Upon completion of his masters, Matt decided it was time to pack away the journals and text books and go travelling. After six-years of higher education, the next six-months were to be spent backpacking through Thailand, Lao, Vietnam and Cambodia where he met his now-wife.
Then, fresh off the boat from a business perspective, it was time to set up a new life in Australia, where his family had emigrated a number of years earlier. Football though, was a dream that wasn’t going be left behind in England.
“I knew that football in Australia was a completely different landscape to that in England. I had no contacts or anything coming here but I knew the biggest local club I could get involved with was a team called Brisbane Strikers.
“I contacted them basically saying ‘look I’m returning to Australia, is there an opportunity to come on trial?’ The coach at the time was a Scottish guy called Stuart McLaren, who has recently taken the interim role as Scotland Women’s Manager, he invited me in for a meeting and they signed me there and then.
“They were in the highest non-professional league, you obviously have the professional A-League, then because Australia is so big you have state leagues.
“I spent two years there, first year playing central-midfield but to be honest, watching the A-League, I didn’t think I’d compete with the crop of players playing in that position. So, I had a meeting with Stuart where I basically told him this is my last chance of playing professionally and I need to be playing centre-back. I was playing as a box-to-box midfielder at Chichester so every ten years I’ve moved further back!
“It wasn’t exactly a position at the time that was exciting for me, but for some reason it was one that I found easier. So, in my second year at Strikers I played centre-back and was captain as well.”
It has to be said that it turned out to be an incredibly astute move for Matt, switching to centre-back, as before long he had attracted interest once again.
“I remember we had a game away at Townsville which was a flight away, and Rangers legend, Ian Ferguson, who was manager of North Queensland Fury in the A-League, approached me and wanted to take me on trial.
“I went up on trial and played a game then they came to my hotel room and said they wanted to offer me a contract. I was 26 at the time, I was so excited I phoned my dad and family, then 10 minutes later I get another knock at the door asking for my Australian passport, which I didn’t have.
“In the A-League you can only have a certain amount of foreign players and I was still classed as a visa-player. They had Robbie Fowler at the time and somehow I don’t think a lad from Sussex was going to compete with him!
“The opportunity had finished before it had started, so I flew back home and continued working. I had trials with Brisbane Roar and a few other clubs, but there were lots of little things that got in the way and reasons as to why it didn’t kick off for me at that point.
“Whenever I watched the A-League I never thought I was better than any of them, but I certainly didn’t think I was worse. My wife kept saying to me when the opportunity comes, I had to take it.
Shortly after, Matt did manage to obtain his Australian citizenship, and with his continued motivation to succeed, which he credits to his wife’s support, another opportunity arose following a phone call from the aforementioned Ian Ferguson.
“I was at work when Ian called me and asked me again to join North Queensland Fury. I said to my boss that I had to take this chance. I was a Marketing Manager for a finance company at the time and he was really understanding.
“We had just had our first daughter, we had bought our first house and the club said that I had to pay for my flight and accommodation to get there for the medical. We got by, but we were by no means wealthy, so I booked into a backpackers rather than a hotel as it was all I could afford.
“I passed the medical fine and I went into the office signing a six-week contract. I made my debut the following week which we won and later on ended up signing a two-year contract with the club, I was just so grateful that they had given me the chance.
“Things were going great, and I kept having to pinch myself walking in the dressing room and Robbie Fowler is my teammate.”
It had finally happened; at the age of 27, Matt Smith, from a small village town in Sussex, was a professional footballer in Australia. It would be almost hard to believe that another hurdle was going to get in the way wouldn’t it? Luckily for Matt, he’d already made his mark.
“We were ready to sell our house and move to Townsville and then, incredibly, the owner pulls away from the club and our contracts are voided!
“Luckily for me, I was contacted by Ange Postecoglou, the Brisbane Roar manager at the time, who called me and offered me a two-year contract there, so it became a simple decision to return to Brisbane at a professional level and one that changed my life.”