Smith had given up on football – now he’s relishing a second chance

Phil Smith. Picture: Joe Pepler
Phil Smith. Picture: Joe Pepler

Just seven months ago, Phil Smith had given up on football.

Back then, he was contemplating warehouse or delivery work over the Christmas period to help out his young family.

In the meantime, he was at home looking after his two children – a house-husband role while his wife went out to work.

Then a phone call from then-Pompey coach John Keeley resurrected the 33-year-old’s football career.

Now Smith is preparing for a pre-season which begins on June 27, armed with the stability of a 12-month contract and the goal of establishing himself as Pompey number one.

The goalkeeper thought his football days were at an end following his release from Swindon last summer.

Now he is determined to make the most of his new opportunity.

Smith said: ‘It was October/November and I didn’t think I was going to get anything. I gave up.

‘I was coming to terms with what I was going to do next.

‘I had a couple of trials and was carrying a bit of a groin injury that hampered me in those trials.

‘I’d even sorted out a deal with one club and that fell through.

‘I was there thinking it was not going to happen.

‘There’s an abundance of players around, among them young players from the Premier League and Championship, signed up willy-nilly almost.

‘Once you are out you struggle to get back in.

‘I was looking after my two kids aged two and four.

‘My wife works so I was a house husband, if you like.

‘That was the situation, you get by – just about.

‘At the time I was on the floor. It was a hard time coming to terms with it.

‘What I found is, when you come out of football to start from afresh, it is difficult.

‘I might have decided to be a pilot or a police detective. They are the jobs that would interest me but to get to that stage I was ill-prepared.

‘It was very difficult for me to pursue a career that would fulfil in terms of the amount of training required.

‘It was a very daunting time. I was 33, you need a decision and it has to be the right one.

‘Christmas was approaching and I was thinking about warehouse work, delivery work, manual labour, anything.

‘I needed an income and was looking around to find something I could do.

‘Then in November I took a call from John Keeley, who gave me the chance to come in and see how it went. I like to think I took the opportunity.’

At the time, Simon Eastwood was the only keeper on Pompey’s books.

So an approach was made to free agent Smith, a former Robins keeper who featured in Swindon’s 2011-12 League Two title-winning campaign.

He would spend 26 matches as an unused substitute with the Blues and, in May, was given a 12-month deal.

John Sullivan has now arrived to challenge for a spot and Smith treasures the chance to rival him.

He added: ‘The opportunity came up when I least expected it.

‘I threw myself into it and expected to be only a month, until the club came out of administration.

‘I thought it would then be a case of going and getting somebody fitter and stronger in January.

‘It obviously didn’t happen and I think I did fairly well given the circumstances.

‘I got fitter and sharper as the season went on.

‘I am going to enjoy it. I have said to myself, if it is going to be my last season, I will give it everything I’ve got. I want it to be a good one.’