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Virtual National Game Awards 2019-20: Sportsbeat National League South Player of the Year – Tom Smith

Tom Smith has scored 17 goals for Bath City this season

Tom Smith says having a home to call his own at Bath City has helped fire the scintillating form that sees him land the Sportsbeat National League South Player of the Year.

The 22-year-old scored 17 goals from midfield for the Romans to help them to a chance of promotion through the Step 2 play-offs.

Smith has had past loans at Twerton Park from Swindon Town and Cheltenham Town, but he thinks signing permanently for Jerry Gill’s side last summer has been the rocket fuel his career needed.

“I really wanted to be in an environment where I was enjoying myself and under a manager who understood me so I think it was important for me to make that decision to sign for Bath and kick-start my career,” Smith said.

“It was dropping down but this is a very competitive league and is getting better year on year. I needed to step down and show what I can do.

“There’s nothing better as a young player than playing every week wherever that is. I’d recommend it to anyone. If I’m playing I’m improving and I get satisfaction out of doing that.

“Everyone wants to play football to enjoy it. So it was a no brainer for me to go and play football – that’s what I wanted to do. I wouldn’t be happy to sit around doing nothing. It’s nice to have that match on a Saturday and competing to get that three points.

“Bath are very ambitious. For the last three years we’ve been building something to get promoted. We’ve got a great squad so hopefully we can make something happen in the play-offs.”

Smith says studying a Business Management degree through the Open University has helped his enjoyment for the game while he is also dedicating himself off the pitch to give himself the best chance of a return to the pro game.

He works with sports scientist John Watson and in lockdown he cycled ‘virtual’ Everest while raising money for Mind UK.

Tom Smith

Tom Smith has been working hard during lockdown

“I’ve been working with John on getting into the best shape and giving me the best chance of succeeding as possible,” Smith said. “That was a decision I made to give myself the best opportunity to be at the best level I can.

“During this period I’ve been working with him, ticking over and keeping myself sharp – ball work with elements of fitness to hopefully give me that edge.”

And he says working under Gill will help him to keep climbing the football ladder too.

“It’s vital,” Smith said. “In my first season at Bath I was a different player. I guess that was part of myself trying to make myself into more of a goalscoring midfielder. But also it’s partly Jerry.

“As the season goes on, you understand what he expects from you. He respects you as a player so you know the standards. That’s important as a player what is required.

“And if a manager knows what you can produce it’s almost that if you have a bad game, you’re not chopped straightaway.

“I’ve had three seasons at Bath. There’s been tough times when things weren’t going well. But that’s the respect and understanding we’ve gained over the three years.”

Boss Gill is effusive in his praise of the youngster.

“He’s been a revelation again this season,” Gill said. “It’s all down to him, he’s the one who has to go out there and do all the work. But he suits our philosophy.

“He’s an attacking midfielder – we give him a lot of duties defensively – but we free him up and allow him to express himself. That’s the key really. Once we’re in the final third, Tom’s got bounds of energy and a knack of arriving in the box late. He’s also got a ferocious shot so a lot of his goals are from 20-yards plus.

“This award is fully deserved. He’s gone from strength-to-strength. He dedicates himself. He’s got his own sports scientist and he’s out doing extras on local pitches. That’s a credit to him and tells you his attitude. He’s also doing a Business degree. He’s got his head screwed on.

“The important thing is when he signed his contract he knows Bath is his home. We really enjoy working with him.”

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