Tommy Smith on his possible return to Ipswich: ‘It never really got too far’

PUBLISHED: 06:00 18 November 2020

Tommy Smith, a mainstay of Colchester United's defence this season, after signing a two-year contract in the summer. Picture: RICHARD BLAXHALL

Tommy Smith, a mainstay of Colchester United's defence this season, after signing a two-year contract in the summer. Picture: RICHARD BLAXHALL

2020 Richard Blaxall / Colchester United Football Club

Football writer Carl Marston talks to ex-Ipswich Town centre-half Tommy Smith about whether a return to Portman Road was likely, and his new life at Colchester United

Where it all started: Tommy Smith on his Ipswich Towm debut against Preston North End in August, 2008. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERINGWhere it all started: Tommy Smith on his Ipswich Towm debut against Preston North End in August, 2008. Picture: ASHLEY PICKERING

Tommy Smith, a big presence at Ipswich Town for 11 seasons, has revealed that he was never that close to making a return to Portman Road last summer.

Instead, Smith teamed up with fellow former Town players such as defender Tom Eastman and keeper Dean Gerken to plot Colchester United’s hopeful promotion to League One.

Smith returned to England from a successful stint playing for Colorado Rapids in the Major League Soccer (MLS) in America last February, and initially signed a short-term deal with Sunderland until the Covid-19 pandemic cut short that stay on Wearside.

As a result, the 30-year-old started training back at Ipswich, a club for whom he chalked up an impressive 267 senior appearances between 2007 and 2018.

Tommy Smith celebrates scoring against Leeds United, with team-mate Connor Wickham, in 2010. Picture: ANDY ABBOTTTommy Smith celebrates scoring against Leeds United, with team-mate Connor Wickham, in 2010. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

There was even talk of Town boss Paul Lambert signing up the experienced Smith, to help bolster the team’s chances of returning to the Championship at the second time of asking.

But that never came to pass, Smith choosing to join up with Colchester instead, just 16 miles down the A12.

“I’m pleased to have settled back in East Anglia again,” explained Smith, following his most recent outing for Colchester, a 2-1 win over Leyton Orient last weekend.

Smith revealed: “Ipswich let me come in and train with them, which was kind, and I still live in Ipswich as well.

Tommy Smith during his time with Colorado Rapids, following his departure from Ipswich Town in 2018. Picture: COLORADO RAPIDSTommy Smith during his time with Colorado Rapids, following his departure from Ipswich Town in 2018. Picture: COLORADO RAPIDS

“But the club were over-saturated with centre-halves when I came back.

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Tommy Smith gives out some instructions during Colchester United's 2-1 win over Leyton Orient on Saturday. Picture: CARL MARSTONTommy Smith gives out some instructions during Colchester United's 2-1 win over Leyton Orient on Saturday. Picture: CARL MARSTON

“So it never really got too far, in terms of me signing for Ipswich again, because of the big numbers of defenders that they had.

“But obviously Ipswich are going well themselves, and I wish them all the best.”

There are certainly a number of familiar faces for Smith at the Community Stadium, including fellow defender Eastman – the duo have formed a strong centre-half partnership over the first couple of months of the season.

Eastman was at Ipswich as a youngster, and a product of the Town Academy, like Smith, although he was restricted to just 12 first-team appearances before his move to Colchester in the summer of 2011.

Tommy Smith, enjoying life back in East Anglia, living in Ipswich and playing for Colchester United. Picture: RICHARD MARSHAMTommy Smith, enjoying life back in East Anglia, living in Ipswich and playing for Colchester United. Picture: RICHARD MARSHAM

Clacton-based Eastman has since accumulated an impressive 377 senior games for the U’s, while keeper Gerken, who enjoyed six seasons at Ipswich, returned to his old stamping ground at Colchester before the start of last season.

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This strong Ipswich connection looks set to be key to the U’s chances of returning to League One, after a five-year absence.

“I came to Colchester United to win promotion,” insisted Smith.

Dean Gerken (left) and Tommy Smith on the bench for Ipswich Town against Barnsley in 2016. The duo are now team-mates at Colchester United. Picture: STEVE WALLERDean Gerken (left) and Tommy Smith on the bench for Ipswich Town against Barnsley in 2016. The duo are now team-mates at Colchester United. Picture: STEVE WALLER

“That’s got to be the goal for this season. We have started quite well and our home form has been really impressive.

“We just need to kick on now. If we win our game in hand then we can go even higher up the table.

“I am enjoying it, but I don’t want to be a League Two footballer for very long.

“So hopefully the goal is to clinch promotion this season.

Tom Eastman, who began his career at Ipswich Town before his move to Colchester in 2011. He is now partnered at the back by Tommy Smith. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALLTom Eastman, who began his career at Ipswich Town before his move to Colchester in 2011. He is now partnered at the back by Tommy Smith. Picture: RICHARD BLAXALL

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“The gaffer (Steve Ball) was kind enough to let me come and train over the summer.

“I did have a few things brewing and did have some options overseas but, with everything Covid-19, none of them really appealed to me at the time.

“After I had come to Colchester and trained, and seen what the club was about and the plan for it – and the ambition that the club has got – it was a bit of a no-brainer for me to sign. I wanted to be a part of it, and a big part of that is winning promotion.

“We are going to be giving it a right go this year, to get promoted. I see Colchester as a League One club. It’s up there with the very best among League Two clubs.

“We’ve got everything required to be a League One club and beyond. The goal is to go beyond that, eventually, though obviously we must take it one step at a time.

“But I’m really happy with it so far. I’m still young, still only 30, though I might not look it! As long as I am enjoying my football, and that I have a lot to offer, I won’t stop playing.”

Smith and Eastman, injuries permitting, look set to be the regular centre-half partnership at Colchester all season.

“I think Tom Eastman is a better standard than a League Two centre-half,” continued Smith, who earned 38 caps for New Zealand earlier in his career.

“I think Tom has shown that over the years as well – he’s a top player. I obviously played with him at Ipswich when he was a young kid, so I know about him and his strengths.

“He got played at right-back (under Roy Keane), and I was the left-back for a time there at Ipswich, at the same time.

“It’s great as well with Deano (Gerken) behind us. That’s a very solid three at the back, to move forward from,” added Smith

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