Tonbridge Angels FC
Thomas Robinson Derry
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Chelmsford City FC
Eastbourne Borough FC
Aldershot Town FC
Hayes & Yeading FC
East Thurrock United FC
Tonbridge Angels FC
I’m Tom Derry, 24 years old and live in Brixton, London. I play football for Tonbridge Angels in Kent, who play in the Vanarama National South division. On a day to day basis I work for a media company in Battersea, managing their operations and general running of the business.
Tom, who are the most important people within football environment?
For me personally, the most important people within the football environment has to be your manager and his staff, followed by your teammates, fans and general community at the club. If you don’t feel you know where you stand with the management you’ll forever be asking yourself questions and unsure of the answers. The manager isn’t only there to manage the team as a whole, tactics, formations etc; but he’s there to manage you as an individual, your emotions and understand each player is different. It’s also imperative you get on with your teammates, especially those who play in similar positions to you. If you’re first of all good mates, you’ll be willing to go the extra mile to help each other out. I’ve met many players from different backgrounds and industries throughout my playing career that I can now class as good friends, and I’d never have crossed paths with them in any other walk of life. Another key factor within the football environment and one that often gets overlooked by players of at our level is your relationship with board members, volunteers and fans at your club. Since joining Tonbridge I’ve felt part of the family and if you feel at home you’re more likely showcase the best version of yourself. I get on well with a lot of the fans and volunteers, and am on first name basis with a few of them; it’s nice to be able to shake their hand and have a pint in the bar after the game regardless of the result. Of course they’re fans and they want you to be winning week in week out, but I think a good fan is one that understands you’re playing at this level for a reason, you’re a real person and we all make mistakes. At many semi-professional clubs, players can’t wait to get away after full time and aren’t invested at all in the club, but things are run differently at Tonbridge.
What makes you a good football player? And what are your strongest qualities as forward ?
I believe my best attributes are my aerial ability, forward runs and unselfishness. I’m very critical of myself, probably over critical at times and always look at ways I can improve. I know I’m never going to be a 40 goal and season man; but if I can look get 15-20 and provide the same amount for those around me I’m happy. I’ve had to reinvent myself as a forward recently due to the way we play with 1 up front, for most of my playing career I’ve played with the support of another forward with me. In the years gone by I’ve been more of an on the shoulder pacey forward who likes to get in behind and can play on the wing; but as times gone on I’ve matured as a player and for the longevity of my playing career ended up being more of an aerial threat, hold up man, bringing others in to play. I’m still learning these aspects of my game but I feel with a few adjustments and hard work (and gym) I can be a real success in that role.
You started your career in the youth system at Gillingham FC. How did you get into that scholarship ?
I actually started my playing career at Charlton Athletic where I joined at the age of 12. I was selected for an ISFA National Schools side and was offered trials at Charlton, Fulham and Southampton off the back of that. Charlton was the first trial I went to and Alan Pardew was the manager at the time, he knew my step dad and once I’d been training with them for a few weeks asked me to sign permanently. My dad, being a Southampton fan, wanted me to honour my other trials but I felt the offer from Charlton was too good to turn down; and not too far from home or school either so I wouldn’t have to move away.
When I got to 16, Charlton were yet to decide on our scholarships due to a change of academy manager and subsequently we were offered the chance to go to the Football League exit trials. Off the back of that I was offered around 10 clubs, Sheffield United, Leicester City, Derby County, Millwall and Glasgow Rangers to name a few. As soon as Charlton got wind of the success from the exit trials they quickly offered me a scholarship, which allowed me to stay on at Alleyn’s School in Dulwich and complete my A Levels on days off from football, which I was keen to do. After an up and down 2 year scholarship I was released by Charlton despite ending up top scorer in my second year and signed a professional contract at Gillingham. Maybe if I’d opted for a different club at 16 my life may be very different now, but I’m happy with the way things have turned out and I wouldn’t change any of the football decisions I made at the time.
After your time by Gillingham FC and Chelmsford City FC you moved to Eastbourne Borough FC. Was there a lot of difference between these clubs?
When I was at Gillingham, Chelmsford City came to watch a behind closed doors game we played in against New York Cosmos. A few days later Martin Allen called me in to his office and said they’d like me to go on loan and he thought it would be a good eye opener for me entering men’s football having been in the academy system for most of my life. I was a little hesitant due to training with the first team and going on their pre-season tour, I felt an opportunity wouldn’t be too far away; but when the boss tells you what he wants you don’t have much choice. After 3 months at Chelmsford we weren’t doing too well, in the bottom half of the table but expected to make play offs. I was named player of the month for the 3 months I was there and although not scoring as many as I’d like, felt I was playing some of my best football. I think Martin Allen saw the progress I’d made day to day in training and called me back from my loan. I was sure I was about to get my big chance but Martin Allen was sacked a week or so later. In came Peter Taylor and promised to give all of us young boys a chance, but soon made a U-turn and sent us all out on loan. I went to Eastbourne Borough and had a reasonably successful loan spell but with the end of the season approaching I asked Peter Taylor what the situation was moving forward and he made it clear I wasn’t in his plans. After that I was keen to move on as soon as possible, got the last few months of my contract paid up and joined Eastbourne on a full time basis.
To be honest I don’t think at the time the difference between the clubs was massive, Gillingham had just been promoted to League 1 and obviously the infrastructure of the club was far superior than those from my loan spells, but the quality of player wasn’t massively different. I’d say the biggest difference was probably the consistency, physicality, fitness and athleticism of the professionals at Gillingham and there wasn’t a weak link in the squad, whereas at Eastbourne and Chelmsford you’d have the star players and then maybe the fringe players who were a little behind in their development; but all semi-professional clubs need that to balance the books.
You’ve played for several clubs. What is the most important football lesson you have learned and who taught you that?
The most important lesson I’ve learnt in football is work hard and hope your chance comes at the right time. A lot of people say hard work alone will get you to your end goal, but I disagree in football. A lot of it depends on injuries at the time, your clubs league position and aspirations and mentality of the manager; just because you’re good enough doesn’t mean you’ll get given your chance. A lot of it is circumstantial. What I can say is, nothing is given to you, give yourself every opportunity to succeed. You’d much rather not make it due to circumstances you can’t affect, instead of forever thinking ‘what if’; what if I’d stayed behind and worked on my weaker foot finishing, what if I got to training early and went to the gym, what if I studied the game when I got home. I’ve seen players so talented come to nothing for lack of commitment and thinking they’d cracked it too soon. I don’t mean that in terms of buying a Lamborghini, but if you’re 19 years old with no outgoings and can afford to finance a new BMW or Mercedes, buy a fancy wash bag and new trainers every week, you suddenly think you’re further ahead than you really are. I definitely was a victim of that, I was always a hard worker at Charlton but felt as soon as I was released by them the professional contract at Gillingham came easily. If only I’d got my head down and worked hard for that year, what could have been. Instead I decided to drive in my new car to visit my friends at university and buy all the Jäger their student unions had to offer. Luckily for myself, I’ve had a half decent educated and support network around me to fall back on, but that isn’t the case for everyone hoping to make it as a footballer. If I could offer some wisdom to any young player trying to make it; I’d say, don’t YOU be the reason YOU don’t make it in the game. Football is a very short lived, volatile and competitive industry; if you’re given a chance do your best to take it. Often clubs only give out short term contracts to their young players, so if you do well for one season; you may be rewarded with a lucrative longer term contract which could set you up for life.
Since February 2019 you play at Tonbridge Angels FC. Why did you choose Tonbridge Angels FC ?
I joined Tonbridge Angels in February after finding it hard to secure a regular spot at East Thurrock United. The season before I’d finished really strong, with 12 goals after Christmas and 19 in total (would have been 20 if I didn’t miss a penalty against Tonbridge on the last day of the season!). Steve Mckimm at Tonbridge had tried to sign me that summer but I wanted to make the step up to National South again and he understood that. I was meant to sign for Welling United but that fell through and I ended up at East Thurrock. I enjoyed my time there, but a change in formation meant I was clearly second choice behind Sam Higgins, who’d finished top scorer in the National South the season before. After sitting on the bench for 90 minutes away to Woking, who went on to get promoted, I got a call to say Tonbridge would like to sign me and it was a no brainer. They were going for the play offs and I had a couple of friends already playing there, I’d heard good things about the coaching staff and always enjoyed playing at the ground. My move was funded by the ‘12th Man Scheme’ at Tonbridge where supporters put their hand in their own pocket to raise some extra funds for the playing budget, without their generosity I may not have been lucky enough to join Tonbridge. Luckily it worked out for me this time, with Tonbridge getting promoted and East Thurrock going in the opposite direction.
What is your best moment in your football career ?
The best moment of my playing career has to be the final day of last season, in the ‘Super’ Play Off Final. Having already beaten Merstham in the Play Off Final, a league restructuring meant we would not automatically be promoted and instead would have to play Metropolitan Police in the ‘Super’ Play Off Final to decide which team from adjacent leagues would get promoted to the National South. The game ended 2-2 with us being behind twice and headed into extra time. With penalties looming a cross came in from the right and I peeled off at the back post to head it down into the net. We won 3-2, there was a pitch invasion, all my family and friends were there to celebrate and it has to be the best moment of my playing career (so far).
What is your ambition in your football career ?
My ambition in my playing career is more of the same to be honest, my chance at playing professionally has now passed so for me my ambition has got to be to stay in the National South, England’s highest semi-professional division and hopefully aim for promotion there one day. We’re having a difficult season at Tonbridge at the moment, but having been involved in a relegation battle with East Thurrock last season, I can see we have got more than enough to get out of it and back us in future seasons to be a real force in the National South.
Another ambition of mine is to keep earning a living doing what I love. It’s always a bit of a taboo discussing money when it comes to football, with players now earning hundreds of thousands per week in the top leagues and a lucky few at our level now earning large quantities too. Football has never been about the money for me, it’s always been about the love for the game and dream of doing what you love in front of people who love to watch you do it. But as time goes on and circumstances change you’ve got to start planning for your future, buying your first house and hopefully having a family too. I recently did a talk at my old school to a group of lads of hoping to have a career in football, I explained to them; I am a failed footballer but I still get to play in front of 500-2500 fans every week and earn a second income which can be really helpful at the end of the month. Everyone has ambitions inside and outside of football, so whether you’re earning £50 a week to pay for your petrol or £500 a week to pay for your mortgage; your goals are your own and do what you can to help yourself get there.
What are your personal goals this season ?
My personal goals for this season are first and foremost to play a big part in keeping Tonbridge in the National South. I’d like to achieve a minimum of 15 goals which I believe is achievable, I had a slow scoring start to the season and it looks like I’m going to miss a month or so with a knee injury so 20+ may be out of reach; but I’ll be really happy to end the season still a National South player with 15+ goals under my belt.