The special relationship

Ahead of US Independence Day this weekend, we’ve reached out across the Pond to dig out a few links between the Fleet and our transatlantic cousins. Although Ross Smith is the only North American to grace the Fleet (OK, he is Canadian but he’s played in the States), there are several links to players who turned out both for the Fleet and tried their luck in soccer in the USA…

Tommy Baldwin
Having won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 1970, the veteran midfielder joined the Fleet for a time in the 1976/77 season. After leaving Stonebridge Road, he travelled to the US West Coast to play for Seattle Sounders in the North American Soccer League (NASL) and was on the verge of a move to Vancouver Whitecaps before returning to England to play for Brentford.

Ex-Chelsea man Baldwin at Seattle while former Fleet boss Tony Burns briefly
made his home in Memphis

Tony Burns
Fleet’s manager from 1982 to 1985 was a goalkeeper for Brighton, Charlton and Crystal Palace amongst others and in 1978 moved on loan to the NASL for a season where he played under Malcolm Allison for the Memphis Rogues. A broken leg curtailed his appearances.

Ex-youth teamer Jamie Darvill played for the Fleet in 2011/12 and (below) in the
rather fetching kit of Baltimore Blast

Jamie Darvill
A prolific striker at youth level who came through the Fleet ranks to play a handful of Conference games in 2006. He moved Stateside after that on a college scholarship, playing for Loyola, Real Maryland Monarchs and later Baltimore Blast. In between, he returned to England to play for Sittingbourne, Cray Wanderers and in 2011/12 added another 12 games in a second spell with the Fleet.

Matthew Delicate played briefly up front for the Fleet in 2008

Matthew Delicate
A somewhat leftfield signing by Liam Daish in 2008, he made his debut in a televised game v Crawley Town but only totalled four games for the club. A Kent-born striker who played for Carmarthen Town, he was a hotshot in the US leagues with Richmond Kickers and Rochester Rhinos. He returned to the Kickers following his brief stay at Stonebridge Road, and is the all-time leading goalscorer for the Virginia outfit. A training injury led to the discovery of kidney cancer but the player thankfully made a recovery and returned to the Kickers on getting the all-clear before retiring in 2017.

Ron Fearon
Mullet-haired goalkeeper with a fondness for horrifically-patterned jerseys, he played seven games for the Fleet in early 1998. That was towards the end of his career and prior to that the former Reading and Ipswich Town stopper had played indoor soccer in America for the Wichita Wings (from 1989–91) and Columbus Crew (1996).

Gary Smith as player and later a manager

Gary Smith
Another Nineties veteran, the former Colchester, Wycombe and Barnet midfielder played 22 games for the Fleet across the 1997/98 and 1998/99 seasons. After coaching at Wycombe and Watford, he moved to the States in 2008 with the Colorado Rapids, initially to establish them as an Arsenal academy club in the US. He became better known as Graham Westley’s successor as manager of Stevenage in 2012. He took the club to a Fifth Round FA Cup tie v Tottenham and into the League One play-offs but he was sacked after a poor run in March 2013. He returned to the States to take over the Atlanta Silverbacks in the National Premier Soccer League.

Ross Smith playing in the USA with Portland Timbers

Ross Smith
Without doubt the best-remembered of all these players at Stonebridge Road, it’s perhaps fitting that he’s the only native North American. Born in Canada to Scottish parents, Smith initially played for Montrose and Margate before Liam Daish snapped him up in 2005. An instant hit amongst Fleet fans, the popular and friendly Smith spent two seasons at the club before signing for Dagenham & Redbridge’s first season in the Football League. After returning across the Atlantic, he played for Rochester Rhinos and Colorado Rapids where in 2009 he was diagnosed with a faulty heart valve and advised to retire. Out of the blue, he turned up at the Fleet again in 2009 to resume his career after an all-clear from doctors before another spell back in the USA with Portland Timbers. A third spell at Stonebridge Road followed in 2011/12 for a total of 108 club appearances. He now works for Portland Timbers as a TV and radio broadcaster while running his own soccer school. 

Roy Dwight later managed Dartford but starred for the Fleet in the early 1960s

Roy Dwight
Cousin of Elton John and winner of the 1959 FA Cup Final with Nottingham Forest (in which he scored and then broke his leg), Roy played for the Fleet 44 times in the early Sixties before moving back into the League with Coventry and Millwall. After retiring he moved to the States in 1966 for two years to coach the Detroit Cougars in the fledgling United Soccer Association. The Dartford-born player later managed his hometown club in the late Seventies.

Casey Johnson
Our former Academy graduate and local lad Johnson spent a time a few years back on a scholarship in the US with NEO (North Eastern Oklahoma A&M College).


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