May 1981, Thatcher's Britain, unemployment reaching unprecedented levels and a bleak outlook being portrayed for the tens of thousands of school leavers. Times weren't particularly easy, the majority of my contemporaries gravitated to the local colleges for further education, perhaps postponing facing inevitable realities. Others who were considered fortunate went into the Youth Opportunity Schemes where a standard £23.00 per week was provided to employers by the government in order to assist adolescent development.
Ground breaking and innovative was how the scheme was sold to sixteen-year-old pupils, which translated to slave labour within the walls of classroom debates. Thanks to my much loved Auntie Sheila I was the only person in my year who had a normal job to go to. Through connections she got me fixed up as a greengrocer's assistant on a stall in the market hall in my home town of Nelson, Lancashire. I was very grateful, but where was I going and heading in life. There was a massive bone of contention for me working there as well. Being football daft, there was the prospect of having to work on Saturday afternoons and that filled me with dread quite literally.
Previous £1.50 a week pocket money from a paper round had afforded me trips to Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton and Preston on a regular basis. Dad's best friend Uncle Jack lived in Liverpool and in the early seventies we had cherished annual visits to Anfield and occasionally Goodison Park. Manchester United and City were within reach, as was Leeds and I desperately wanted more. In fact, I had a burning ambition to visit all 92 League grounds and become a member of the famous club.
There was a massive hurdle, my employers believed that my obsession and interest in football was unhealthy and unrealistic. They told me that I would grow out of it, ironically I am still waiting for that to happen and I've turned the wrong side of fifty. I intend to still be working at games when I reach my nineties and I'm deadly serious. Perhaps I'll reach a compromise with them on my hundredth birthday.
Sweet talking and negotiation had coaxed the employers into letting me finish at 12.15 on a Saturday lunch time, but retrospectively they regretted it and warned me my future match days would be limited. Ideally I would have told them where to stick their job, but there were so few of them around back then and where would I have gone next, not to mention the terrible flack I would have understandably taken from my parents.
You see I didn't want to be a greengrocer’s boy at all, I wanted to be a football commentator, but how was I ever going to accomplish that dream? It was like a fantasy and seemingly impossible. I'd been average at secondary school and all the teachers used to gravitate and laud the intelligent kids, the steady also rans such as me never got a look in. The career’s officer was a joke; he wouldn't have had a clue about the media anyway. He was unpleasant enough to me at the best of times and had I told him I wanted to become a football commentator he would have laughed in my face, of that I am certain. Call me balanced if you like. Yes, I have a chip on each shoulder and one of those chips would feed the whole of Russia, the other Brazil.
So how did I go from Nelson Market Hall to the Maracana, via The Bernabeu, Nou Camp and San Siro Stadiums? How can anyone from the back streets of Nelson go on to have three and a half decades of media involvement covering some of the most prestigious matches and dealing with the games’ greatest names. Speaking at a business club, I addressed the gathering by asking if anyone present believed in fate. I certainly do, but I can never even begin to attempt to explain it. It helps in life if you have wonderful parents which thankfully I have. When I talked about my ambitions to my mother she came up with a nugget of inspiration. As a nurse at Burnley General Hospital she told me about the active Hospital Radio Station there. It could be a start she said. Why not I thought, although actually going ahead and doing something about it was daunting. One of those tasks that I'd get around to doing tomorrow or the day after like other similar tasks we put off in life and often never get around to doing.
Ironically I was still finishing at 12.15 on Saturday's and on July the 25th 1982 I faced my day of destiny. I do not know what possessed me to walk home a different way. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I would walk from the greengrocer’s stall up six steps and out into the street, except this time for a reason I can never explain I walked through the market hall and took the escalators up to the Arndale Centre. There present were the Hospital Radio team doing an outside broadcast and some fund raising. I remember my heart pounding and being massively overwhelmed by nerves. Here was my big opportunity, rather than have to roll up unannounced to their studios which I'd been putting off for months here they were in front of me. A seating area in the Arndale allowed me to compose myself for a few moments, after all I could always just go along to the station one night in the week couldn't I? But then I reasoned with myself, I'd been putting it off and putting it off and I'd never get around to doing it. I reasoned it was now or never and plucked up the courage to go over and make an enquiry.
It was probably one of the best things that I have ever done. It was literally a life changing moment.
Within weeks I was interviewing two of my favourite players Kevin Keegan and Emlyn Hughes for the Wednesday evening Sports show I contributed to.
Before the end of my first season I was face to face with Brian Clough in the great man’s office. It was all very surreal but hugely enjoyable and what grounding for a future professional career.
I managed to leave the greengrocers and get a job as a postman which offered me more time to pursue my new found vocation. I took my first steps in match commentary at Turf Moor in 1984. I wouldn't want to listen back to them now but it was simply brilliant being a part of the hospital radio team. Treasured and cherished memories all these years on providing the backbone for a hugely rewarding professional career which sees me contributing regularly to Sky Sports Soccer Saturday and covering Premier League games for Radio representing World Sports Communications. Three and a half decades in the media and counting, has given me a wealth of experience and memories. I never imagined in the greengrocer days that I'd end up covering games in Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. My dreams really did come true, working as a Manchester United correspondent in the 1990's saw me visit all four corners of Europe. I was acquainted with all of their top stars at the time.
Working a quarter of a century with Sir Alex Ferguson was incredible. Hard to believe looking back that I witnessed some of the clubs most defining moments at incredibly close quarters with the access that my roles with Manchester United Club/Radio afforded me.
Much of the knowledge and experience I have gleaned is put to good use in my roles as a part time university lecturer where I coach young people the art of sports journalism. Speaking to business groups and football fans in general I will continue to canvas individuals views on fate. But I tell anyone prepared to listen and I stand by this 100%. If I can achieve what I have in my life from my limited background anyone can achieve anything and it is true.
I am buying into the i2i mantra. Impossible to inevitable.
Yes, Mr Careers master, Yes Mr Greengrocer, Yes Mr girlfriends’ dad, Yes, various work colleagues in miscellaneous jobs before getting a break----- Peter Smith becoming a football commentator is impossible--- and by the way all you doubters, for nearly three professional decades I made it inevitable, and whilst we are at it, I will let you all into a secret. My ambition is to become the oldest sports broadcaster in the world, not on a sympathy vote, but on merit. That aspiration burns inside as strongly as did those distant dreams I experienced in the market hall in my mid-teens.
It will continue to act as a driving force.