Lauren Smith is making a mark in management, with her Bristol City side aiming to move closer to a Women’s Super League (WSL) return in their top-of-the-table game at London City Lionesses on Sunday.
If Welshwoman Smith, 34, needs a second opinion as the Women’s Championship promotion race reaches a climax, she only has to walk across the corridor.
Bristol City Women share a training ground with the Robins’ men’s team.
There are two doors marked manager’s office, with Smith in one and Nigel Pearson the other.
Pearson, 59, played top-flight football in his days as a defender at Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough, and has been working in coaching or management since the late 1990s.
When former Wales assistant boss Smith was named head coach of Bristol City Women in June 2021, Pearson – who took charge at Ashton Gate in February 2021 – offered a warm welcome.
“He was actually the biggest shock when I walked through the door and had the first conversation with him,” says Smith, who was born in brought up in Newtown.
“He just said ‘you’re a first team, I’m a first team, so don’t come with anything else – we are the first teams of this club, that’s it, no arguments that is it’.
“From that point it could have just been words, but he put it into action straight away.”
Smith’s side did not train at Bristol City’s training ground when she arrived and says former Leicester City boss Pearson had a role in ensuring that changed.
“He was really instrumental in part of that and just made it very clear, saying ‘why wouldn’t you be here?’,” Smith explains.
“Having those really refreshing conversations with a male in male football was just exciting for me.
“You genuinely feel valued and welcome when you sit down with him, when you speak to any of his staff as well. I think the two first teams here are aligned in that sense, which makes it lovely to come to work.”
Before taking charge following Bristol City’s relegation from the WSL in 2021, Smith had been working as assistant to Rehanne Skinner at Tottenham Hotspur.
She had learned her trade during seven years at Bristol City, where she worked at academy level and served as first-team assistant coach.
Smith left the club in 2017 to become number two to then Wales boss Jayne Ludlow.
Yet for all her experience, Smith has tapped into Pearson’s knowledge over the last couple of seasons.
“He’s got double – if not more – the number of league games in a season that I have, so a lot of our problems as managers are different,” she says.
“But there was something at the start of the season where I was a bit stuck with a selection choice and I was toing and froing and I had a conversation with him.
“He didn’t answer my question, but he led me to the answer. I felt like I had a really good support network in him and almost a mentor which is strange, because you probably don’t get that very often.
“He comes to watch our training sessions, I go to watch theirs. I’ve been with him on a matchday. He comes to watch pretty much all of our games we have here, so it is genuine support and respect for each other which is really, really good to be part of.”
Pearson will not be around this Sunday, for his men’s side will be in league action at Swansea City when Smith’s team walk out to face London City.
Having lost only one of their 16 league games this season, Bristol City are top of the Women’s Championship, six points clear of the second-placed Lionesses.
With only five league games to come after this weekend, an away victory would put Bristol City firmly in control of the promotion race.
Smith could become the first Welshwoman to manage in the top flight, and there are five Welsh players in the squad she hopes is about to get there.
Having previously worked at the highest level of the English game, Smith says a return has been the target all along.
“It’s why I took the job,” she says.
“It was to build a squad, develop the club from the women’s side of things and to be able to hold our head high when we get [to the WSL].
“It’s not going to be an easy feat, we know that.
“Since the club were last there, it’s got even better, the players have got better, it’s got quicker – everything has changed.
“But everybody in this squad, the staff, dreams about being at the top level and that’s why they are here.”