Milkwell Burn, Northumberland born centre half Matt Smailes began his football career with Annfield Plain in 1924 before joining First Division Blackburn Rovers, for whom he made his Football League debut at Bury in January 1926, his only appearance of his debut season. He made only 3 more appearances in 1926-27 and none in 1927-28 before joining Second Division West Ham United in 1928, brought in as an understudy to Jimmy Collins, Jim Barrett or Albert Cadwell in the half back line. His debut proved spectacular, as Vic Watson smashed 6 goals past Leeds United in an 8-2 thrashing of Leeds in February 1929, and he made 10 appearances for The Hammers before the end of the season.
However he didn’t play again for the first team and moved to Coventry City in the summer of 1930, playing 11 times for Coventry that autumn. He then returned to the north east and joined non league Ashington in August 1931.
Smailes had two brothers who played professional football; older brother Andy played for Newcastle United, Bristol City and Rotherham (who he later managed), and younger brother Jimmy played for amongst others Huddersfield Town, Tottenham Hotspur, Blackpool and Grimsby Town (all while they were in the top flight).