Former UoM student Matt Smith talks to the Mancunion about his time at Uni and his incredible 2012-13 season
All things considered, it’s been something of an incredible year for Oldham Athletic footballer Matt Smith. The University of Manchester alumnus has helped his club avoid the drop from League One, not to mention scoring against both Liverpool and Everton in the Latics’ incredible run to the last 16 of the FA Cup.
The Birmingham-born striker looks back fondly on his time at the University. “My highlight was the social side,” he says “I made a lot of good friends and have some great memories.” Smith was also a successful captain for the University football team. “We won the Booster Cup and the BUCS Cup, and the league twice,” he recalls, “the camaraderie was great with all of my team mates.”
It was only injuries and unfortunate timing that prevented Smith from featuring at the World University Games and for the England C Team. He admits that it was sometimes hard to balance student life with his sporting ambitions. “It was very difficult,” he says, “especially in my last year when I was trying to push myself to get into professional ranks. I had to completely sacrifice my social life. But I can look back now as a pro footballer so I don’t have any regrets.”
Despite his successes, Smith comes across as very level-headed. He makes it clear that, while in Manchester, his first thought was always his studies. “My priority was always to get my degree; once I’d set my mind to it I always wanted to complete it. Football started as a social thing and only became more serious as I went on.” Smith studied International Management with American Business Studies, and is grateful to the University for how they dealt with his unusual commitments. “Manchester Business School were very accommodating with my needs such as travelling,” he says. “I missed a few lectures here and there but they made it easy for me to catch up.”
One of many reasons for Smith’s successes is his family. Both his father and grandfather played professionally, and Smith recognises their role in spurring him on to do the same. “They gave me an insight into what football life is like and offered plenty of encouragement,” he says, “they really were a positive influence for me.”
The 23-year-old has scored some crucial goals recently, hitting winners against Yeovil and local rivals Bury to lift Oldham away from the relegation zone. Smith is keeping his feet firmly on the ground, though. “The ideal scenario would be higher up the table and I wouldn’t need to score such important goals,” he reflects. “But I’m happy to play my part in the league and the cup and it’s been a good season. As long as we stay safe, which it looks like we will, we can reflect on a very successful campaign. After all, we are one of the clubs with the lowest budgets in the league and we managed to get to the last 16 of the FA Cup.”
Smith was undoubtedly the hero of the cup campaign, netting a double in the club’s 3-2 win over Liverpool and another to take Everton to a replay. He was again on the scoresheet in the return fixture at Goodison Park as the brave League One club were finally beaten 3-1. His dominating performances against two of the Premier League’s best defences were the talk of football fans up and down the country. “It was surreal, going from relative obscurity to a national headliner,” he says “It was strange but a fantastic experience and something I won’t ever forget.”
One person who was very vocal on Smith’s success was Jack Whitehall. The comedian, also a former Manchester student, took to Twitter to reminisce about his alleged goalscoring days alongside Smith for the University team. Smith laughs when I bring this up. “We keep in touch a little bit,” he says. “We had a good mutual friend when we were students together. He’s moved on to bigger and better things now. I wish him the best of luck to him because he’s a very hard worker and a very funny guy.”
After such a great season, I have to ask if Smith feels he is aiming to play in the Premier League one day. “I hope to play at the highest level possible,” he replies, “having scored against Premier League opposition it gives you that hunger and that knowledge in the back of your mind that I could I do this on a more regular basis. I know how competitive it is but as long as you have that self-belief, that motivation and desire to do well that takes you a long way. I’m a hard worker, dedicated and I really want to excel.” If the way in which he terrified the likes of Martin Skrtel and Phil Jagielka this season is anything to go by, there is no reason why this young striker won’t do exactly that.