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ESP CHATS TO FOOTIE HERO CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH

ESP’s Mikey Clarke interviews football legend, Craig Mackail-Smith about his support of local charity Sports Connections Foundation…

The word legend is often overused. But, with Craig Mackail-Smith breaking Jim Hall’s record of most FA cup goals for Posh (a total of 12!), whilst scoring over 100 goals for the club, I feel it is justified!

Our magazine has teamed up with the charity, Sports Connections Foundation (or SCF, who are based here in Peterborough) which uses sport to help and inspire children. Years on, their original programme – Prokick – has engaged with over 400,000 children across the country including Peterborough. Our partnership with SCF has allowed us to exclusively interview the charity’s celebrity ambassadors. You may have read last month’s chat with TV star, Jeff Brazier. This time we were welcomed into the home of Craig Mackail-Smith, one of the charity’s supporters, to talk about his involvement in SCF and of course, all things football!

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Craig scored 35 goals for Posh in 2010–11, making him the most prolific scorer in England for the season. I wondered whether this was purely down to skill or whether he had any pre-match rituals that helped. “Obviously I was practicing a lot but there were certainly other things that helped,” he said. “For me, it was not over analysing everything. I didn’t score during the first couple of games and I was really self-critical over it. I started looking into law of attraction, positive thinking and how your emotions affect your body. That really helped me. The less I dwelled on the losses and instead thought more positively, the better I seemed to play. I wish I’d looked into it sooner.”

Craig scored in a 3–0 win over Huddersfield Town in the 2011 Football League One play-off Final at Old Trafford to clinch an instant return to the Championship for Peterborough. I was at this game with fellow ESP writers Steve Gonzalez and Rachael Church. The atmosphere was amazing and the striker remembers it well. “It feels like it was just yesterday. If I close my eyes I can see the moment I scored and the reaction of the crowd. It was six years ago but I can take myself back to that very moment. It was one of the best moments of my football career.”

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In the past, Alex Ferguson was in the papers for throwing/kicking a football boot at David Beckham’s head. What was Darren Ferguson like as a manager? Was he as feisty as his father? “He certainly had a strict side to him that wouldn’t take any rubbish from anyone. But I think it’s important for every manager to have that in them. At the end of the day, they’re dealing with a bunch of guys with some big egos and will likely take the mick a little if given the chance. We need to be kept on our toes.” Did Craig ever meet the legend, Alex Ferguson? “Yes, a couple of times. He soon became banned from our games as he was looked at as being bad luck. The couple of times he was there, we lost.”

During Craig’s time at Posh, I wondered if one particular moment stood out. He told me, “It has to be the general team spirit. When we went out, it was all of us – not just a few here and there. We all lived near each other and did everything together. It was a great time.”

What’s next for Craig? “I’ve been thinking a lot about my career after football. I’m not getting any younger but I reckon I’ve still got a few years in me left on the footie scene. I’ve been looking into being a Personal Trainer and I’m trying to find courses that fit around my busy lifestyle. Football is all I’ve ever known so it’s both daunting and exciting to think about life away from it.”

Craig is just one of many celebrities supporting SCF. Many famous faces attend their events, endorsing their work and helping launch new programmes and getting involved in the Prokick schools challenge.

Several celebs also attend their Inspire through sport summer camps offering a huge boost for the disadvantaged children taking part, and allowing them access to talk to sporting heroes who may have started out life in the same shoes.

It’s great to see Craig is such a supporter of SCF.

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During my chat with Craig, he told me why he got involved with SCF, the reason he felt guilty during his time at Brighton & Hove Albion and I asked the awkward question of who is the better crowd… Peterborough or Brighton? Read what he had to say on this and more in July’s edition of ESP (out now).

Also, I had Craig attempt to teach me to do keepy-uppies – with my record being a pathetic two! Was he able to help me? Check out the video below.

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To find out more about Sports Connections Foundation and how you could get local kids involved or to stage a Prokick challenge at your school, visit www.scfchildrenscharity.org.uk

Photos: Emma Bothamley for ESP Magazine

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