THE conversation switches to music. We knew it would. Setting up an interview with Jamie Smith has not been easy but a text message marathon on a Friday night in mid-May fixes a date, and yields some nuggets of information: his favourite band is Radiohead, his daughter is a dab hand at the guitar and he “cannae sing tae save” himself.

The one-time Aberdeen and Celtic winger may be more Fleet Foxes than fleet-footed these days but when you finally catch up with him, it is worth the wait. He is effusive about life, music and, above all, coaching and creativity.

In the course of a 57-minute interview, he uses this last word 10 times. It is due to a reflection on how passionate he is about the concept, how he intends to draw it out and nourish it with the kids under his care at Nashville Soccer Club. At times, the discussion veers more towards philosophical discourse than football. Smith, who once did The Herald crossword as part of his daily routine, does not want for words, imagery or compelling arguments.

He lives at the kind of pace he once reserved for opposition full-backs during a playing career that also took in Den Haag, two Scotland caps and Colorado Rapids, before injury curtailed him at 32 and he took on a role as a youth coach in that latter club’s academy. Today, he is head of academy at the newly founded Nashville. It’s a frenetic time because Smith is building the club’s youth structure from the foundations up.

Fittingly for someone who has made his home in Music City, it is to the sounds of his youth he turns to help him unwind. Both Smith’s brothers in law are in bands. Allan Sieczkowsi is the front man for Glasgow band Little Eye; the other, Scott, was in another Scottish group, the aptly named Wake The President.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” he laughs, perhaps recalling that Tennessee voted 60 per cent in favour of Donald Trump in the presidential election of 2016.

Smith’s recollections of a musical youth will chime with anyone who spent their adolescence discovering themselves: those angsty teenage years spent in the bedroom, trips to Fopp and CDs that, once opened, would be played on near-continuous loops for months on end.

“I think music is a very nostalgic thing – that first time in your life that you discover a certain band. I really enjoyed the Scottish music scene when I was growing up; I liked Belle and Sebastian and Arab Strap, stuff like that. I have always been a huge Radiohead fan but since I have been out in the States I have been to see Pearl Jam a couple of times as well. They are massive here.

“For Christmas, I would get a James album and I would listen to it non-stop for about three months. I remember getting The Queen Is Dead by The Smiths and I listened to that over and over again. That doesn’t happen any more. It’s so easy to go on to your computer, or on your phone or into YouTube and just pick a song you like that you’ve heard. There are a lot of people who know names of songs but they don’t necessarily listen to the albums.”

He speaks with the authority of a man who has seen them all: from indie bands on sweaty nights in Glasgow to Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “a three-hour concert that had 10 songs and 30-minute guitar riffs” – at Colorado’s fabled Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I put him to the test to see whether he walks the walk as well as he talks the talk. Kid A is his favourite Radiohead album and counts How To Disappear Completely as his the standout track on it or any other LP.

“That song epitomises the sound Jonny Greenwood can produce and the vocals Thom Yorke brings to the band.”

At a time when lists are everywhere, it feels like a dereliction of duty not to ask him for another couple of suggestions.

“Fake Plastic Trees because it is just so nostalgic for me. The first time I heard it in my room I was just blown away. Creep came out and Pablo Honey, I had a couple of those songs but they were still a very young band and when The Bends came out they took it to a whole other level. Third one, it’s probably got to be something from OK Computer. Oh, Paranoid Android. They’re my top three.

“I couldn’t strum a guitar, or sing a musical note to save my life so I don’t have any experience to say this but I felt as if you could probably hear how young they were. It’s hard to be critical, especially when you have a soft spot for the band. I can relate it to as a coach. My first year of coaching was like Pablo Honey, probably some good moments but a lot of very loose moments.”

By his own admission he knows how difficult it is to be creative as player and coach. The process can be fickle and there is comfort in avoiding scrutiny by doing what is safe.


“To go from The Bends to OK Computer was a change, they elevated it. And then they go from OK Computer to Kid A and people were like ‘what?’ but if you listen to Kid A and you listen to some of the little nuances and some of the songs you can tell how creative and how confident they were.

“I think creativity is a really interesting subject. We speak about it a lot. I think you can find great examples of creativity in so many other fields. We’ll look at different areas whether it is education, business or other sports and you look for creativity. With creativity comes risk. I think a lot of people are scared to take the risk and you can bring it back to music or even coaching.”

His is an approach that speaks to the emotional side of human interaction but also of entrusting player development in the hands of the individual. In a world where football has become dominated by money, the sport has become obsessed with measurables. He says there is a place for both but not one at the expense of the other.

“There is a great TED talk by a teacher called Ken Robinson. He talks about how the general education system educates kids out of creativity with standardised testing, having to meet these benchmarks and goals. In the coaching world we are at a risk of coaching kids out of creativity. You provide data, you’ve got video analysis, you’ve got benchmarks and goals – and, again, I’m not saying those things are bad – but if that is the main thing that you are going off then it makes the game . . . I don’t know . . . it’s not how I was brought up playing football. There’s so much to be said for throwing a ball out and letting kids play.”

Smith says that old-school methods still have a place, but it takes a particular kind of magnetic personality to convince people of your ideas.

“Martin O’Neill is the obvious one [but] every coach I had had certain things that they did and you can call them innovations or whatever but I had some great coaches that really inspired you, you would run through a brick wall for those coaches. Look at Jurgen Klopp, he is the epitome of that right now.”

But the German is an innovator, too, employing a throw-in coach to much mirth among traditionalists who have been forced to eat their words – much like Radiohead, come to think of it.

Smith likes the idea of challenging orthodoxy when it comes to coaching.

“I was on the MLS academy directors’ course and we went to AZ Alkmaar. We were watching a session and they were telling us they have this player who is a youth national team player with Holland. The kid is really good, he was a defender but he had a terrible habit of pulling a striker’s jersey when he got past him. They were trying to think ‘how do we break the habit?’ They came up with a really simple, but I thought brilliant, innovation where they made him train holding two tennis balls. It was so basic and simple but it worked.”

He tells this story to impart a simple message: creative minds are active minds.

The next morning my phone buzzes. It’s a text from Music City and it reads: “Forgot to mention one of the obscure bands that I love. Felt. Amazing band!”