They do it for love, not money, and readers of the
Otago Daily Times sports pages over the past few
decades should be thankful for that. They are the
long-serving ''stringers'', or contributing writers. In the
final of three profiles, sports editor Hayden Meikle talks to
football guru Rab Smith.
ODT position: Football writer.
Held since: 1978.
Occupation: Retired bookbinder.
Family: Wife Pam, sons David and Gordon, daughter
Jenn, dog Ben.
Rab Smith's most memorable players
Goalkeepers: Lutz Pfannenstiel, Jim Taylor.
Defenders: Peter Haddock, Ceri Evans, Graham Carr,
Malcolm Ferguson, Graeme Marshall.
Midfielders: Terry Wilson, Jimmy Wilson, Doug
Hemmings, Steve Fleming, Mike McGarry.
Forwards: Wynton Rufer, Andy Deeley, Steve Wooddin,
John Wilkinson, Paddy McGarry, Barry White.
Best coaches: Barry Truman, Terry Conley, Genady
Smirnov, Derek Daniels.
Greatest moments: 1982 All Whites campaign, Hibs
beating Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Hayden Meikle: The name Rab. For non-Scottish types,
where does that come from?
Rab Smith: Robert. The Scots version of Robert. In my
family, I was Robert. Usually if I was in trouble.
HM: Where were you born and raised?
RS: Edinburgh and Leith, the port of Leith. It has its
own character. Edinburgh thinks it's got character but Leith
is a port, and all ports have a wee bit of character to them.
It's the home of Hibernian. I was born in Easter Rd, which is
also the name of the football club's ground. The ground's
actually in Albion Rd, funnily enough.
HM: What did your parents do?
RS: The old man was at sea all his life. He was a
rover. My mother was a happy Scots housewife, bringing up
HM: How many kids?
RS: My sister just died a couple of years ago. She was
the eldest, then me in the middle, then my wee brother 10
HM: What was life like for you as a kid?
RS: We're talking before the war and after. It was
fairly tough. Not a lot of money around. We had simple
pleasures. Nobody had much money. You're talking rationing
and a shortage of jobs. The old man struggled to get work
because there was a recession in shipping. That's a story in
itself. One of the few ships that became available was a ship
called the Mamaku, and it was being delivered to New
Zealand. It was a one-way passage, which he would never have
taken normally. But things were so tough. He waved goodbye
and took off. As a wee boy, my mother used to get me to go up
to the library and try to track down his ship. I'd go through
the shipping news and it would pop up in Singapore and other
places. So he got dumped in New Zealand. He worked at Port
Chalmers for a while. Then when he came home, we were all
thinking about coming out here but that sort of fell through.
Years later, I decided to give it a whirl.
HM: Where did you go to school?
RS: Leith Academy. It's a prestigious old school. Wait
for it, it's 450 years old. I went to the secondary school.
HM: Were you much of a student?
RS: Yeah, I was a smart kid. Maths was probably one of
my stronger points. But the curse of the school was they just
played rugby there. There was a solid group of us who refused
to play rugby. We'd go to gym and this little fellow would
say, ''Forward, the rugby men''. We all had to sit there
while they went off. In fact, if you kicked the ball, you got
HM: So you were a football man right from the
RS: Yeah, but I played cricket and did a bit of rowing
HM: And you're a passionate Hibernian fan.
RS: Well, I lived 200 or 300 yards from the ground. In
those days, of course, Hibs were a great team. The ''famous
five'' - Smith, Reilly, Johnstone, Turnbull and Ormond.
HM: Were you a regular at home games?
RS: I used to stagger up there. They were the days
when you could just ask some guy to lift you up into the
HM: Any famous memories?
RS: Just when we beat Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Cleaned those two up. Happy days.
HM: How successful was your own playing career?
RS: Oh, not very. I played for works teams and things,
and I enjoyed it. I was always fitter than I was skilful. My
brother, Keith, was a top player. He had all the talent. He
played for Middlesbrough, mostly in the reserves. But I got
into the mountains pretty quickly. I'm a qualified ski
instructor. Did a couple of years up in the bonny country.
Like all wee Scots kids, I was a cyclist. Then I got into
tramping and skiing and loved it.
HM: What did you do when you left school?
RS: I'm a bookbinder by trade. And I got into the
conservation side of that. That's one of the reasons I came
to New Zealand. Printing and bookbinding just went down the
toilet. It's got a good future now. But back then I thought,
if I want to look over the horizon, now might be the time.
HM: How old were you when you came to New
RS: I'd just got married to my wife, Pam. We decided
that would be the adventure and we'd give it a go. I got a
job offer from Williamson Jeffrey. They had offices here and
in Auckland. I moved from there to the university library,
and I was there for 33 years.
HM: What exactly is bookbinding?
RS: Well, it's super simple now. You throw things in,
press a button, and stuff pops out the other end. I used to
bind in leather and calfskin and all that. It's one of the
few refuges of that kind of binding all over the world.
Conserving what we had became a big deal. But cost became a
big deal. Now you stick things in an acid-free box. That's
phase one, and it often just stays there.
HM: When did you finish at the library?
RS: I must have been retired 10 years.
HM: Have you and Pam ever thought about moving back to
RS: Of course. Every 10 minutes or so. Most years now,
we go back.
HM: What was the football scene like in Otago when you
RS: Like most people, you have a look at it and say,
this is rubbish, and you move on to something else. That's
possibly another reason why I got into the tramping scene. I
had a mate who conned me into going up to Roslyn just to stay
fit. I've been with that club ever since. My boys played for
Roslyn. I've done coaching, and been secretary and president.
I'm a life member.
HM: How and when did you get the job writing football
for the ODT?
RS: It was 1978. They had a guy writing about football
called Harry Kerr. I used to produce a programme and I used
to have a crack at the guy. When he gave it away, I came in
and had a chat with Brent Edwards. Said I'd give it a go. And
within a couple of weeks I was covering England B v Otago.
HM: So you've been our football writer since
RS: Yeah, I've enjoyed it. And I've always been a keen
photographer, too. I used to develop stuff in our basement.
It would be freezing cold in winter. I'd have hot water
bottles with the chemicals on top. I got into the photography
quite seriously. Then the web came along and that was another
challenge. For a while, I was making a few bob designing
websites for pubs and small firms. I run the Footballsouth
website. Do all the match programmes. That's good fun.
HM: You enjoy having the odd laugh or a crack in your
programmes, don't you?
RS: People disagree sometimes with what you write. But
you just tell them they are welcome to do the programmes
themselves if they'd like.
HM: Football is very tribal. You must have struck that
over the years.
RS: Definitely. That's what is great about football.
The rivalries. Whether it's Hibs and Hearts in Edinburgh,
Celtic and Rangers, or Roslyn and Northern. The standard of
football in Dunedin in the old days didn't turn me on, but
there was a good social side to it.
HM: Since 1978, what has been the heyday of Otago
RS: The early national league days. There were a lot
of ambitious people around, with a few bob. It was new and
exciting to see Mt Wellington and Christchurch United and
teams like that. You had imports in town. Fakes and fibbers
and wasters, along with some very good players. The old teams
were full of real characters. Now they're just lads. Good
players, but a totally different set-up. You miss people like
Steve Wooddin and Dennis Barker and Pat Berry and Peter
HM: How do you describe the present state of football
RS: The whole country's suffering. But Otago suffers
more than Auckland because of finances. Local sport, in
general, seems to have lost the ability to raise money.
Everyone leans too heavily on grants. I can remember wheeling
pigs around in barrows in pubs and strange stuff like that.
You wouldn't get people doing that these days.
HM: The current national league? You a fan?
RS: I don't mind it at all. I'd like to see it bigger,
with more games, and I'd like to see Otago doing better. But
it boils down to resources, and possibly a lack of ambition
when it comes to importing players. I believe in giving local
players a chance, but you also need some old heads around
them. It's not too difficult to get good players. There are
millions of very good players in the UK desperate to play
somewhere. Advertise for them. I did it myself for Roslyn,
and we got 120 replies.
HM: You think Otago United can do something
RS: I'm sympathetic. They're so concerned with just
surviving, which has got tougher. Four or five years ago, we
had a bit more money when we had Terry Phelan running about.
The guy was a top player but he was a waste of time as a
coach here. Now we're staggering on, through a depression.
But a high priority should be importing a very good player or
HM: You must have seen your share of great
RS: Yeah. Barney McGarry's family. Three boys, three
girls. All played for Otago. Paddy was a classy player but he
was a bit chunky like his father. Mike McGarry, obviously.
Excellent player. Steve Wooddin would be up there.
HM: If I recall correctly, you went to the 1982 World
RS: I did. A dream, really. New Zealand, Scotland,
Russia and Brazil. I took a month off. My mate and I bought
an old Volkswagen in London. We got robbed on our first day
in Spain. Lost all my camera equipment. But what a great
tournament! I also went to Italy in 1990. And I had an
amazing trip with the masters guys to Germany. This big guy
marked me who had played about 50 times for Russia. He was
about six foot 5. He had this broken English and I wasn't
sure if he was saying he was going to take it easy on me or
he was going to break my leg. It was an extremely
HM: Were you in Wellington the night the All Whites
RS: I sure was. That was another epic situation. All
the old Otago guys turned up and congregated at a pub.
HM: What's the key to covering a football game?
RS: I believe you've got to do your homework. It
fascinates me when a TV guy comes up and asks who the No 9 is
or whatever. It's good to find out about the players, and see
if the coaches can tell you bits and pieces. It's not rocket
HM: Still enjoying it?
RS: Yeah. Some games seem to last longer than others.
But that's just a sign it's a bad game.