Spireites defender Jay Smith recently signed his first professional contract with the club, and he’s keen to make an impression next season.
Smith has been out injured for parts of the season with a ruptured anterior talofibular ligament in his ankle, and now he’s back in training he’s keen to make up for lost time.
“I’d been waiting to hear whether I’d got one for a long time as I’ve been injured for two-three months and I wondered whether it’d be coming or not,” he said. “Hopefully I’ve shown enough potential on and off the pitch to have given me a chance.
“I don’t think I’ll be having a break in the summer really, I’ll be running every day, doing my rehab and coming in for treatment.
“I’ll be making sure I get as fit as possible because I need a head start, I want to show that I’m eager and I’m not going to be deterred by anyone else.”
Having been out for such a long time, Smith has worked closely with the club’s physiotherapists Rodger Wylde and Kristian Thackray, and is very grateful for their help.
“I’m starting to train again now, I’ve been having a lot of treatment from Kristian,” Smith explained.
“It’s been very painful because it’s not very necessary as such, but it’s one where you can roll your ankle suddenly because it’s not very stable.
“I came back a couple of weeks ago, and I played a game and did it again because it’s not strong enough.
“They’ve been great with me, always passing on advice and reassuring me, as I’ve been quite low at times, it’s helped me a lot as I could have been out for longer had not been for Kristian.”
Along with having to deal with an injury, Smith has also had to cope with the knowledge that the academy coaches would hold the key to his future at the end of the season, which he admits can affect a player’s performance.
He explained: “I think that when we’ve been playing we’ve all thought ‘this could depend on if we get a contract, so I can’t make a mistake’, sometimes you do make mistakes but it’s about how you bounce back.
“In my first year I made a lot of mistakes but I’ve really pushed on and made myself into a better player.
“I love to be a technical player, so bringing the ball out and love my big diagonal passes across the pitch as it just opens it out.
“I also love a challenge, and getting into battles with the strikers because I don’t want them to think I’m not going to get away with this as he’s a little weed, so I like to try and bully them.”
The defender, who lives in Dronfield, has been with the club since U16 level, after being spotted playing for his local team, Handsworth.
He joined his fellow scholars Joe Rowley, Ricky German, Dylan Parkin and Jack Brownell in putting pen to paper, and feels that having five players signing professional deals shows the strength of the club’s academy.
Smith said: “I think people are starting to see the potential of the academy and that we are trying to bring in a lot of good players, I’ve seen it myself in some of the younger age groups, there are good players there.
“In our age group you can see it; we’ve progressed so well, in the first-year especially. And this year as a group we’ve got along brilliantly and it shows when we play together.”
The good feeling doesn’t just extend to his fellow scholars, he’s also been very appreciative of the support he’s had from academy manager Mark Smith, and coach, Dylan Kerr
Smith said: “I love working with them, Dylan is so positive, you can’t get a negative word out of him and that helps you so much!
“Mark will kick you up the backside if he thinks you need it – and you do need it a lot of the time. He knows a lot about the game, and being a centre half himself he’s taught me a lot.”
And while some may see the step from youth team to the professional level as a big one, Smith along with his fellow graduates will be better equipped for it having played at reserve team level.
Smith said of reserve team fixtures: “You’ve got to be on top of your game when playing for reserves, if you do that if could lead to you playing in the first team.
“Everything just increases the pace and the intensity of the game, everyone’s willing to run and get into you and also make sure you’re doing everything properly."
So having experienced youth and reserve team football with the Spireites, what would it mean to go that one step further into the first team?
“It would mean the world to me, it’s been my dream since I was a kid,” he added.