Sporting Chance – Mal Smith
For many years MAL SMITH was at the forefront of sport in the isles, whether it be boxing for Sullom Voe Terminal, playing rugby for Shetland, acting as physio for Lerwick Spurs FC or as Derrick Bradley’s right hand man during the pair’s long and successful stint in charge of the senior county football side. Now living in Singapore, Mal was back in his old hunting ground recently to coincide with Spurs playing host to Norwegian team Tornado Maloy.
My first taste of action was at . . .
Walton Hospital, Liverpool, in 1942.
I mainly got into sport because . . .
At school it was mainly football we played. I got my first pair of boots when I was eight, old “Stanley Matthews” style ones. I was really proud of them and used to coat them with dubbin. Every now and then the studs would come through but you would still play on.
I joined the RAF in 1957 when I was 15½ and after that I got into other sports, including long-distance running which was compulory of course. I played hockey for a while, until I got hypnotised by the ball as it met me between the eyes, and also did boxing, which I had tried a little bit of at school.
I was stationed at Watersham for a while, the home of the famous Black Arrows, and was doing a bit of running. One day the PT instructor came up and said: “We’ve put you down for the 100 yards, the 220 yards, the 440 yards, the half mile and the two-mile walk!” The walk was a disaster but I actually did quite a bit after that, including winning a race.
I first got into rugby when the sports instructor came along and said: “You look just the sort of chap we need.” They stuck me in as a prop and I never looked back. I had been commandeered into it but I played a lot after that.
A big influence was . . .
I can’t think of anyone who really influenced me a personal level, it’s very difficult to remember now. I really just did my own thing.
As a youngster my sporting heroes were . . .
The Liverpool footballer Billy Liddell, who was the first real superstar, and also fellow footballers Stanley Matthews and John Charles. Later on it was the rugby players, the likes of Welsh backs J.P.R. Williams and Gareth Edwards and English prop forward Fran Cotton.
Currently I most admire . . .
I suppose Jonny Wilkinson from rugby, but everything in the game seems to change so often I have drifted away from watching it with a great deal of zeal. The standards are so much higher now and the forwards have to be so much fitter.
Liverpool’s Spanish footballer Fernando Torres is someone I really admire. I like him for his skill and also for his manner on the pitch. He is an unassuming guy, a bit like Denis Law used to be, he doesn’t get too over-excited.
My best achievements have been . . .
Winning the Northern Scottish light-heavyweight title two years on trot when I was boxing for Sullom Voe.
Captaining the Shetland rugby team when we organised the centenary match against Orkney.
Carrying the flag at the island games in 2001 at the Isle of Man, when Prince Edward was the special guest.
The best thing about rugby is . . .
To me the physical side of things, knocking people over, fighting for the ball, getting everything out of the system. And then linking up with people afterwards and talking about the game.
And the worst thing is . . .
I don’t think there’s a big downside, but some people can be a bit over-zealous with their fists and boots so there’s always the risk of being hurt. Taking the odd crack was not too bad but there were some psychos in the game which was unfortunate.
Abiding memories were . . .
Being posted to RAF Saxa Vord in 1960. We used to come down to Lerwick and play a local football select. Bobby Geddes was one of the opponents, and Bobby was not long out of the RAF himself. I remember one time we came out with a crate of beer at half time and did some “carbohydrate loading”.
Life at Saxa Vord then was not like what it was in more recent times. The accommodation was a bit limited, with no linings on the walls. It was all segregated. There was no television and no gym. It was pretty grim but also good fun.
After leaving the RAF I went into the fire service and came back to Shetland in the late 1970s and there were many memorable times. Every football inter-county I was involved with was tremendous, and also the first island games in Faroe when Geordie Irvine and Ian “Bletty” Manson first realised we would have to rethink this if we came again.
A way of improving rugby would be . . .
I don’t like the way they feed the ball into the scrum nowadays. There’s less chance of an upset, and stealing the advantage. I preferred it the old way.
My ambitions are to . . .
Keep myself fit and retire (again) on a permanent basis.
My hobbies apart from rugby are . . .
I have done most of the things kids do, such as stamp collecting, train spotting, etc. But cooking is still a hobby.
Musically I like to listen to . . .
Coming from Liverpool the Beatles of course, and also a bit of the Stones. The early rock stars like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. I like a lot of classical stuff and also Shetland fiddle music. In my youth I was in a skiffle group and used to like doing a bit of singing so Lonnie Donegan was another favourite.
I like to read . . .
I used to read a lot but sadly with all the workload in Singapore I have little time now, apart from medical books on sports injuries – all the boring stuff but what I find interesting.
I used to go to a pub in Singapore called The Sportsman where they had the English papers. I was usually pretty disillusioned because they rarely had anything positive to say.
And watch . . .
Documentaries on Sky; comedy programmes such as Only Fools and Horses; cookery programmes – we have a lot of variation out in Singapore with the Asian market; and of course football – my mate Jim Jackson and I often go out at 10pm to watch the Liverpool games live.
The best films I’ve seen are . . .
There’s so many good films it’s difficult to highlight every one, but the Indiana Jones series has to be near the top of the list. They combine good imagination, humour, romance and generally no bad taste.
My favourite actors/actresses . . .
Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep.
My favourite food and drink is . . .
Sirloin roast beef, brandy and lemonade, and red wine. It’s a funny thing that Asian tastes are moving more western and western tastes are moving east. Some Asians come in to my restaurant now and ask for mashed potatoes and gravy!
The best places I have visited are . . .
Some of the places we went to for the island games were memorable, such as Åland and Gotland.
Being stationed in Nairobi in Kenya was a great experience, especially taking trips down to Mombasa. The train was always crowded with people cooking, it was a bit like that Bob Hope film, Road to Zanzibar.
If I could live anywhere in the world other than Shetland it would be . . .
A choice between Singapore, where I am now, or Norway, both fabulous places.
My pet hates are . . .
Hands-free phones. I walked up this guy once and asked him if he was having a fit. He said no, I’m on the phone! It also annoys me when people text other people who are about two feet away.
Television commentators who get over-excited about some simple manouevre.
Hotels and restaurants where, when you ask for toast, they always ask you: white or brown? I always like my white bread toasted brown. Why can’t they ask you: white bread or brown?
Having to walk through a crowd of people smoking outside a pub or restaurant.
The living person I most admire is . . .
Because . . .
Of his self-control and his manner of speaking. His incredible serenity seems to inspire people. Anyone who has been near him seems to come away with a feeling of energy and revitalisation. He seems to have this magical way about him.
The five people I would invite to my dream dinner party are . . .
Former Shetland sportsman Andy Miller, for his extremely good taste (he always invites me to his parties so I owe him this one); former West Side footballer Davy Johnston, purely for his humour; hockey player Jill Smith, because she doesn’t like guys with white socks and black shoes, and me and Andy do; rugby player Forbes Hogg, because he can remember most of the things I can’t with regard to rugby; Helge Hjele from Måløy, a forceful man, a strong and knowledgeable character who enjoys a good laugh. The reserve would be Craig Dinwoodie, just to makes sure there’s no waste.
Anything to add . . .
In Orkney on one of the inter-county trips the game was already in progress when we heard the distant shout of: “Pizza for Mal Smith!” The sound kept coming closer and closer and it was this guy with a box. The Shetland hockey girls, who were standing behind us, pointed me out to him. He says to me: “Are you Mal Smith? This is a pizza for you!”
At that moment Derrick Bradley turns and says: “What the hell is this? There’s a game going on. What do you want with a bloody pizza?”
I gave it to the hockey girls and they scoffed it. I looked around and there was Dinwoodie and some of the other boys on the bench looking guilty!
When we were playing Greenland at the island games in Åland one of the players, Tony Johnston, was hit by the ball in a very delicate area. I ran on to the pitch and the Norwegian referee came up and said: “Can I just do something?” I said okay and stood back, wondering if he was going to give Tony a massage. He lifted him about six inches off the ground and dropped him, and he did it about three times and Tony’s eyes widened in disbelief. After the game I spoke to the referee and asked him what that was all about. He replied: “When the boys get hit in the nether parts you have to bounce them up and down to get them back into place!”