Little Oakes Oval in Lismore is a far cry from Liverpool’s Anfield, but it’s where Caltex Socceroo Brad Smith’s junior coach first new he could be headed for something special after a stunning four-goal grand final display.
It was 2006 and Smith, who was just 12 at the time, was playing two years up in the under-14 team with Far North Coast club Lennox Head in Northern NSW.
Troy Taylor’s side was red-hot, and as well as the gifted Smith possessed a lot of talented kids, including current Melbourne Victory winger Jai Ingham.
With the lightning-quick Smith playing as a central striker, the Lennox youngsters swept all before them that season, making it through to the grand final.
Their opponents that day were Lismore Thistles, the only side that had managed to beat them during the regular season.
Knowing how important Smith was to his side’s chances of winning, Taylor pulled the youngster aside and asked for something a bit extra.
“I knew Brad would have an impact but I didn’t know how much he would have. I remember saying to him before the game ‘you have a long way to go in football and today’s a great opportunity to show it’.
“I thought he would perform but he scored four goals in the grand final and we won 5-2. Wherever you are across the world is pretty spectacular…it was just next level really.
“It was just his ability to switch on when he had to. He’s a bit of a sponge as far as information goes.
“He’s able to process it really quickly and he can turn it into gold when he needs to…and he certainly did on that day.”
That performance not only helped secure the Lennox youngsters a championship but might have also been the catalyst behind Smith pursuing a career in football.
Up until then the “super-quick, pure athlete” as Taylor remembers him, was just your typical young kid, enjoying being active and playing a range of different sports.
“He was a runner to begin with and he held some pretty decent records at regional and even state level in athletics,” Taylor explains.
“He’s always had a really positive mental attitude. Kids at that age, you start to see a bit of adolescence coming in, they might get upset if they get a message they are not pleased with.
"But he always had that calm demeanour.
“That was certainly where he was at, at that age. I know when I got him into Lennox there was a strong argument to get him into playing [rugby] league as well.
“But after I’d seen him in a few sessions that we put together, I was like ‘you have to play football, you can’t play league’.
“With his dedication and athleticism he would have done well at any sport. Thankfully he had the sort of pathway to get to England and the rest is history in the making.”
It wasn’t long after that big grand final performance that Smith and his family – mum Jane and step-dad Mick – decided to move across the other side of the world to England to try his luck.
“The family thought ‘if we’re not going to make great leaps in Australia, let’s try this ticket to England’,” Taylor said.
“It was a pretty old school pathway move to get to England and a pretty ballsy move.
“But his family is just so supportive. Jane is so devoted and his step-dad Mick is a fair-dinkum, hard-working Aussie bloke.
"They supported Brad and his brother Matt in whatever they were doing. It was a great leap of faith but that’s the kind of people they are.”
It was while playing for Chesterfield High School that the 14-year-old was spotted by Liverpool scouts and signed to the club’s academy.
Smith worked his way through the youth ranks at the Reds, eventually making his way into the first team and a high-profile debut against Chelsea in 2013.
Now 22, Smith is on the cusp of breaking into Jurgen Klopp’s first-team and has performed strongly when given a chance in both the Cup competitions and the league.
Not surprisingly, an international call-up followed and despite playing for England at youth level, Smith pledged his future to Australia in 2014 and made his debut soon after.
It’s more recently that he’s been able to stake a claim for a permanent spot in the Green and Gold, playing in both of the big FIFA World Cup qualifying wins against Tajikistan and Jordan in March.
But despite his rise to fame in the last few years, Smith hasn’t forgotten his roots and gets back to Lennox Headwhenever he has the chance.
“He really fits in. It’s a pretty small town Lennox so if you have that wanky attitude you won’t go far,” Taylor said.
“Brad’s pretty down to earth. He’s a local hero around here but he’s still one of the boys And watching the last couple of Socceroos games, he doesn’t strut around. It’s good to see.
“It’s great to have a kid that’s come out of a small area like Lennox representing at the highest level. He’s worked hard, he’s capable and who knows how far he’ll go.”
A clash with England – a nation he could have been playing with – is next on the radar for Smith and Taylor expects him to relish the opportunity on the big stage this Friday night (Saturday morning Australian time) at the Stadium of Light.
“He probably knows a lot of the guys he’s going to come up against. I’m sure there will be a bit of banter but knowing Brad he’ll want to do well and show what he’s got,” Taylor said.
“I can see he really thrives on performing in the big games and this will be no different.”
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