Matt Smith interview: ‘The idea bore out of fear but studying for a masters helped best season of my life’

Star: Matt Smith (Getty Images)
Star: Matt Smith (Getty Images)

For most 34-year-old strikers, a record-breaking goal scoring campaign would represent the pinnacle of their season’s achievements.

But Matt Smith, who spent eight years in the capital with Fulham, QPR and Millwall before heading north to Salford City, can also celebrate another milestone - becoming a masters graduate.

The towering 6ft 6in forward has scored 24 league goals, earning a place in the League Two Team of the Season, and racked up his 500th professional appearance in November.

Less than a month later, he graduated from the University of Manchester for the second time, with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA).

It was during the Covid-ravaged 2019-20 season, still at Millwall under Gary Rowett, that Smith decided to start his MBA as he started to plan for life after retirement.

“The idea bore a little out of fear,” Smith tells Standard Sport.

“If you look at footballers who have retired with bankruptcy and divorce and alcohol and depression, it's horrible reading,”

Smith originally sought to move into a football director role and was given his first taste of the boardroom by late Millwall chairman John Berylson, who tragically died in a car accident last year.

Smith scored 22 goals in over 100 appearances for Millwall, where he was given his first taste of the boardroom (Getty Images)
Smith scored 22 goals in over 100 appearances for Millwall, where he was given his first taste of the boardroom (Getty Images)

“I was extremely grateful to him,” says Smith. “Because for a couple of years he opened the doors and gave me access to things a player really shouldn’t have access to.

“He had done an MBA himself so he spoke to me for hours and hours and gave me such deep insight into how to run a football club.”

Smith’s course was largely online, allowing him to start studying while still at the Den.

It was also partnered with Indiana University in America, with Smith forced to adjust to late evening classes finishing after 1am followed by early morning training sessions.

“When there were busy periods with football it was a bit of a struggle,” says Smith. “Then halfway through the course I became a dad, so it became even harder.”

But away trips offered the perfect opportunity to catch up on his studies.

“It worked out for me well because you shut yourself off in a hotel room or with travel,” says Smith, who is not the first footballer to trade boots for books.

Burnley manager Vincent Kompany, who graduated from the same course in 2017, called Smith to offer advice before he started.

Fortunately, Smith’s studiousness received a more courteous reception from his team-mates.

“Vincent said he got a lot of stick when he was at [Manchester] City,” he says.

“He’d say he got a lot of ‘book w*****s when was doing work on the bus. But I think because I’m so much older [my team-mates] wouldn’t say anything to me.”

Smith first moved to London with Fulham in 2014, but his career in the capital was not always guaranteed to be in football.

Smith made his name with two goals to help Oldham dump Liverpool out the FA Cup in 2013, having already earned a degree in business management (Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Only three years earlier, with a 2:1 in International Management, he interviewed for Accenture’s graduate scheme in the City of London, before eventually signing with Oldham.

“Even in my last year of uni, when I was at Solihull Moors and scoring a lot of goals, never in my wildest of dreams did I think I would [have the career I have had],” says Smith.

“For me a year's contract at my local team Kidderminster Harriers, I thought that would be brilliant if that could happen.”

The completion of his MBA has provided Smith with the business acumen for Sequel, an investment platform for professional athletes he is involved in and which he will turn to full-time after hanging up his boots.

It has also coincided with his best-ever form.

Even with Salford languishing down in 20th in League Two, he has scored 10 more goals than in his previous highest scoring campaign, a 13-goal haul for Millwall in the 2019-20 Championship season.

“Subconsciously knowing I have something to move into gives me even more of a care-free attitude,” says Smith.

“I can play with a bit more freedom knowing I’m not playing to pay my mortgage or to feed my family.”