When Chichester-born and Bognor-based Matthew Smith emmigrated to Australia in 2007, nobody could have predicted the footballing future ahead of him.
The former shelf-stacker at Tesco’s in Bognor followed his family to Australia after gaining a degree in marketing and leisure management at the University of Western England in Hartpury, and set on using that education gaining a role as a marketing manager for a company in the Gold Coast, Australia.
He had been a promising young footballer in the UK, blossoming for Barnham Trojans as a junior, and he was asked to become part of Pompey’s academy, where he spent seven years alongside the likes of West Ham’s Gary O’Neil.
He was released without making a significant impact and decided to look at getting an education and played for Chichester City while at Chichester High School’s sixth form.
Smith gained a scholarship at Hartpury while still playing for Chichester and found high acclaim in being selected to play for Great Britain in the World University Games in Thailand in 2007 – for which only three British-based players were selected.
He continued to play for Chichester before signing for Southern League side Cirencester as his studies continued, before moving to Australia in 2007.
Smith made 100-plus appearances for Chichester between 2001-02 and 2005-06, having graduated through the under-18 side. He helped City win the County League title in 2003-04.
Once settled in Australia he played amateur football for Brisbane Strikers and sheer perseverance gave him his chance in the professional game, which looked like ending as soon as it started.
He received his break with A-League side North Queensland Fury in 2009 after gaining citizenship of Australia. He was given a short-term deal with the club and made his debut versus Adelaide United in the same starting line-up as Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler.
After impressing at the end of the 2009-10 season he was given a two-year contract, but this looked like being the end of his professional dream after financial backers pulled out of Fury, who went out of business - leaving Smith without a club.
He was offered a deal by former Fury manager Ange Postecoglu at Brisbane Roar and hasn’t looked back since.
In his first season he played nearly every minute of every game and was part of the victorious Roar side that won the 2010/11 A-League grand final in front of 50,000 fans, despite being 2-0 down with just three minutes of extra-time remaining.
That season they broke the record for the most games undefeated - 36. Smith’s consistency meant he was selected for the PFA team of the year.
Before the start of the 2011-12 season Brisbane Roar captain Matt McKay signed for Scottish Premier League giants Rangers and Brisbane manager Ange Postecoglu selected Smith as his new skipper.
He had the delight of winning the championship as captain that season, again winning the final after being behind with just five minutes remaining. Brisbane Roar were the first side, and are the only side, to win back-to-back A League championships – and Smith was captain when they set this record.
This season he has continued his consistent play and now leads his Brisbane Roar side against the likes of Italian legend Allesandro Del Piero and ex-England star Emile Heskey.
Smith, who plays as centre-back these days, was a cut-and-thrust midfielder in his City days and once stunned the supposedly-invincible Burgess Hill by scoring against them less than 30 seconds from kick-off.
His performances have led to a call-up to the Australian national side and he capped a meteoric rise from the county league to international football inside just five years by making his debut on Monday versus Hong Kong in a 1-0 East Asian Cup victory, with ex-Premier League star Brett Emerton scoring the only goal. He followed that with a second appearance in a 1-1 draw with North Korea.
Who knows what is round the corner for Smith? The way his career has shot from playing against Sidlesham on a cold Tuesday evening to coming up against some of world’s best, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for him to be a part of Australia’s World Cup squad in Brazil 2014 if they qualify.
It is a classic case of somebody living the dream - and a lesson to any aspiring footballer that hard work, perseverance and a little bit of luck along the way can lead to great things.
by IAN GUPPY
additional reporting by CHESTER BROWTON