Reviewing Ben Smith's 'Journeyman'
If you for looking for a biography that falls outside the glitz and glam of the Premier League, Ben Smith’s ‘Journeyman’ is the book for you. The former pro, who played for likes of Reading, Yeovil, Southend, Hereford, Shrewsbury and Weymouth, during a career that included three promotions, one relegation and some very memorable FA Cup games, provides a thoroughly detailed account of the unique experience gained during his time navigating the English game’s lower tiers.
As one might expect, Ben provides a fascinating and authentic account of life at the bottom of the football food chain. His career began as an apprentice at Arsenal, but his unprofessional lifestyle – especially binge drinking – led to him dropping down the leagues and playing for various teams between the third and sixth tiers of the English football pyramid. As such, this publication forms the epitome of the journeyman footballer – surviving, if not always thriving, for no less than seventeen years in a sport that refuses to take any prisoners.
The chapters focusing on Ben’s time at Crawley Town under now Leeds boss Steve Evans are particularly revealing. As he recently explained in our exclusive interview, despite their differences, the volatile head coach possessed a fantastic knack for getting the best out of Ben, even if it did take the player himself some years to see it. We won’t spoilt it for you, but there really are some comical anecdotes from Ben’s time at the Sussex based club and, unfortunately for Evans, the Scotsman is at the forefront of most of them.
Although at times Ben’s account could be confused as a diary of excuses – a kind of self justification for why he never made it at the top – he is clearly a very lovable character and this becomes very apparent, particularly throughout the latter stages of his career. As he approaches the end of his time as a full-time pro, his added level of maturity, and the realisation that those who work hardest get their just rewards, sees him finally begin to enjoy the opportunity that he had been given.
Overall, this is a brilliantly honest account of a footballer who was never quite able to live up to his potential. Ben writes with great honesty about his shortcomings – both technically and mentally – and shines a light on the instability of a lifestyle far removed from the luxury of the English top flight. An enjoyable read to say the least, we can’t wait for the next instalment – hopefully a slightly more upbeat monologue of Ben’s successful ventures as a professional football coach.