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Smith on Bermuda, playing in Norway and Finland & his journey to the Football League

9 March 2020


Smith on Bermuda, playing in Norway and Finland & his journey to the Football League

9 March 2020

Jonté Smith has jetted off to Montego Bay in Jamaica today as he gets set to represent Bermuda in their latest international friendly with Jamaica on Wednesday.

The striker has returned to the Cheltenham side in the last week after a bad illness saw him hospitalised over the Christmas period.

He has come off the bench in the 2-0 win at Colchester and in the goalless draw with Port Vale on Saturday.

After a number of weeks out with a worrying illness it's been a welcome return after he agreed a new deal at the start of February that will keep him at the club until the end of the season.

It's been a fascinating journey for the 25-year-old to get to this point in his career at Cheltenham - a career that saw him move at the age of 16 to England from Bermuda, has taken in 14 different teams, international football and spells playing in Norway and Finland.

He sat down to look back on his experiences in the game, how he could have gone down the path of professional cricket instead of football, and representing his country ahead of their upcoming Gold Cup qualifying crunch matches.

You're fit and healthy again but the illness you had over Christmas - how bad was it and how much did it affect you?

I was struggling for a while. I was in hospital for a few days from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day. It was all right, they had Christmas meals and everything so it was decent, but I was struggling for a while. It took me four to six weeks before I was actually able to do anything. Once that happened it was just about trying to get my fitness back as quickly as possible and now I feel fit and healthy and ready to go.

What was the problem exactly?

I had glandular fever which basically meant a few of my interal organs were inflamed. So if I got a hit too hard it could have been life threatening so we had to be a bit careful and cautious and the doctors and the physios all knew that and helped to look after me.

You're off for international duty with Bermuda with a game against Jamaica this week?

I'll be leaving on Monday to go and play in that game. Thankfully I don't miss any games when I'm on that trip because I'll be back on Thursday which is ideal because I want to try and make as much impact in this team between now and the end of the season. I'm looking forward to linking back up with my international teammates.

Jamaica are a good team to play but is this a big step in terms of practising for what is going to be your next major campaign?

This is a friendly which is mainly in preparation for a two-leg game in the summer. The winner of that game in June I believe will qualify for the Gold Cup in 2021 which is the major tournament for our region. They want to try and get as much practice into all the players and the tactics so we can understand it better. With international football you don't come together as often and work on things every day so it's games like this that really get the team understanding of how we want to play so when we get to the bigger games it's all a bit easier.

Is there a huge amount of pride when you represent your country?

Of course. I made my debut back when I was 18. It's been tough making the decision not to play these last few months because I was trying to make an impact in this Cheltenham team. Thankfully they were respectful of that and they understood that. After my time out missing Mexico home and away and Panama home and away - two World Cup teams - it does hurt a bit to miss those games but I felt like I needed to stay here and try and get into this team and work hard. Thankfully those guys performed well and got some good results against top nations. Now we just need to go again to try and qualify for the Gold Cup.

You've got a lot of sporting history in your family. Your dad played cricket for Bermuda?

He played cricket for Bermuda. He was their captain at one point. He also played in the World Cup for them in 2007. Growing up with him cricket was his favourite sport so he used to have me out in the back yard every day saying we're going to work on this shot today, throwing a hundred tennis balls at me. Cricket was the majority of my life growing up and it split into football and cricket. A few other sports got added in and it got to the point where my parents said you have to pick one or two, you can't keep trying to play all of these sports because you're going to run yourself out. I had to make the concious decision at 16 when I moved to England what I was going to try to pursue and that ended up being football.

What was it like seeing your dad play in the 2007 World Cup when you've got Australia, England and other countries like India playing in it?

I'm still mad at my parents because I was young and I loved cricket and I was begging them to let me go to the World Cup and experience it with my dad playing! They were like 'you have school, you've got to stay in school and do your school work'. It's understandable but even to this day I bring it up and say how could you not let me go and see Bermuda play in the World Cup for the first time in its history! As well as seeing my dad play. But it's all good - we laugh and joke about it now but it would have been amazing to experience it!

You know England bowler Jofra Archer well. How did that relationship come about?

Delray Rawlins plays for Sussex as well and he's from Bermuda. Him and I used to live together when I was 17 to 19. When we were living together I was pursuing football and he was pursuing cricket. He was playing for Sussex at the time and I was living in Crawley so I used to go down and watch his games. Jofra would be there and those two were quite good friends so we used to hang out and go bowling together and stuff like that. That's how him and I became friends and it's been like that ever since playing Call of Duty on Xbox or Fortnite or just going out for dinner.

How would you describe the journey of your football career?

It has been hard work. It has been difficult at times because I've felt like I've worked hard and scored goals but sometimes opportunities don't go the way you expected them to. I've had to leave England and play in a different country and try my trade there. It went quite well but I came back to England and had to work my way back into the Football League. I'm happy to be here and happy to keep training every day, trying to be better, and hopefully have a long time playing as a professional footballer.

How did your move to Kemi Kings in Finland come about and how did someone from Bermuda deal with the cold in a country like that?

I had a teammate named John Dollery. We signed our pros together from the youth team and he actually went to Kemi Kings first. The manager at the time was Tommy Taylor who used to play for West Ham. I knew that my contract wasn't getting extended at Crawley. John Dollery at the time was one of my best friends and he was saying 'we need a striker out here'. Their season starts in April so he said to think about coming out on loan for a few months and if you like it then you can stay, but if not you can go back to England for pre-season. Tommy Taylor called me and I'd heard about him. He had played with Kyle Lightbourne or Clyde Best at West Ham and just talking to him he said it was technical and we've got a really nice pitch, good facilities, we'll look after you and in the worst case you come out on loan for three months - if you don't like it go back to England and if you like it then you can stay. I went there for three months, scored ten goals in nine games, and I was enjoying my football. I decided to stay and had a good season. The coldest part was during pre-season I think it must have been minus 25 and snowing outside. I was thinking maybe this wasn't the best decision! At the same time I was really enjoying my football and he was a really good manager and coach. Cold weather aside, I just enjoyed being there.

What was it like over in Norway with Flekkerøy IL? Was it similar to Finland?

Tommy Taylor had moved to that team in Norway and he wanted to take me with him. They're very similar countries, the only difference was Norway was predominantly 3G, so matchday and training pitches were mainly 3G. Only one or two teams in the league actually played on grass. It was a bit different and it did take a bit of an adjustment period but Tommy and I had an understanding and he knew I always wanted to go back to England. The plan was to go out there, do well, go back to England and try my trade again. He understood that and allowed me to go back to England in pre-season to eventually sign for Gloucester City at the time and start my career again in England.

Was it hard trying to get a move back to England? And how did you end up with Gloucester?

It was a bit difficult at the time because I had jumped around a little but my agent at the time was speaking to different clubs trying to see what was available and what could happen for me at the time. Because I had gone through a period where I had pretty much played two seasons in a row without a break he wanted to give me a little bit of an off period. I think I signed for them in October. Tim Harris had contacted me and said 'we need a striker, why don't you come to Gloucester and have a look at the city and see what it's like and if you think this would be a good fit for you we'll bring you onboard and go from there'.

How important was your spell at Lewes and the goals you scored there?

When I joined Lewes that was after a period where I had bounced around a little and I felt like I needed to go somewhere for a period of time and continuously play well and score goals and let doors open up for me in that way. The manager, Darren Freeman, really worked with me to try and improve my game. We had so many one-on-one sessions where he told me to come in early before training or stay late after training and keep doing one-on-one shooting with me - different things. I wouldn't say he was the first coach to try and elevate my game but he took a special notice in saying 'this is what we're going to work on today for you, this is what we're going to work on tomorrow'. He helped take my game to the next level and helped me to score quite a few goals at that level which led to me progressing to Oxford and ending up there.

When you did make the move to Oxford that was quite a big jump to make?

Yeah it was, I think it's a jump of four tiers. It was a crazy deadline day but eventually everything worked out and I ended up at Oxford which was a great experience. They had great facilities, great coach and very talented players. Players like Jamie Mackie who has played in the Premier League, Jerome Sinclair who was a £4 million player on loan from a Premier League club. You see these types of players in training every day and you try to learn from them - that's what I try to do.

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