Sammie Szmodics REJECTED Arsenal for Colchester United and after dealing with the death of a close friend aged just 26, he is now one of English football’s most unsung heroes at Blackburn Rovers

23 December 2023 0 By Total Football News
  • Sammie Szmodics is the top scorer in the Championship with 14 goals to date
  • He started his career at Colchester despite having Arsenal knock on the door
  • Arsenal were a better watch last season and played riskier football BUT they have more steel now... it could take them to the title - It's All Kicking Off

Offered the chance to play for Arsenal or Colchester United, most young footballers would not think twice. Why bother with your local team when you could play for one of the most successful clubs in England?

Sammie Szmodics saw it differently. The top scorer in the Championship this season, the Blackburn Rovers midfielder is one of English football’s unsung heroes of 2023-24. In an age of fewer and fewer authentic footballers, Szmodics is antidote, and it is as engaging to listen to him speak as it is to watch him play.

The 1995 Premier League champions have fallen on harder times yet despite a budget that belongs in the relegation zone, Szmodics’ 14 goals have helped push Rovers to the brink of the play-offs – as well as earning him the Sky Bet Championship player of the month for November. Though the glory days of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton are no more, Szmodics and company are doing their best to revive them.

Szmodics arrived at Blackburn via spells with Colchester, Bristol City and Peterborough but he might have been a Champions League regular by now. Between the ages of 11 and 15, Arsenal kept knocking on his door – yet remarkably, Szmodics kept turning them down, and he does not regret it even for a second.

‘From Under-10 level all the way to Under-15 or Under-16 Arsenal always used to invite me down but I just wasn’t interested,’ Szmodics tells Mail Sport over Zoom from his home in the north-west. ‘My family and I were the biggest Colchester fans and all I wanted to do was play for them.

Sammie Szmodics is one of football's unsung heroes of the 2023-24 campaign so far

Sammie Szmodics is one of football's unsung heroes of the 2023-24 campaign so far

Szmodics’ 14 goals have helped pushed Blackburn Rovers to the brink of the play-offs

Szmodics’ 14 goals have helped pushed Blackburn Rovers to the brink of the play-offs

Szmodics and company are doing their best to revive the glory days at Ewood Park

Szmodics and company are doing their best to revive the glory days at Ewood Park

‘Looking back now it sounds bizarre but if I’d gone to Arsenal at a young age who knows where my career would have taken me? I might not even have ended up being a footballer.

‘My dad wasn’t keen on me going because Arsenal were buying players from overseas at Under-14 and Under-15 level and at Colchester we didn’t have to worry about that. I’d been there since I was seven and every stage felt like a step closer to the first team – fan, ball boy, academy, Under-23s.

‘I wasn’t even fussed about watching Premier League football back then. It never entered my head to look to leave or go on trial anywhere else. I was just happy where I was. So even though he had his reservations, my dad would still say ‘Listen, you can go on trial to Arsenal’ but I didn’t want to.

‘Even at Blackburn you’re given everything. The training ground is beautiful, you get boot sponsors. I know what it’s like in the lower leagues. At Colchester we bought our own boots and the Premier League and the Championship felt miles away.

‘There’s nothing wrong with starting in a Premier League academy and having a career in the EFL, but it’s nice to know I’ve played in the National League, where I played on loan for Braintree, and worked my way up. Hopefully I can go one step further.’

Szmodics is fiercely dedicated but also understands football’s place in the world. His close friend, semi-professional player Spencer McCall, died in 2021 of a rare form of cancer. He was 26.

Initially, McCall attributed pain in his shin to injury, but examinations determined he had Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Soon after McCall was diagnosed with the disease, Szmodics sought to help, using his social media accounts to try to raise money for life-saving treatment and make others aware of the illness. He admits, too, that he has only recently been able to speak openly about Spencer, though emotion is not far from the surface when he does.

Since his friend’s passing, Szmodics has spoken to Nick Anderton, the former Bristol Rovers defender who had to retire from football aged 27 as he also had bone cancer. In September, Anderton said he was free of cancer.

Szmodics' close friend Spencer McCall died in 2021 aged 26 with a rare form of cancer

Szmodics' close friend Spencer McCall died in 2021 aged 26 with a rare form of cancer

Since his friend’s passing, Szmodics has spoken to Nick Anderton, the former Bristol Rovers defender who had to retire from football aged 27 as he also had bone cancer

Since his friend’s passing, Szmodics has spoken to Nick Anderton, the former Bristol Rovers defender who had to retire from football aged 27 as he also had bone cancer

‘My daughter was born in the same year he passed and I’ve said I feel as though Spencer lives on in my daughter,’ Szmodics explains. ‘I feel as though she’s taken his place in the world which for me is a lovely way of looking at it.

‘I can speak about it quite easily now where I used to struggle a bit. All he wanted to do was become a professional footballer. It makes you appreciate life more, appreciate football more as he was like me – he loved playing and being with his friends.

‘I went on lads’ holidays with him, and the first time he realised he was unwell was when we were away in Marbella. We had no idea and were all bantering him because he was struggling to walk.

Szmodics turned down a trial with Arsenal to instead play for Colchester United

Szmodics turned down a trial with Arsenal to instead play for Colchester United

He has also played for both Bristol City and Peterborough (pictured) before joining Blackburn

He has also played for both Bristol City and Peterborough (pictured) before joining Blackburn

‘Before he passed, he would write messages and say ‘Don’t be sad. I’ve had the best life.’ The funeral was lovely – more of a celebration than a mourning. He’ll always been remembered for his love of football and in our friends’ group.

‘We have done all we can because I had never heard of his condition. Dominic Ball at Ipswich was very close to him and he has raised a lot of money for sarcoma charities.

‘I reached out to Nick Anderton, too. I told him about Spencer and said he could contact me any time. I’m not a doctor so I couldn’t give advice but if he needed a chat, my DMs were always open.’

Blackburn’s run to the FA Cup quarter-finals last season brought their style of play to a wider audience and their attacking play continues to thrill under Jon Dahl Tomasson, even though this young side could be a little smarter at the back.

Szmodics signed a new deal earlier this year and is optimistic about the future. He added: ‘My dream is to play in the Premier League and if I can get there with Blackburn, amazing. At 28, I’ve got a little girl and a baby on the way.

‘I love everything about Blackburn, I love playing for this manager and I love living in the north of England. I have worked hard and done my bit for them and they have rewarded me for what I’ve done for them. It was an honour to be offered it and I never thought of not signing it.’

The Samaritans can be contacted 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone) or email jo@samaritans.org


This news item was provided by the EFL Championship News, Fixtures and Results | Mail Online website - the original link is: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-12896065/Sammie-Szmodics-REJECTED-Arsenal-Colchester-United-dealing-death-close-friend-aged-just-26-one-English-footballs-unsung-heroes-Blackburn-Rovers.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490