Suffolk/Essex: Learning curve for ex-footballer

FOR the past 17 years, Ben Smith has been used to stepping out on to a football pitch in front of thousands of fans. But from now on, the 33-year-old will instead be facing 30 pupils in a classroom every day in his new role as a school teacher.

Mr Smith, who signed a professional contract with Arsenal in 1995 before going on to play for Reading and Southend, started work teaching business and computing at the Maltings Academy in Essex this week.

It is the same school he attended and left as a 16-year-old with just a handful of GCSEs.

But despite the new direction he has not abandoned his former career and lifelong passion entirely - he has just signed with AFC Sudbury for the coming season.

Speaking before a training session at the club, he said the job change had been a huge learning curve.


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“Coming from a totally different background, I really didn’t realise how much goes into being a teacher,” he said. “I thought they got in at about 8.45am, took a few lessons, finished at 3pm and got home by 4pm, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Mr Smith’s school reports noted that finishing school work was a “necessary evil” because all he wanted to do was play football. He admits he never even considered that he might one day need another career to fall back on.

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“From the age of 15, I knew I was getting into Arsenal and for a young lad, you get stars in your eyes and think you are going to be a superstar. Then within three months of being at Arsenal, the harsh reality kicked in that I was just another average player and the standard I needed to be in the first team was something I wasn’t really capable of.”

He did however forge out a long and successful career as a professional footballer with several highlights including playing for Crawley against Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round at Old Trafford last year.

It was when he was 25 and he bought his first house that he realised he needed a backup plan. So he threw himself back into learning, first studying for an HNC in business, which he turned into a degree. It took him five-and-a-half years to complete, studying at five colleges in different locations alongside his football postings. Ben says his ultimate dream is to eventually combine his two careers and become a coach at a top club.

Of his other new role at AFC Sudbury, Ben said: “Football is my main passion - I will always want to be involved with it in some capacity and playing for Sudbury fits in well with my day job.

”We lost the first couple of games which was a bit frustrating but we’ve done well in the last three so hopefully we can build on that for the rest of the season.”

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