Coaching and playing in the Australian sunshine, or running around soaking amid freezing rain and sleet at Cowdenbeath. Gordon Smith’s choice was straightforward. A season-long contract at the Western Australia club ECU Joondalup offered a new way of life, and the former Hearts striker didn’t hesitate to jump on a plane.
Even while boarding at Edinburgh airport last week, the biting wind and frosty temperatures reminded him why he was making the right decision. He is still only 24 but the chance to play and coach Down Under wasn’t one to pass up. Smith arrived in Perth to temperatures pushing 40 degrees determined to do something different after spells with Scottish clubs Livingston, Hearts, Raith Rovers, Stirling Albion, Hamilton, Dumbarton and Cowdenbeath.
The large town of Joondalup is one of Perth’s outer northern suburbs. The football team, named after the nearby Edith Cowan University, play in Australia’s National Premier Leagues – the regionalised second tier of the country’s football pyramid. Smith is there to broaden his horizons and, if possible, try to earn a move to the Hyundai A-League.
“I’ve signed until the season ends, which is in September. I’m staying with one of my team-mates in Perth just now until I get sorted,” he explained to the Evening News. “I’m here to get experience of playing in a different country with a different culture. Obviously, the weather is a bit different.
“When I was getting on the plane in Edinburgh, it was windy, rainy and pretty baltic. Then I got off the plane here and it was 35 degrees. I went a walk to the shops and back today and I was sweating. It was only a ten-minute walk.
“My brother [Kevin, captain of East Fife] was Snapchatting me pictures of where he was working the other day because it was snowing. I was Snapchatting him back with photos of the sunshine. I was just winding him up, saying, ‘You enjoy training tonight in the rain and snow because I’ll be training in the sunshine’.
“I was playing well at Cowdenbeath and I enjoyed being on loan there [from Dumbarton]. The manager, Colin Nish, said to me there was a chance I could get back playing full-time. In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Do I stay and have a couple of good seasons here and then go back full-time?’ One, the money isn’t great, and, two, there’s the standard of football. I just thought it was time to give it a bash in Australia.
“You never know what could happen over here. I could do well here and have clubs from a higher level interested, or teams from Asia, anything. It excites me a wee bit. There are leagues in Melbourne, Sydney and right across the country as well as Perth. You never know who is watching. One of the coaches told me there are people watching every game looking for players in Australia. I know I can do well here so there’s no reason I can’t go to a higher level.”
The chance to coach youth players was also a swaying factor in Smith’s decision to leave his native Edinburgh. He is in his mid-20s but wants to plan ahead and build a future for himself. “I’ve got some youth coaching badges and the club said there was an opportunity to do some coaching with their youth teams. It’s something I want to get into so I’m really looking forward to it,” he continued.
“I’m only 24 and I wanted to come over here to try something different. It’s a case of enjoying the football and the lifestyle. It’s kind of now or never. If I wait another year, a lot can change in a year. I thought if I don’t do this now then I’ll never do it and I’ll regret not doing it.”
He was originally due to land in Melbourne for a trial after tentatively putting feelers out on the other side of the world. It was a contact of his father, Gordon Snr, the former Hearts and Falkirk forward, which led him to Joondalup instead.
“My dad played at Falkirk with one of the youth coaches here, Willie Herd. My dad told him I was meant to be going to Melbourne to train with a team there. Once Joondalup found out, they wanted to sign me. They offered me a deal including flights and coaching straight away if I committed to them. I agreed I would sign as soon as I got over.”
It is a significant step into the unknown for Smith Jnr, though. “I don’t really know anyone over here. I met Willie once when he came over to Scotland. There were nerves when I was leaving because it wasn’t an easy decision. I always wanted to come here but there are things back home I’d miss, especially my family.
“I enjoyed it at Cowdenbeath and Colin Nish was brilliant with me. It’s a great group of boys there but this opportunity was too good to turn down. I’d like to stay at least a year, if not two. I don’t have a set amount of time in my head. If I enjoy it, I’ll just stay. I’ll see how it goes. I’ve definitely got plans to stay for at least a year and then take it from there.”