Last Saturday’s fixture with Oxford United was Nathan Smith’s 400th career appearance, playing for Stafford Rangers, Torquey United and Port Vale, son we sat down with our number 6 to discuss his career so far.
We’re 18 games into the season, how have you found the change to life in League One?
The biggest thing that I’ve noticed as a defender is that you get punished for every mistake that happens, in League Two you could get away with one or two, but now teams will punish you every time you lose your man or misplace a pass, anything like that and teams will punish you with a goal. So that’s what we’re working to cut out now, obviously mistakes are going to happen, but we’ve got to rectify them and try to stop them as early as possible as players are so ruthless in this league.
We are more than holding our own in the division, aren’t we? We are currently sat just two points off the top half of the table and have secured some impressive wins already, haven’t we?
As a squad and as a playing staff, we go into every game knowing that we’ve got more than enough to trouble anyone and it’s never a case of going into a game against one of the top five and thinking let’s just hope we don’t get battered this week, everyone knows that if we perform how we can then we will be a problem for anyone and we’ve proven that against the top teams. Games in this league are decided on such fine margins so if we can cut out a few mistakes and take a few more chances we’re getting then we’ll be riding high with anyone and we’re proving that every week.
You’ve been playing in a defence that features some young players, how impressed have you been with them?
The Gaffer wouldn’t ever pick a player if he didn’t think they were ready and as players we know that the younger lads in the squad are more than ready to come into the starting 11 and outperform anyone. Look at Sammy Robinson for example, he loves to drive with the ball and can beat anyone one on one, and now is really developing that defensive side of his game and he’s showing how fast he's improving and that’s why he’s earning his game time, he’s a great player and definitely one to watch with a bright future ahead of him.
We also have Will Forrester, who when he arrived, I thought was older than he is because that’s how much he impressed me. He’s a great player who loves defending and is comfortable on the ball.
How good does it feel to have hit 400 games in your career, especially at only 26 years old?
It’s absolutely flown by and I’m really enjoying it, now my aim is just to try and double it and keep trying to get it as high as I can. Looking back at all the games I’ve played, they’ve moulded me into the guy I am today, I’ve taken little bits from every game and season that’s happened and all the coaches and players I’ve worked with have moulded me into the player I am and I’m still always learning. I look back at some of those experiences now and they’ve really helped me and put me where I am today.
More than 300 of those games have come in a Vale shirt and there’s been many ups and downs since you made your debut, what has that journey been like for you?
I started with a massive down as my first season ended in relegation, so something I’ve always wanted to do is help get the club promoted back to where we were, I always felt as though the responsibility still came down on me, as I’m the last one from that season to still be here. I was part of the relegation and now I’m part of the promotion, so it’s been a bit of a weight off my shoulders.
Looking back at my time so far, if my career ended today, it would be nothing but enjoyment with this club. I’m a local lad and I can see how far everything has come, it’s night and day from when I first arrived to where we are now, Vale is a club that’s aspiring to get higher and higher and it’s a place that people want to be at.
If you want to hear more from Smudge, the full interview will be on page 12 of this weekend’s matchday programme for the fixture against Charlton Athletic, priced at just £3.