he still asks for, and gives input into the team.
What are your goals for the Zebras going forward?
We are redeveloping the whole club. We have a club that has a long history, strong first team but very little underneath it. We have to grow the whole junior base. We don’t want to have to rely on bringing in import players, we need home grown talent.
Do you put it down to the coaching or that you don’t have the right crop of players to choose from?
There is not enough coaches, we need better coaches for the juniors.
We have a base of players that are ageing. I wish we could of picked up some Challenge League (NPL TAS Southern clubs reserves) 2-3 years ago that I could of worked with.
Any players in-particular?
Sammy (Sam) Plunkett, Chase Clark, Sammy (Sam) Jones, Johnny Jones and Sam Botte. They are going to get there one day. They have been coached to win but they haven’t been developed properly.
That’s why Im personally coaching the U16s while Jayden Hey (Hobart Zebras) has the U18s. We are competitive in both leagues but we want to promote these kids. It’s gonna take time
So what next Dave? Where can you fix things with the development?
If i’m given the OK we’re probably going to be a very young side next year. That may come with a lot of defeats and a lot of heartache but the belief is that we will get there in the long term. We want to keep as many as we can but some will move on and we accept that.
Any thoughts on defender Jan Charuza’s departure? (Charuza departed Zebras last week after 2 years at the club).
Super guy. Super character. A guy that came over from the Czech Republic who didn’t speak any English at first but we worked on that. He got into a bit of trouble with the referees in his first year for the way he played so we worked on changing that, personally I think he was one of the best central defenders in the state. I never doubted his commitment to the game or the club. He had to change his style. He’s been great for fellow defender Tommy Little (Hobart Zebras) who learnt so much from him.
What do you think of the Challenge League setup?
It’s crap. Not a fan at all. It’s a nothing league, does nothing for development. Realistically if you don’t have your reserves playing before your seniors on the same day, it can be very very hard. It hurts the club. Challenge is a seperate team to our club. Yes NPL and Challenge train together, but we two different teams, at two different venues, when one doesn’t play one after the other. Very frustrating. Hopefully the competition review will help some of that moving forward
What would you like to see out of the competition review? (Football TAS are currently over going the process of changing the structure of NPL, Challenge, WSL and other factors in the game).
Structure with an even flow. If it means we have to have teams in the Southern Championship (Lower division) i’d gladly take it.
Whatever the bar is, raise it. Cause it’s too low at the moment.
You can’t have a bye in the top league (NPL TAS) it’s ridiculous.
Let’s finish on talking about Sheffield United (Newly promoted EPL team) It’s no secret your a big Blades fan!
I’ve been a Blades fan since 1962 when Bramall Lane was 3 sided and had a cricket pitch in the middle! Mainly because of my father. I never thought we would be back in the Premier League.
We are the Collingwood of the Premier League!
We need 40 points to stay up.
If we keep the way the play and the spirit we play we will be able to keep up with the challenge of the higher teams.