Steven Gerrard’s indomitable character and impeccable service as captain of Liverpool doesn’t just inspire supporters, it has also been applauded by a skipper of a different sporting code.
Just like Gerrard, Smith’s commander capabilities were apparent from an early age, and he was awarded the Proteas captaincy at 22 - the youngest-ever for the country. The Reds midfielder was a year older when he succeeded Sami Hyypia as the club’s general in 2003.
Smith, who retired from international cricket last month, realised a life-long dream when he made the trip to Anfield for the first time on Sunday to witness Liverpool’s enthralling 3-2 win over Manchester City.
He watched as Gerrard turned in a typically dominant display, before rounding up the players in a huddle at the final whistle, instructing them to forget the valiant victory and “go again” next week.
"Initially, what has to strike you most about Steven is that you don’t get people like him in modern sport often," Smith told Liverpoolfc.com. "His loyalty, pride and passion for Liverpool is so rare in these times and it makes him unique because just by that, he doesn’t have to say anything. The way he carries himself and the club says enough, he leads by example. Another thing I really admire about him is his calmness on the field. Regardless of the pressure or what is needed, he keeps his head and gets his instructions across. I watched him constantly talking to his players, guiding them. The thing about Gerrard is what he asks of his team, he delivers himself. It is very easy to follow him, and be inspired by him because his career is leadership enough."
Smith was overwhelmed by his debut trip to Liverpool as he remembers “lying on the floor or on the couch as a youngster watching the team play, being very caught up by them.”
"Every time I came across to England, I tried to find some sort of time in my schedule to visit Anfield, but because of cricket and the commitments in my career, there was never a gap," said Smith. "I actually flew back to South Africa last Wednesday because I had to give speech at a convention, but once I found out there was an opportunity to attend the Manchester City game, I knew I had to fly back. I had to rearrange everything and make sure I could finally get to visit Anfield."
The captain of Surrey is reveling in the current campaign not just because the Reds are perched at the Barclays Premier League summit, but as he also finally gets to dish out stick at home.
"I was the black sheep of my family. Everyone supports [Manchester] United, so I am the outcast," revealed Smith. "It’s been a lone battle for me against them, so as you can imagine, I’m obviously really enjoying this season."
What made the 33-year-old deviate from his family’s course to pledge allegiance to the Reds?
"I was always very sporty, and growing up, you’d get attached to things - Liverpool was my attachment," he said. "John Barnes was a big hero of mine. When I used to play football, I would be put on the left as I played left-footed so I could relate to him."
Having harboured the dream to attend a match at Anfield from a young age, and with all the evidence available on how atmospheric the stadium is, was Smith prepared for the scenes that greeted him on Sunday?
"Nothing could’ve prepared me for it," he admitted. "Just walking into the stadium for the first time was amazing. I wanted to just take in all in and I was in my element. The atmosphere was incredible; unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was so loud, so passionate and everyone was sharing in all the emotions. I keep watching video clips back on my phone to re-live it, it was definitely unforgettable for me."
How did Smith handle the horde of differing emotions during the victory over City?
"I really enjoy live sport, so I loved the experience. I suppose because I’ve played over years in all different kinds of atmospheres - volatile crowds, expectant crowds, I’m used to the emotions," he said. "But being a player versus being a fan is completely different. Being able to sing, and scream and be really disappointed when we conceded was so unreal for me. It was like every emotion through my career came out at Anfield on Sunday because for once, I didn’t have to think ‘there’s 50,000 people in the stadium watching you and about 20 million at home looking at your every move on TV’. I was allowed to embrace it and it was such freedom and enjoyment."
After the game, Smith posted a picture of him touching the historic ‘This is Anfield’ sign with the caption: ‘Best sporting experience of my life today @LFC.’
Smith explained: “You can’t compare everything I experienced in my 11 years as captain or throughout my career with my experience as a fan. They are very different emotions. In terms of a sporting spectacle, the atmosphere and sheer entertainment, it was the greatest for me. I guess it was also the fact I felt so close to the club, but lived so far away, but then finally I was right there at a place that has strong childhood memories for me.”
It wasn’t just the melting pot of noise in L4 which impressed one of the finest cricketers of our generation.
"I was blown away the entire day. The first thing that struck me is the people at the club and how nice and accommodating they were," detailed Smith. "The service from Liverpool was excellent - they made sure I was looked after and the people skills were phenomenal. It really stood out for me. There’s always talk about sport institutions and how they interact with others, and Liverpool is a great example for everyone."