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Family Affair: The Smiths

25 April 2013

Prior to the start of the 2012/13 season, Oldham Athletic striker Matt Smith had only netted four professional goals in his career and was a relatively unknown player in The Football League.

Fast forward 12 months and the majority of League followers are aware of the towering centre forward, for the notoriety of his goals rather than the amount this term.

Smith was the star man in Oldham's impressive FA Cup run and has also found the net at crucial moments in league matches, including in the recent wins against Yeovil Town and Crawley Town - the two victories that confirmed the Latics' League 1 survival.

"Personally, it's been a fantastic season," 23-year-old Smith explained. "I've had a run of games since the turn of the year, which I've been happy about, and I've managed to score some important goals for the club.

"The FA Cup was a pretty surreal experience. To come away with the man of the match award after scoring two goals against Liverpool was good, and suddenly my profile had gone from being a relative nobody in the game to being in the national papers.

"I tried my best not to get caught up in it all and come across as big-time, which certainly isn't the sort of character I am, I just soaked it all up because it may never happen again.

"If anything, the whole experience just spurred me on to work that little bit harder. Playing against Everton and Liverpool gives you that hunger to keep going and play at that level on a more regular basis."

Smith comes across as a level-headed guy - honest, humble and, above all, grounded. That doesn't come as a surprise, though, given his background.

He is the grandson of an ex-professional footballer, and his dad Ian also played professionally, in Scotland for Queen's Park and Hearts, and south of the border for Birmingham City and Kidderminster Harriers, so he's had plenty of guidance.

Both his dad and granddad left the game to become doctors and it was their influence, as well his as mum's, that took him on his unorthodox route into professional football - from the University of Manchester and a degree in International Business, to the bright lights of Boundary Park and The Football League.

"Both of my parents have been very influential. My mum from an academic point of view and my dad from a footballing one.

"I think my mum really honed in on me getting my academics out of the way, then if, god forbid, I did get a career-threatening injury or if football simply didn't work out, I had that to fall back on.

"My dad was always supportive of that as well - he always had that mindset because he also has a degree. Football never worked out for him after a six or seven-year career and luckily he had that to fall back on and now he's a doctor.

"I'm not sure how many other players there are like myself, who have taken the university route and not really had an academy upbringing.

"I wouldn't change it if I could. I've had many great life experiences going to university - both in England and in America - and I've met some very interesting people.

"From a life experience point of view, I couldn't have wished for anything better. And to graduate with a degree and fall into professional football at the same time was a dream come true."

Prior to making the decision to attend university, Smith had been released by Cheltenham Town at the age of 18.

He never took his place on the ever-growing footballing scrapheap, however, he combined his studies with non-league football, aided by the help of his father.

He had two spells with Redditch United, and a stint at Droylsden in between, before signing for Solihull Moors, where he started to find form and hit the back of the net regularly.

"My dad was very supportive of the football. He travelled to all areas of the country to support me, particularly in my last year of university when I was in the Conference North.

"I was also doing extra training with him in and around him working, to make sure I was in the best possible shape to have something ready for the summer.

"Non-league football has helped me massively. I think there are too many people who perhaps snub non-league as a route to development and improvement.

"For me it was perfect, you get that winning mentality that's associated with first-team football, whereas in the reserves if you lose it's not really that important.

"I played at all varying levels of non-league football - from the Conference North right down to five or six leagues below that - it was a great stepping stone and I have a lot of good memories from my time there.

"It was very tough [combining football with studies], especially in the last year when I was playing in the Conference North, which involves a bit more travelling.

"I wanted to give myself the opportunity to get into the professional ranks, so I really wanted to carry on despite the workload I had in my final year, and it was very tough.

"I had to sacrifice my social life quite a bit. I partied like a student for three years and went to serious-mode for the last year, which paid off, so I have no regrets whatsoever."

Football and education seem to go hand-in-hand with the Smiths, so Matt may have been destined for the professional game after gaining a degree regardless of whether he went into "serious-mode".

Not that the 6' 6" front man believes in destiny; he's a grafter and knew hard work and determination would get him where he wanted to be.

"It was always my dream to be a footballer when I was growing up. When I was released from Cheltenham Town and went to university, did I truly believe it was a possibility? I'm not so sure.

"I worked hard to play at the highest level possible and then my confidence just grew in non-league when I scored 23 goals in the Conference North.

"I thought, why not? I was starting to mature as a player and was growing in stature. I had that self-belief, and it's taken me here."

While his dad and grandfather focussed on their medical careers after football, Matt has put his education on the back-burner and is giving it his all to earn himself a deal for next season, as his contract with Oldham expires at the end of this term.

He will again, no doubt, be drawing on that grit, self-belief, hard work, determination and maturity that got him to The Football League to progress his career further, whether that be at Boundary Park with the Latics or elsewhere.

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