Tyger Smalls striving to make his mark
He’s already rubbed shoulders with a complimentary David Beckham, been invited to a video shoot with ‘Smokey Barbers’ - followed by meeting Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand - and been under the tutelage of England national team striker coach Allan Russell – now Tyger Smalls is looking to broaden his horizons with possible life-changing options.
It has not exactly been the most conventional of journeys for the Red Lodge-based footballer. Littered with setbacks and road blocks, Tyger has had to overcome a wide ranging number of adversities. And yet, ask the 17-year-old if he would change anything and the response is unequivocal - ‘no’.
He did not kick a ball in anger until the age of eight, and yet within 12 months he had joined a current Premier League club’s academy.
A switch to another top-flight team soon followed and by the end of season three, the youngster had scored almost 300 goals.
But, just when it seemed that his future was being neatly mapped out before him, matters unrelated to football meant that along with younger siblings Mydas and Magic, he had to leave the academy system.
The intention was to return at a later date - and clubs up and down country certainly made their keen interest known. However, complications relating to one of his former sides meant that things were never able to progress any further.
Yet, the dream never died and the fire continued to burn brightly inside the youngster. Instead, Tyger diverted down a different route, one which saw him wear the colours of Red Lodge, Mundford, Whitton United, Felixstowe & Walton United, Billericay and Stowmarket Town throughout his years in youth football.
Then, from Needham Market Under-16s it was on to Histon Under-18s until the summer when he took the decision - aged just 16 - to move into men’s football; first with Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division outfit Haverhill Rovers, where he remains this season’s leading scorer with 15 goals, and Saffron Walden Town, whom he joined in December last year.
All the while, the attention from scouts and top-level coaches has never truly subsided and it intensified tenfold when Tyger’s goal against Thetford Town in August went viral. After lifting the ball over his marker’s head, the teenager produced the type of finish that made a mockery of his tender age.
“There was nothing else on really,” Tyger, who caught the eye of former England skipper Beckham while taking free-kicks at Arsenal’s training ground, says of that goal. “When I flicked it over the defender’s head it felt like I had so much time.
“When I saw the video on Twitter in the morning, I kept reloading it and the hits just kept going up and up. It was pretty surreal and I got a lot of messages. It was a crazy time.”
Now free of any red tape, Tyger has enlisted the guidance of agent Nick Maytum, who is helping him to evaluate all of the options available to him - at home and abroad. What happens next only time will tell, but the former Tuddenham Primary School, St Christopher’s in Red Lodge, Horringer Court Middle School and County Upper student is adamant that he has had the best possible grounding.
“It has been hard at times with all of the interest and not being able to go through with it, but I also would not change the route I have gone down,” said the player who features in England coach Russell’s book ‘The Complete Athlete’.
“It has worked out for the best. I could see myself getting bored going down the academy route and not enjoying it, whereas I have experienced a lot. In a way, players in academies are rivals going for the same thing but I have played with team-mates where winning cups and leagues has been important.
“I wanted to move into men’s football at 16 to push myself. I felt comfortable in the under-18s and needed to continue my development. Physically it has been a wake-up call. I get kicked a lot but I try to react in the right way and not let it affect me. I have matured a lot in men’s football already.
“I have been aware people have been coming to watch me all season but I do not get nervous. I am confident and do what I can whenever the ball comes my way.
“I am now looking at a wide range of options, and not just in England. Whatever happens, though, I know there is a lot of hard work to do and a more professional structure will help me to improve.”
Tyger, whose great-grandfather Harry Parr played alongside the legendary Sir Stanley Matthews, is also eager to act as a source of inspiration for those that have dropped out of the academy system.
This summer a whole host of aspiring footballers will be told by professional clubs that their services are no longer required. For those that have spent a number of years at one club and have dreamed of nothing else but ‘making it’, such information can be devastating.
Tyger, of course, was never given that sort of news but he is nevertheless proof that if you are good enough, clubs higher up the pyramid will take notice, whatever level you play at.
“As a young child you think the only way to make it is through an academy but there are other ways. I obviously have not made it yet, but there are options,” he said.
“Football is full of hard knocks and a lot of players will be disappointed this summer. But football is full of examples of players that have come through non-league - there is not just one route.
“I recently played in a friendly game against Crystal Palace Under-23s and felt comfortable against players that have professional contracts. Hopefully my performance carried some weight because of who the opposition was.
“I felt comfortable because of my past experiences and the hard work I have put in. Leaving a professional club does not have to be the end.”