Manchester United fan Martin Smith gets dream job
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Well, for Derry man Martin Smith it’s always been Manchester United.
And just to prove that dreams sometimes do come true, the former St Brigid’s College student was recently named the Red Devils’ Foundation School Partnership Officer for Northern Ireland, an appointment which saw him launching United’s new ‘Foundation Collaboration Programme at Oakgrove Integrated College on Friday alongside two times Champions League winner, Wes Brown.
“I have been working casually with the Foundation since September last year and then a coaching position came up on-line. I applied for the job, went through the interview process and got the job,” explained the 36-year-old who is an Old Trafford season ticket holder.
“In my casual job with the Foundation we did a girls’ session at Magee University and then the School Partnership Officer job came up around March. It was a really stringent process so I’m delighted to have got it. It’s my full-time job now and living in Northern Ireland with a full-time job in football doesn’t happen often.
“Through the Foundation you’re not just coaching, you’re engaging with young people, putting mentoring programmes in place, holding group workshops and just engaging with young people and giving them support. My job has more to it than just coaching, it’s a cross over between youth work and coaching, two passions of mine.
“I’ve been doing youth work over a number of years, working with ‘On Street Community Youth’ around Galliagh, Carnhill and Shantallow and combining football with youth work is just the perfect job for me.”
The ex-Institute defender is thrilled United chose Derry and Oakgrove Integrated College to be the first Northern Ireland school to link-up with and he’s hoping he can expand the programme in the years to come.
“They have around 30 schools in the Greater Manchester area doing a similar thing but this will be the first link-up outside of England and Oakgrove is their first in Northern Ireland but I’m hoping to expand to get more schools involved in the future,” he insisted.
“Having the United badge and the name behind you definitely helps. I’m also a Man United fan as well so that gives me that extra bit of passion to make it work.
“When I’m at the school working and I’m wearing Manchester United gear, straight away you’re visible to people and people want to know what’s happening. They want to get involved and since I started with Oakgrove it has been a really busy time.
“People are contacting me to see what’s going on and they want to meet and link-up with us. It definitely helps having that ‘Manchester United’ name behind you.
“Oakgrove also want us to link in with their partner primary schools so we’ll be doing some work with Oakgrove Integrated PS, St Oliver Plunkett’s PS in Strathfoyle, Ebrington PS and Drumahoe PS. We’ll be in their delivering programmes as well as a range of different stuff, some of it coaching but also different elements as well.
"The Foundation is very much about engaging with young people and helping them in different ways from mental health to nutrition with young leader programmes, volunteering and all that type of stuff, so it’s not just all about football.”
The Galliagh native, who now lives in Carnhill, has only just returned from Old Trafford and describes that whole experience of working at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ as surreal.
“It was an unreal experience,” he stated.
“The staff are used to driving and parking at Old Trafford every day as the Foundation office is there but for me, I had my mobile phone out and was taking pictures. I was doing my induction days in one of the suites inside Old Trafford looking out over the pitch and that was surreal.
“I’m a season ticket holder at United and I’ve paid a lot of money over the years to stay in hotels, get flights and stuff like that so just to be able to walk around Old Trafford at my leisure, walk out onto the pitch, it was amazing. I was also taken as a guest to the United versus Liverpool legends game and that was an unbelievable experience.”
The former Limavady United centre-back, who has been coaching for a number years after deciding to hang up his boots in 2018, has guided the County Londonderry team to some famous victories over Man United, Rangers and Arsenal in the Super Cup NI.
He has also managed Coleraine U16s and U18s to NIFL League success and is looking forward to managing the Bannsiders U20 squad next season.
“I have always had a passion for football and got into the coaching set-up through the County Derry set-up in the Super Cup NI,” he explained.
“I picked up a few niggling injuries when I was 32/33 and as I have a young family with two kids, I just felt it was time to give up the hassle of playing and started my coaching badges. I did my ‘B’ Licence and last summer completed my UEFA ‘A’ Licence so I’m well qualified for the coaching. I got involved with Coleraine and have really enjoyed that.
“At Coleraine we managed to win the U16 NIFL League last year and this year we won the U18 NIFL League while next season I’ll be taking over Coleraine’s U20 squad.
“The County Derry side in the Super Cup NI are also doing well and getting to manage the team against the likes of Man United, Arsenal and Rangers and beat them has been great for me.
“I enjoy the coaching. The Pro-Licence is something that really interests me but as I have only got the ‘A’ Licence, I want to get some experience and be more equipped with the management side of the game, but, yes, the Pro-Licence route is something that interests me because I do have an interest and passion about pushing on and managing in senior football somewhere.”