Smith relishing coaching return at X-Roads

  • Enjoying the challenge: Larry Smith, below, has led X-Roads to sixth in the Premier Division table after eight games this season. The Devil’s Hole side gained promoted in 2016-17

    Enjoying the challenge: Larry Smith, below, has led X-Roads to sixth in the Premier Division table after eight games this season. The Devil’s Hole side gained promoted in 2016-17

  • X-Roads celebrate getting promoted to the Premier Division at the end of hte 2016-17 season.  Khomeini Talbot, centre, secured Larry Smith to replace coach Farid El Karfa this season.  (File photograph by Lawrence Trott)

    X-Roads celebrate getting promoted to the Premier Division at the end of hte 2016-17 season. Khomeini Talbot, centre, secured Larry Smith to replace coach Farid El Karfa this season. (File photograph by Lawrence Trott)

Larry Smith admits he had not even watched X-Roads play before agreeing to become their coach this season.

Smith had stopped watching senior football on a regular basis by the time X-Roads joined the First Division in 2004.

It was not a job he was seeking, but one thing led to another after the Harris Bay club found themselves searching for a replacement after Farid El Karfa, their former coach, left the island last summer.

Khomeini Talbot, a member of the X-Roads coaching staff, had worked with Smith at the Bermuda Football Coaches Association — Talbot as secretary and Smith as an executive member — and decided to seek his advice in finding a new coach.

Smith gave him three names, but Talbot came back to him and said that neither would work out.

When the pair were about to meet again, Smith’s wife Donna opened his eyes to something he still had not thought about ... maybe he was the coach they wanted after all.

In the end, he took on the job with her blessing.

“Farid decided he was going to pursue his A licence in England or Scotland and Khomeini called me up and came by the house and asked me to find him a B licence coach,” Smith recalled.

“I went on the computer and looked at the BFA site and called out three guys who I thought would be a good fit.

“I recommended those guys and he went away and came back the next day and said, ‘No, I don’t think those three will do’.

“I went back onto the site and picked him out another three. In the interim period my wife said to me, ‘Larry, I thought you were a good cop’, he’s not looking for a coach, he’s looking for you. She said, ‘Is he coming back tomorrow?’ I said yes, and she said, ‘Just ask him straight up’.

“When he walked in the door I said, ‘Khomeini, you’re not looking for a coach are you, you’re looking for me? He said, ‘Well, yeah, I didn’t know how to ask you, because I kept hearing you say that you don’t want to coach senior football ever again, that you want to concentrate on the development of youngsters’.

“My wife was happy, she said, ‘At least you’re getting out of the house and doing something’. However, I still didn’t know X-Roads, just heard the name through the newspaper.

“I’d never seen them play, didn’t even watch senior football. I said to Khomeini, ‘Before you even make a decision, call a meeting among your players because the only name I know from X-Roads is the guy who scores all the goals, Donavan Thompson, who’s got to be somebody special’.

“They called a meeting and I went down to Devil’s Hole and met the guys. Then we set up a training session and I looked at them, but my biggest mistake was trying to compare them with North Village and Somerset Trojans.

“[At the time], I was disappointed because they were not a North Village or a Somerset, but I decided to give it a try.” Smith was a former fullback for Devonshire Colts under coach Donald Dane before taking over as coach of Village and leading them to the Triple Crown (Premier Division league, FA Cup and Friendship Trophy) in his first season there in 1977-78. Seeking a new challenge, he joined the Trojans after a stint as a referee and won two more trophies in the same season, the FA Cup and Friendship Trophy.

“I left Village after I asked myself the question, ‘What are your aspirations for next season after you have won all the trophies there are to win?’ I didn’t have the motivation to repeat it and thought I would try something else.

“I was chief inspector [at the Bermuda Police Service] at the time and transferred to Somerset [station]. I played with Bernard Brangman, Larry Hunt and George Brangman at the national level and had a good relationship with them.

“One of the players asked if I would consider coaching them and I said, ‘Why not, I’m friends with many of you guys’. Initially, I declined, I’m not from Somerset, I’m an East End boy, from Shelly Bay.

“I started to call off some names, Bernard Brangman, who can coach the team, Randy Horton, who can coach. Having coached Village, who were then, in my opinion, the best team on the island, my biggest challenge at Somerset in the early stages was I was trying to convert them into a ball-playing team and that wasn’t their style.”

At Village, Smith had a team made up goalkeepers Colin Paynter and George Hayward, Wendell Trott, Wendell Baxter, Milgrove Romaine and Bill Smith in defence, Cal, Garrett and Parks Dill and twins Richard and Robert Calderon in midfield and brothers Ralph and Mel Bean up front.

“The Village midfield was so good that you didn’t have to confine them to left, right and central midfield players and that caused confusion in the marking for the opposition,” he said.

“Andrew Bascome came into Village’s team in the latter period, and was so good that he was the only player that I coached who I allowed a free role in midfield. He was very disciplined.

“I have this philosophy that came to me from my first course in England with an English instructor,” Smith recalls.

“This man said to us, ‘If you can control the ball you can control the game and if you can control the game you should win the game’.

“I’ve had that philosophy ever since. That’s how Village won the Triple Crown, we controlled the ball and in doing so we controlled games. At Somerset, they had extremely good players. Stevie Riley was an unsung hero and one of the finest players that I ever coached.”

Smith switched to Village as a player and ended up coaching the team. “Donald Dane said to me, ‘You’re not going to make this team as a striker, but we have a vacancy at full back and I notice you’re left and right-footed.”

After recovering from a broken leg, Smith left Colts and moved to Village where he was advised by Harold “Doc” Dowling to give up playing and to consider coaching.

“After one game he said, ‘You’re not going to make the team but you can be the coach’,” said Smith, who had a pin in his leg. “That’s where my coaching career started.”

Smith admits the local game and its culture have changed considerably since he was last involved.

“Players have got younger, seem fitter, but I’ve discovered that they’re not necessarily as good as the players of yesteryear,” said Smith, whose team lost 2-1 against Trojans at Somerset Cricket Club last weekend.

He will meet another of his former teams, Village, in the preliminary round of the Friendship Trophy on Sunday.

“We do not get out of the starting blocks well, either lack of confidence because the opposition jumps on us real quick or a lack of fitness,” Smith said.

“We are now working extremely hard to get out of the starting blocks, and against Boulevard was the first time this season that we’ve taken the lead.

“That’s the first time this season that we’ve played well from start to finish. We’ve just got to get out of the starting blocks earlier.”

Village, also with a new coach in Kenny Thompson, are unbeaten this season.

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Published Nov 27, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 27, 2019 at 1:43 am)

Smith relishing coaching return at X-Roads

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