TOM Smith says stepping down the footballing pyramid was the first important part in moving back up it.

Local boy Smith spent 12 years in the youth system with Swindon Town before his release in the summer of 2018, having made 16 appearances for the first team.

After initially joining Cheltenham Town, Smith is now at Bath City, where he also spent time on loan during the previous two seasons from his previous clubs.

It is an environment he has flourished in, the 17 goals to his name already this season and a player of the month award carving him out as one of the hottest properties in National League South.

“I wanted a home, I wanted to feel part of a team, spending two seasons there before it was a no brainer really,” said Smith, born and raised in Swindon.

“Jerry (Gill, Bath manager) suits the way I play so going into the season I was very confident, full of energy.

“The pre-season leading up to that was very good and the first game I scored, so that set the tone for it. As a team we started really well. When you’re playing well as a team that helps.

“The main thing for me was that I was in a place that I was enjoying my football.

“When you’ve got people around you that you enjoy being with it makes football very easy, very enjoyable. Like when you were a kid.

“From there it’s kickstarted and I’ve scored a few goals, and it’s just carried on from there.”

Viewed as a more defensive midfield option while at Swindon, Smith has reinvented himself as a more attacking threat.

His first loan spell at Bath marked the start of his push up the pitch.

He added: “As it progressed and I actually scored 11 goals, I made myself into a different player. I wanted to make myself into a goalscoring midfielder.

“I made that decision myself. Jerry almost had to move me up a bit more advanced because I was scoring those goals for the team.

“I enjoyed playing a bit more forward where there’s less risk, where I can create a little bit more and get in the box, whereas at Town I would get on the ball a little bit more, break up the play.

“Now I’m a player that runs in behind, brings energy to the team and then scores goals.”

While Smith’s current focus remains on helping Bath to promotion should the National League season resume, returning to professional ranks remains an ambition.

“The main aim this season is to get promoted with Bath and then anything that comes from that is a bonus,” he said.

“For me, definitely I want to be back in the league, I want to be back as a pro footballer.

“That’s the dream and when I was back at Swindon I wanted to play for them week in, week out. That would still be something I want to do.

“Football’s a funny game and you never can predict the outcome. For me this season, if it does return, is just about getting your head down, having a good end to the season and see what it brings.”

Born and raised in Swindon, Smith came up through the youth ranks at the County Ground, with a spell on loan at League of Ireland Waterford alongside his temporary stint in Somerset.

Rather than fading away like many young footballers when his time at the club ended, Smith used it to spur his career on.

“I spent I think it was 12 years there and my time in and around the first team there were so many managers it was quite unbelievable,” he said. “There was no stability there really.

“The time when I had the longest spell in the team was under Luke Williams and a bit under Mark Cooper.

“When you’re in and out it’s hard and when you’re out on loan it’s difficult, especially when you get a change of manager.

“You can never really predict the outcome. I wouldn’t say I was surprised or not surprised, but obviously the contract came to the end and it was Phil Brown (inset) at the time, and he hadn’t seen much of me.

“He said literally that from what he’d seen he had players coming through that he needed to see or maybe thought were better than me; he didn’t really see a pathway for me.

“That’s fair enough. I’ll take that on the chin and use that as energy to go on to the next club.”

Despite his desire to push back up the pyramid, Smith has more going on in life than playing for Bath.

He has taken up the challenge of an Open University degree, while also working hard to maintain his own conditioning.

He said: “I just really wanted to get back into education and educate myself on something away from sport. I think that’s helped keep my focus on football and something away from it.

“Fitness-wise, going part-time if you ever do want to step up to the level you’ve got to keep your fitness in tip-top condition, that means doing your strength work throughout the week and extra fitness work.

“Through pre-season I had a great sports scientist, John Watson, he helped me and he still does, and with maintenance through the season.

“That’s an important side of the game and I think if I want to be the best in my league, I’ve got to do different things to set me apart.”