Sky Bet EFL Q&A: Tom Eaves on dreams of playing with Zinedine Zidane

Gillingham striker Tom Eaves scored the goal of the Sky Bet EFL season so far, juggling the ball on his left instep, switching it to his right before swivelling to strike the sweetest of volleys in his side’s victory at League One leaders Portsmouth in October.

With it, the giant striker proved he is so much more than a target man, something he is keen to emphasise in this week’s Sky Bet EFL QA.

The 26-year-old has flitted his way around seven clubs since starting out as a trainee at Oldham Athletic, but seems to have found a home in Kent, judging by his 28 goals in 48 league starts for Gillingham.

As a Liverpool fan, his boyhood hero was Robbie Fowler, he would loved to have played for Johan Cruyff and whisper it quietly, even at 6ft 5in, he is afraid of spiders.

Gillingham striker Tom Eaves scored the goal of the Sky Bet EFL season so far at Portsmouth

Gillingham striker Tom Eaves scored the goal of the Sky Bet EFL season so far at Portsmouth

Describe yourself on the pitch in 3 words.

Aggressive. Clinical. Demanding.

Describe yourself off the pitch in 3 words.

Intelligent (without blowing my own trumpet!). Cultured. Easy-going.

Best moment of your career so far?

Making my league debut for Oldham when I was 18 (a week after his 18th birthday in January 2010). That was a really big moment for me. I was in the second year of my YTS. We were playing Millwall. We were hanging on in the game when the manager Dave Penney threw me on a substitute just to hold the ball up for the last 15 minutes and be a nuisance.

It was just a really good experience and something I won’t forget. I had travelled with the first team a few times but never made the matchday squad. Then I’d been on the bench once or twice before that game. Then afterwards, I got brought on nearly every week. That game was the catalyst for me to start playing in the Football League and a big moment.

My mum and dad were there. Before I moved down to Gillingham, they very rarely missed a game. My dad still comes to a lot of the Gillingham matches even though he has to come from Liverpool for them. I’ve got my own loyal fan base there.

Who is the hardest opponent you have faced?

I’ve played against some big names, although I wouldn’t necessarily say they were my hardest opponents. But I remember playing against David Unsworth towards the end of his career. That was a real reality check for me. I think I was 18 at the time. I remember leaving the pitch and I had claw marks all over my chest, like I’d been in with a wolf. He had moved to centre-half and he was a typical old-fashioned defender, really aggressive and threw me about the place.

If I remember right, I think he was playing for Huddersfield at the time. I just remember thinking: ‘Wow, what a beast.’ I was a scrawny 18-year-old and his legs must have been double me in size. It taught me what men’s football was going to be like. 

Most embarrassing moment in football?

I’m not sure I’ve had a really embarrassing moment in football … yet. Long may that continue.

I’ve missed a few open goals, but I try not to let them bother me that much. I don’t lose sleep over them.

It’s not major, but I think I may have called the gaffer (Steve Lovell) ‘Mate’ a few times when he’s walked past me and said: ‘Alright, Tom..’ I haven’t really seen who it was and just said: ‘Alright, mate.’ But nothing really on the pitch.

He has proved he is so much more than a target man, something he is keen to emphasise here

He has proved he is so much more than a target man, something he is keen to emphasise here

Which song gets you in the mood for a match?

I like ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ by the Rolling Stones, I like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin and I don’t mind a bit of Queen.

I’ve got a Spotify account in the car, so I’ll play them on the way in for a match while I stop off for a double espresso before every game. And I’ll be singing along to them full blast, full tilt with my missus not very impressed in the passenger seat.  

What’s your guilty food pleasure?

I’m actually very disciplined with my food, but I adore it. Ask anyone who knows me, they know how much I love food. During the week I’m pretty strict and disciplined, but I do have a soft spot for pastries. I really enjoy pastries – any type of doughnut or croissant or even pasties. Anything bread-based. I’ve got a sweet tooth for Squashies sweets, drumsticks, I love them. And I also love a good fry-up.

Ask the lads what I’m like in the summer. I’m not joking, I came back in the summer and I had put on about four kilos, but I got rid of it. That’s what pre-season’s for.

That’s the thing – we’re so disciplined all year and then you’ve got that time in the summer when you’ve got to cram everything in that you’ve not been able to have all year.

It’s about finding that balance and allowing yourself to have little treats every now and again. I don’t usually allow myself any treats if I haven’t scored. It’s a good incentive. After I scored that goal against Portsmouth recently, me and the missus stopped off at ‘Turtle Bay’ on the way back.

Which player in history would you like to play alongside – and why?

It probably wouldn’t be another striker, it would be someone feeding me like Zinedine Zidane. That would be immense, playing alongside someone like him who you grew up watching. Or Steven Gerrard, playing alongside him in my home town of Liverpool especially. That would be pretty special.

I’m a big Liverpool fan and my favourite player growing up was Robbie Fowler. He was my hero, the one I watched and aspired to be like.

If I was playing with Steven Gerrard, it would be a case of: ‘Just put it in the box for me, Stevie.’

Which famous manager would you have loved to play for – and why?

Johan Cruyff, just because of the way he revolutionised the game. I would have liked to have been there at Barcelona and seen the way he trained his team. You hear a lot of stories. You don’t know how many are true, but you hear that he had them playing a lot of five-a-side and small box games. He was way ahead of his time really with regards to that stuff. As an athlete as well.

Would he have appreciated my style? I hope so. A lot of the time, being 6ft 5, you get branded with just being a big lumbering target man. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you get people who are told they are too small and can’t compete.

I like to mix my game up and be as unpredictable as possible. I don’t like to be boxed as one thing. I just like to express myself when I’m playing and under this manager (Lovell), he gives me the freedom to do that. I believe that’s why I’m in the form that I’m in.

The goal against Portsmouth was just something that came to me. I reacted to the way the ball fell in front of me, but it was special, especially with that many people in the ground at Fratton Park. My dad sent me a video of the Portsmouth fans applauding the goal, which was quite flattering to see.

Eaves admits he would love to have played alongside either Zinedine Zidane of Steven Gerrard

Eaves admits he would love to have played alongside either Zinedine Zidane of Steven Gerrard

What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?

I’d like to think I’d be on stage somewhere. I would have loved to pursue an acting career because I’ve got a habit of dramatising everyday events as they happen to me. So maybe theatre.

Funnily enough, I actually had an acting lesson about four months ago as a gift from someone. It was hilarious because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I met this guy downstairs in a pub. He was showing me his portfolio, videos of what he wanted me to do and we went through a few exercises. One of the exercises, he said: ‘I want you to look directly through my face as if I’m not there.’ I did it and no word of a lie, he said to me: ‘You’ve got it.’ I thought: ‘If I’ve got it, I don’t need any more acting lessons then.’

Tell us a secret that fans won’t know…

I am currently teaching myself to play the piano, but I’ll also say that I’m absolutely petrified of spiders. I’ve always been petrified of them.. I know I’m 6ft 5, but I’ve got no shame in telling you that.

When I was living in an apartment on my own a while back, I woke up and saw a spider that must have been four inches in diameter. I was probably 25 at the time, but I still had to ring my dad up to come and get it.

Centre-halves like David Unsworth? No problem, but put a spider in the room…

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