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Bourne Legacy: John Smeulders


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

John Smeulders gives his take on his three spells with the Cherries and where his grizzly nickname came from.

Goalkeeper John Smeulders had three spells with AFC Bournemouth and was crowned supporters’ player of the year in the 1984/85 season.

An ex-England youth international, he made 117 appearances in all competitions and once kept a club record eight consecutive clean sheets.

Smeulders played in the third and fourth tiers during his first two spells before returning to provide cover for Gerry Peyton after the Cherries had won promotion to the second flight.

He started in two contrasting 3-3 draws for the club – the first when England cricket captain Ian Botham featured for Scunthorpe United as they clawed back a 3-0 deficit at Dean Court in March 1980.

Smeulders’s penultimate game for the club came during the never-to-be-forgotten clash at Maine Road in May 1989 when Harry Redknapp’s team came from 3-0 down at the break to force a 3-3 draw against high-flying Manchester City.

He now lives in Shaftesbury and works as a driver for Waitrose and Riverford.

How did your first move to AFC Bournemouth come about in July 1979?

It was quite funny actually because there was no money about in those days. I’d been at the Orient since I left school. It was a bit different then. There was a lot of beer swilling and things like that going on.

I was about to sign for Reading before Alec Stock came in for me. He was a very experienced manager and offered me double what I was going to get at Reading. At the time, Reading were in Division Three and Bournemouth in Division Four.

I got a one-year contract and a signing-on fee as well. But the next year, I wasn’t earning as much as I had the previous year. He was a shrewd fox.

You started 12 games in succession in 1979/80 before the run came to an end after a 1-0 defeat at Doncaster – what happened?

I got a bad injury. Billy Bremner was manager of Doncaster and I always remember that game because one of their players did me. In those days, there were no operations and I just carried on playing.

I always remember him saying to me that if he got a chance, he would do me. You can imagine the reply!

Afterwards, he came into the dressing room and praised me for staying on and putting up with it. For the next ten years, I lived on anti-inflammatories. That was the treatment in those days.

Tell us how your move to Trowbridge came about?

Dave Webb had taken over as manager and I was coming back from injury when he came in. Webby had an offer from Trowbridge Town.

I liked a cigar in those days and we had a couple of Havanas in the Carlton Hotel with Alan Birchenall who was the manager of Trowbridge.

Webby was brilliant. I hadn’t been back from injury very long and he said ‘look, you don’t have to go but you could earn a few quid’.

I ended up staying there for two-and-a-half to three years.

You returned to the Cherries in January 1984 – how did that move come about?

Harry Redknapp was manager and they had just beaten Manchester United in the FA Cup. After leaving Trowbridge, I had a spell at Weymouth where Stuart Morgan was the manager. He was good mates with Harry and I think he recommended me.

I got in the team and won the player of the year in the 1984/85 season. There was a picture of me in the Echo smoking a King Edward cigar!

I kept eight clean sheets and Harry promised to give me a box of cigars if I kept another one in an FA Cup first round replay at home to Kettering. We went 2-0 down in the first 20 minutes so that was the end of my box of cigars!

You reunited with Stuart Morgan at Torquay – what was that like?

It was probably the biggest nightmare I had in my career. They were pretty hopeless and I wasn’t much better myself!

You rejoined the Cherries for a third time in August 1987 – what was behind that move?

I came back as understudy to Gerry Peyton. I played when Gerry got injured and my final few games were in the Championship.

One of my last appearances was in the 3-3 draw against Manchester City at Maine Road. They needed to beat us to go up to the top flight and were 3-0 ahead at half-time.

I’ve got the game on DVD. Bournemouth supporters were behind the goal where all six went in. It looks like the ground is empty but the other three sides were heaving at Maine Road. It was an unbelievable game.

Why did they call you The Bear?

Phil Holder started it. I used to shout and holler at defenders, trying to organise them, and he just started calling me The Bear, I think it was because of the sound of my voice.

At the time, Peter Bonetti was the Cat at Chelsea and Phil just started calling me  the Bear and it stuck.

Even to this day, if I talk to any of the guys, they still call me the Bear!

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