IN his guise as an ex-landlord, Dean Furman is hoping to call time on good friend Matt Smith’s Championship story this afternoon – albeit for 90 minutes at any rate.
The Doncaster Rovers midfielder wasn’t just Smith’s captain at their former club Oldham Athletic. He also provided the giant Leeds United striker with a roof over his head – all 6ft 6ins of him.
Smith lived with Furman, who he will line up against at the Keepmoat today, at the latter’s Manchester home last season before setting up on his own in West Yorkshire following his summer move to the Whites, despite interest from his old boss Paul Dickov at Doncaster.
As tenants go, Smith did at least pay for his keep and was also known on occasion to rustle up a decent meal or two in the kitchen.
Just as long as he doesn’t cook up a goalscoring treat or two for the massed contingent in the away end is Furman’s chief concern today, just as he did in the Yorkshire rivals’ meeting in the Capital One Cup at the end of August, where Smith netted his first goal for Leeds in a 3-1 victory.
On lining up with a familiar face, Furman told the Yorkshire Post: “Matt and I obviously played together at Oldham. He was looking for a place to live when he joined and I have got my place in Manchester and he came and lived with me and James Wesoloski, who is still at Oldham. We lived together for a year.
“We had a great time together and we are still pretty close. Smudge (Smith) lives in Leeds now and sadly moved out, but we are still very good mates.
“He wasn’t too bad as a tenant, to be honest. He wasn’t too bad with the cooking, not so much the washing-up...
“But I would usually do the cleaning-up after them both. But Matt’s a good lad and it’s good to see him doing well.
“We still see each other as much as possible. As long as he doesn’t do well on Saturday, I’ll be happy.
“He scored his first goal for Leeds against us and I will be making sure as much as possible that doesn’t happen again,” he added.
Given their friendship, it’s fair to say personal bragging rights will be at stake for Furman and Smith today and a sense of oneupmanship.
It was round one to Smith at the end of the autumn, with Furman now seeking a bit of payback.
The South African international, whose move to Doncaster following a loan spell in the second half of last season was made permanent in the summer, quipped: “I am not sure we are allowed to put bets on it..... But there might be a few texts and a bit of banter flying about before the game. But once it kicks off, it will be serious stuff until after the game.
“Matt went in there (to Leeds) and really from the second half of last season, he’s continued progressing and improving.
“It’s great to see him scoring goals and it looks as if he’s formed a good partnership with Ross McCormack. He knows what he’s good at and he’s such a threat with his headers.”
Relishing his first taste of the Doncaster versus Leeds rivalry today, Furman added: “It’s great. That’s what you want to do, play in the big matches. Obviously, there’s also local rivalry at stake and we will be looking to get the bragging rights for our fans.
“All the Yorkshire derbies are exciting and it’s always exciting when the Keepmoat is rocking as it will be against Leeds. Of course for us, we know about the Leeds versus Doncaster rivalry and we will be doing our utmost to get a result.
“Players like playing in front of packed crowds and atmospheres and I think it’s raised our performances at the Keepmoat in games where the atmopshere has been up there.
“We know there will be a big crowd there and we hope most of the noise will come from our fans.”
Following a one-match suspension after his bittersweet outing in the 2-1 home victory over Yeovil on November 22 – when he found the net but was later sent off – Furman returned to the starting line-up for the fine success over QPR last time out at the Keepmoat with the performance of the engine-room grafter and his central midfield colleague Richie Wellens helping lay the foundations.
Wellens’s future is up in the air with the Mancunian’s short term deal expiring next month and Furman for one is desperate he stays put.
He said: “Richie is such a good player and is just so comfortable on the ball. He’s a real leader and it’s a joy playing alongside him as he’s got such great experience at this level and knows the game in and out.
“He is a vital player and massive for us and as players, we want to see him still here playing every week as he’s a top, top player. I am sure the fans do the same.”
On a poignant weekend when the Rainbow Nation remembers the late, great Nelson Mandela, whose state funeral is in Johannesburg tomorrow, South Africans across the world including Cape Town-born Furman and his club and international team-mate Bongani Khumalo will pay their respects on the sporting field.
Mandela used sport as a way to promote peace in the nation and as as a way to unite the multi-racial country, with the sight of him presenting the rugby world cup in 1995 to Francois Pienaar, wearing the Springboks jersey, one of the enduring images of his presidency.
Despite being frail, Mandela managed a public appearance at the World Cup final in his home nation in 2010 with Bafana Bafana having come a long way since he took over the country’s presidency in the nineties, culminating in their recent win over Spain, when Furman and Bongani started.
That uplifted the sporting nation and you sense Mandela would have approved of that.
Furman said: “Obviously, the passing of a legend and the coverage on the TV has shown what a legend he was.
“It’s great the way his life has been celebrated at the moment and me and Bongs will be looking to celebrate his life a little bit more.
“It’s proud when you play for South Africa and to play against superstars and the best team in the world in Spain and really stifle their style of play and go and get the victory was amazing and the country was so proud the next day and so happy.
“It was a great thing to be involved in.
“As an individual, you want to test yourself against the best players in the world and see how you compete against them. It gives you confidence.”