Meet the man who played for Pele's Cosmos and Dundalk

Bobby Smith chats to Newstalk's Team 33 about a career in his native USA and an important sejour in Ireland

BY Raf Diallo 15:15 Wednesday 1 February 2017, 15:15 1 Feb 2017

Soccer star Pele poses in New York with the newest additions to the New York Cosmos on Jan. 6, 1976. Bob Smith, left, and Bob Rigby, both formerly of the Philadelphia Atoms, had just signed with the Cosmos. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

For a generation of US soccer players in the 1970s and early '80s, the international stars they saw in magazines would go on to become team-mates.

Robert "Bobby" Smith was one of those American players who formed the homegrown base around which the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Johan Cruyff and Eusebio dazzled in the old North American Soccer League (NASL).

Smith was highly regarded as a defender, winning 18 caps and being elected into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007. 

He was signed by Cosmos in 1976 as the newly arrived Pele began to be surrounded by team-mates capable of helping the New York franchise to dominate.

This week, Smith joined us on Newstalk's Team 33 to share his memories of playing with Pele, Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia at the New York Cosmos.

But we also looked back on another interesting part of his career: His brief loan spell with current League of Ireland champions Dundalk in the 1974-75 season. 

You can listen to the full interview on the podcast player right below or on iTunes:

"Well, our off-season is so long. The season would end at the end of August and you're not playing again until April," Smith explained as to the timing of his brief interlude in Ireland between the 1974 and 1975 NASL seasons as he sought some soccer to fill the void.

"A friend of mine Dave D'Errico (a fellow USA international and NASL player) played in Seattle and an Irish guy was assistant coach there and he'd talked to Dave about going to Ireland to play," Smith, who was with Philadelphia Atoms at the time, continued.

"I told Dave, 'You've got to get me in on that'. I wasn't the guy [Dundalk] wanted. They wanted D'Errico. He ended up getting an opportunity to go over to Dundalk. It was unbelievable. When the chance came up, I was just gone and he included me in it."

So in the Autumn of 1974, Smith and D'Errico headed over to Ireland, a country they knew little about.

"The two of us got over there, got off a plane in Dublin and there was a guy Enda McGuill from the McGuill Insurance company in Dundalk that I think was part-owner of the team I guess who met us. He sat us down and said 'we're going to give you five quid a week, you guys play on the reserve team and we'll go from there,'" Smith recalls.  

New York Cosmos’ forward Bob Smith beats Portlani Timbers’ forward Clyde Best, right, to ball on Sunday, July 17, 1977 in first half of match at East Rutherford, N.J.’s Meadowlands Stadium. We interviewed Clyde Best on Team 33 in January 2017 (AP Photo/IS)

However, Smith who is now 65, didn't have to spend long in the reserves as Dundalk's then manager Jim McLaughlin elevated him.

After making his debut against St Patrick's Athletic in October 1974, he would play 26 more times and even won a Player of the Month award as he grappled with his new surroundings.

"The only time we got onto Oriel Park was for our games. The rest of the time, we trained on this cinder patch field behind the field," he said.

Away fans and opposition sides were aware of his background though!

"We'd play against these teams and every game I would hear somebody say something about a 'Yank'. If I went in on a tackle with a guy, these players would just give them s*** like, 'You just lost the ball to a Yank!' I loved it and I'd be like 'Yeah, I like hearing that.'"

The move to Dundalk had one benefit when it came to his football education.

"I was never fitter in my life and when I came home, I had a great season in my country," he said about a loan spell which he feels was beneficial when it came to his later career with the Cosmos.

As for the off the pitch, he liked Dundalk and its people and also professes a love for neighbouring Drogheda.

But in the mid-70s, Dundalk was situated in close proximity to the Troubles of Northern Ireland and it was something that was evident even to a newcomer to the area.

"I knew there was a lot going on. I could tell in the town... I kind of had the feeling like, you hear how friendly Irish people are - and they are, it's awesome and my own background is Irish - but we went over there and I felt like it was a difficult time for them and it was kind of a little bit cold. There was a lot going on politically for the people."

He added that people were "protective" or "more cautious of things".

But he also remembered what happened when the Irish national anthem would come on in the pub in regards to the reaction of Dundalk's English players, which would lead to tensions briefly spilling over.

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