HARRY Smith revealed he was close to giving up his dream of becoming a professional footballer a year ago, when he was playing in front of a couple of hundred people in the eighth tier of English football.
Twelve months later he was walking away with the match ball after his debut in the competition for Millwall when he scored a hat-trick against Braintree.
Smith's 2015-16 FA Cup adventure with Sittingbourne began in August, with a preliminary-round fixture against Seven Acre & Sidcup when the striker scored in a 2-1 win. Sittingbourne knocked out Metropolitan Police in the next round before losing 1-0 to Hoddesdon Town of the division below at the end of September.
The Monday after that loss he returned to his job as a welder, which he combined with training once a week and playing before he moved to Folkestone Invicta with whom he won promotion to the Isthmian League Premier Division.
Trials with Aberdeen, Gillingham and Millwall followed in the summer and it was Neil Harris who made the biggest impression on him.
Injuries to Steve Morison and Lee Gregory meant he got his opportunity in the first team sooner than he expected, and Sunday's treble made it six goals in his first six games in professional football.
It could have been very different, however, if he had decided to stick with his day job.
"A year ago, I didn't have any aspirations to play professionally," Smith said. "I kind of gave up the dream to focus on getting a good career in welding, so I kind of put football to one side, put it second in my life.
"Luckily enough this has all come about and it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.
"I would have been working 7am-5pm every day, training once a week. Then it got to a point where I had to sit down and say to myself when I was getting a lot of attention: do I quit my work and try to make a career out of this, or not go for this and focus on work? But I quit work, and luckily enough Millwall took a chance on me."
Key to his decision to pack in the welding job was advice from his father.
"He knows I've always wanted to do this since I was a kid," Smith said. "And if I didn't take the chance he knew I would regret it the rest of my life.
"He supported me but they all wanted me to follow football.
"It was my two sisters' first game (Sunday). My dad follows me everywhere, all my friends were here. I had a fair few people here so it was good to score a hat-trick.
"I was playing in front of 200-300 people if that, I was lucky if I played in front of that every week. But now to play in front of a couple of thousand at The Den, I couldn't have dreamed of it if. If I think back to this time last year I have to cherish every day because this is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid.
"This was my first hat-trick in about four years, I haven't scored one since I was 16 or 17.
"I could have had a few more but three was enough, I can't be too greedy.
"To get into the third-round proper, it's something I never dreamed of, I can't believe it really.
"I have to keep my feet on the ground, I'm still learning every day. The gaffer always pulls me to the side and he doesn't put any pressure on me. I'm still learning – long may it continue."
Smith also revealed what he was going to do with the match ball.
"A few of the boys have said put it in a glass or plastic box, it's the first one so I will give it to my family, give it to my mum and dad to put on the mantelpiece.
"Hopefully there will be a few more to come."
Image source: ©@joshjdss