Wow, a decent article on Tribal Football. Chris Smalling arrived at the club in June from non-league Maidstone United and, even if it’s a big step up, he’s obviously been making progress as he’s now become a regular fixture in the reserve team.
I’ve enjoyed every second to be honest! It was a massive step up going from a non-league side straight into a Premiership Club. The facilities, the coaching, the quality of the players etc there is a huge difference, but everything is going well, the coaches are pleased with how I’ve done so far and it’s just a great experience to be at a club like Fulham.
In a year I’ve gone from playing non-league with Maidstone United to being included in the first team squad at Fulham for the last few Premiership games, so yeah I suppose you could say I’ve surprised a few, but I’ve always been confident enough in my ability and what I can achieve. But you’re right, looking back it has been a pretty unbelievable year! I’ve got my feet firmly on the ground though and know that there’s a lot more hard work ahead of me to get a chance in the first team here.
With the money in the game today and the regular influx of foreign talent, you would have thought that the days of players going from near the bottom of the non-league pyramid to the top flight would be over. Smalling seems to be an exception, though, as Fulham had to fight off interest from Middlesbrough, from whom Smalling almost signed on the dotted line last season.
As a youngster I spent time at Academies with clubs in the Football League, but for one reason or another I just didn’t really settle in. Maidstone was my local club so after leaving my last Academy I decided I’d rather player first team football lower down the leagues and see where it took me. I was 17 playing against grown men so I had no option but to improve and get used to the physical side of the game, it helped me mature a lot.
As I was still very young I kept my place in the England Schoolboys side, and my performances with them and at Maidstone obviously caught the eye of various scouts.
He certainly knew that his next move could be the most crucial decision of his career.
There were a few clubs interested in me both from the Premiership and the Football League, but after speaking to Fulham and getting a feel for the place, I felt really comfortable and knew that it was the club for me, all the other stuff is in the past now and I just want to focus on doing well for Fulham and pushing to get into the first team.
He’s obviously a big fan of Roy Hodgson, who was one of the main reasons that we managed to secure Smalling’s services.
Roy was fantastic with me; he watched me in training and during a match and then invited me to his office to talk about the club and how he saw me having a future here. He has so much experience as a manager and has worked with some of the best players in the world, so it was a great buzz when he said he liked how I played and that he wanted me to sign for the club. As a young player it gives you a massive confidence boost and I’m determined to re-pay his faith in me.
The rest of the interview is definitely worth a read. Smalling talks about how he has been picked up some useful tips from Brede Hangeland and has been influenced by club captain Danny Murphy. He talks about his future (the young lad is realistic and says there’s no rise to make the jump from reserve team football) and reckons that there’s plenty more talent to be found in the non-league game.