Hard work leads to Latics chance for ex-Robin Smith
WHEN Matt Smith was released by Cheltenham Town at the age of 18, a career in professional football looked a distant prospect, but fast-forward four years and the giant striker has made the grade.
Smith, a former pupil at Pate's Grammar School, signed a two-year-contract with League One club Oldham Athletic last week, cementing a fairytale comeback to the professional ranks.
A tall striker who has strong family links with the game – his father and grandfather both played professionally – Smith was released by the Robins after a one-year stint as a trainee in 2007.
"I was only there for a year," he said. "I was never actually there on a full-time basis as I was studying for my A-levels at the time.
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"I used to go in two or three mornings per week and train with the youth team under Bob Bloomer and John Brough, but at the end of the year I was released.
"Only the goalkeeper Will Puddy got taken on that year and I hadn't really been playing all that much, so it was inevitable I got released."
Smith's career as a footballer was put on hold as a four-year business degree at Manchester University took precedence.
After a year of playing for the university's first team, Smith started turning out for North West Counties' League side New Mills, a stint that he now says was instrumental in his recent rise.
"It was a very competitive league and crucially it was men's football and that certainly helped toughen me up," Smith said.
"It's a different world to reserve team and youth team football.
"That's almost false football as it has no passion and the games usually don't mean anything.
"Playing competitively you learn the importance of winning and, more importantly, learn a great deal.
"Without doubt that's helped me get where I am."
After spending a year in the United States as part of his degree course, Smith was invited to start last season in Blue Square Bet North with Redditch United.
Five goals in five games earned him a move to fellow Blue Square Bet North club Droylsden and eventually on to Solihull Moors where he took his season's goal tally to 19.
That prompted interest from a number of League clubs and while many offered trial spells, Oldham and manager Paul Dickov came in with a secure offer of a two-year contract.
Smith said: "It's great that Oldham see me as an investment and there can't be many better people to learn from than Paul Dickov as he played at the highest level.
"I can't wait to get going now and start pre-season training – it's going to be tough but really enjoyable."
While Smith may have taken a long and winding road into the professional ranks, he has a message for the countless number of young players – including those at Cheltenham – who were let go at the end of their trainee programmes.
"My story shows that there is a route back into the game," he said. "All too often now people think that if you've not made it by the age of 12 then you never will
"But if you put the hard work in there's no reason why you can't go on and make it back, so I would urge all those released players to never give up hope – I didn't."