Smith’s final interview: Tommy on his tearful farewell, love of Town fans, biggest highs and his American dream
The Ipswich Town stalwart recalls his fondest memories, his regrets and expectations in his final interview before jetting off to begin his American dream.
The hundreds of heartfelt messages which followed the announcement of his departure tells you all you need to know about Tommy Smith’s standing at Ipswich Town.
After 13 years, 267 games, 23 goals, four managers, 157 team-mates and plenty of highs and lows, the homegrown product is moving on as he prepares to fly to Denver to begin his new life in the United States with Colorado Rapids.
It was a move that had been in the pipeline for a number of weeks, giving Smith and fans alike the chance to get their heads around it, but in the minutes after the switch was confirmed social media was awash with supporters wishing one of their own well.
For many fans the news is bittersweet – with their disappointment in seeing such a committed player depart matched by sharing in the excitement for everything that lies ahead for the 27-year-old and his family.
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That feeling of mixed-emotions is one Smith shares.
“It’s very strange to be leaving after being here so long and it’s been a very emotional time over the last few days saying goodbye to everybody at the club,” Smith said in his final interview before flying to the States.
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“But on the flipside there’s that excitement for the opportunity that lies ahead. We’ve been thinking about it all for the last few weeks and it was a decision which wasn’t taken lightly, that’s for sure.
“In an ideal world I would probably have been here playing every week and not even given it a thought, but as it has been the manager here has made it clear to me that opportunities were going to be limited.
“I had to make a career-based decision and try to take the emotions out of it, but it really is a fantastic opportunity for me. It’s a fantastic league to be a part of - they do things so differently - and it is a league I’ve spoken about before and said I’d like to experience it at some point in my career.
“Maybe that’s come a little earlier than I would have anticipated, but having spoken to people at the Rapids and seen how ambitious they are, it’s great to be a part of that and building their dream of winning another MLS Cup.
“I’ve never been to Denver but I’ve heard great things. It will be so different, but as a life experience it will be brilliant to live in America and seeing what Denver has to offer as well as all the cities we get to travel to for games.
“All I can say to the fans really is that there have been too many messages to reply to but I’ve read every single one of them and it’s been humbling to experience the love that has been shown.”
After his family returned to the UK from New Zealand, Smith signed on as an academy scholar in 2006 and has never looked back, making his first team debut in 2008. His 267 appearances is the most made by any graduate of the club’s academy and during his time with the Blues he has played at a World Cup and the 2012 Olympic Games.
There are too many games, too many experiences and too many moments for the 27-year-old to recall, but the best ones come from Town’s run to the Championship play-offs in 2014/15.
“As a 14-year-old I was fresh off the plane from New Zealand and I walked into the training ground and Sally Williams, who is still the receptionist up there, took me under her wing straight away and made me feel so welcome,” he said. “That’s how I’ve felt all the way through my time at the club.
“It’s such a family-orientated club who look after their players but it’s been brilliant. I remember my first team debut back in 2008 and the nerves I felt, but as soon as I crossed the white line I felt like I belonged.
“There are so many memories, so many games, but the whole of the season we made it to the play-offs was wonderful to be a part of. The best personal moment for me was scoring the equalising goal at Norwich which meant so much at the time. It’s just a shame it didn’t ultimately mean a lot.
“For that split-second in time it was my best feeling on a football pitch. You lose yourself in the emotion of it and it’s not until I look back at the video of it that I realise just how far the run to the Ipswich fans was.
“It was great to experience that with the fans and I will cherish that forever.”
He leaves with unfinished business, with the Blues having fallen short in their goal of achieving promotion during his 10 years in the first-team, but that may well not be the end of Smith’s Ipswich Town story. He plans to return to the town when his playing days are done and, who knows, he could even return to Portman Road.
“Promotion would have been the icing on the cake, really,” he said.
“But to make more than 250 appearances for the club after starting as a scholar is something I am extremely proud about and hopefully I have showed the fans just how much pride and passion I have played with over the years.
“Hopefully they will remember that.”
“At this moment in time, when my career is over, myself and my wife see ourselves being back in Ipswich,” he added.
“Hopefully there will be a space for me at the club in one capacity or another.”